Writing English lyrics for Dayang Noraini

“Heart… never to part… don’t go away… stay…”

Lee Haji Wahid (aka Rafiqa Roslee) called and asked whether I would consider writing English lyrics for a song.

So HOW do you make lyrics rhyme without them sounding so TWEE? How to write an original phrase when writing about Love – the most sung-about subject matter in the history of modern music?

On top of that, it has to fit the metre of the music. Difficult.

I parked near the Dewan Resital, where the Music Faculty offices were.

“Me…destiny…what can be…Unfortunate-leee…” Argh.

The lovely Dayang Noraini met me and brought me upstairs where Roslee was sitting at his desk, and mumbling distractedly, “Downloading the song for you… but the internet is slow!”

This is a cosy office. Man U banners nailed on the bookshelves, a guitar in the corner. There were two office chairs, one with arm rests and one without. “I use that one when I’m playing the guitar,” he indicated to the armless one.

“So? Tell me more!” I want to know!

They laughed and sat with me on the sofa. “There are two new songs,” explained Roslee. “One ballad and one upbeat one, we haven’t decided on the rhythm yet. Since I’m the more romantic one, the ballad lyrics are written by me. The other one is written by Dayang. It’s a Girl Power song. I hope she’s not writing about me, maybe it’s about someone else that made her mad…”

Ha! So, the original lyrics are in Malay, and they want English lyrics too?

“Yes, we want to make an EP with both songs in Malay and English.”

They described the context of each song, and I was given total leeway to rephrase as I wished.

“I don’t even mind if you want to totally change the story, it’s completely up to you,” said Roslee.

Wow. I wanted to stick with the original meanings of the songs, especially the ballad, which is dedicated to someone close to the couple.

We listened to the music. Dayang gave me print outs of the Malay lyrics and I scribbled frantically in the margins as she translated for me.

“Wait,” I said. “When you sing he changed you, do you mean you were so in love that your life turned upside down in happy chaos, or so happy that you see everything in life differently now, or what?”

“No.” Dayang said. “It means that he tries to change me, to make me do things he likes, to make my life revolve around him. And I’m saying No!”

Hmm! I can have some fun with that.

They needed the ballad first.

One night after dinner, I lay on the floor with a pencil and paper (yes, yes, an old-fashioned pencil) and played the ballad, again, and again, and again.

Ah. This wasn’t easy. Hearing the Malay lyrics was distracting, and in the end I had to internalise the melody while blocking out the words, which had their own sound and rhythm, very different from English.

So. Are my lyrics really clever, oblique and alternative? Are the sentences unusual, ending in the middle of the next line, with subtle rhymes which are almost missed?

No.

After I’d written them, I sung them (bad!) into the phone Voice Recorder, with the Malay version playing in the background, then WhatsApp’d the file to Roslee.

Music is magical because it isn’t just about the melody, and it isn’t just about the words. It’s not even about putting them both together. It’s about all that and more.

In this case, the ‘more’ is Dayang Noraini. It’s about the skill of her musicianship: to infuse her melody and words with meaning; to bring commitment to her delivery.

She makes the song.

This is the first time I have written a song lyric, and I’m completely thrilled about it! Thank you DN and Roslee.

3 responses to “Writing English lyrics for Dayang Noraini

  1. Two thumbs up! Tq so very much again for ur willingness to be the (English) lyricist for my next project. So excited about it & can’t wait to see how it sounds like in the end. Shall do my very best to carry the song as nice as i possibly can.

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