'More graciousness, more forgiveness': Charlie Lim's new song for NDP 2020 calls for kinder S'pore

'Room at the Table' was released on digital streaming platforms on Jul. 30.

Andrew Koay | July 30, 2020, 07:01 PM

Having contributed to a contemporary update of the classic tune "We Are Singapore" for 2018's National Day Parade, Charlie Lim is once again on the lineup for this year's event.

This time, he's taken the prelude from 2018 and turned it into a full song in its own right.

Lim's extension of the two verses he wrote for NDP in 2018 does away with slick production and strips the track down to its bare bones — a clean electric guitar underpinning Lim's soulful vocals.

The more intimate, reflective, arrangement titled "Room at the Table" will be performed by Lim to open NDP 2020.

It was released on digital streaming platforms on Jul. 30, with a lyric video to follow in the next few weeks.

In a press release announcing the song's debut, Lim said that the events of 2020 had given him motivation to complete the song.

Specifically, Lim seems to have been at least partly inspired by the plight of migrant workers in Singapore — the community worst-hit by the Covid-19 outbreak here.

As such, all proceeds earned from "Room at the Table" between its release and the end of the year will be donated to two non-profit organisations which support migrant workers in Singapore: Transient Workers Count 2 (TWC2) and Itsrainingraincoats.

Mothership caught up with Lim for a chat on what he's been up to in a year defined by the pandemic, recognising migrant workers, and what it feels like to be part of the National Day parade — again.

This year has been crazy! The pandemic has been really disruptive to most people’s lives and careers. How has it affected yours and how are you adapting?

"I was actually doing a course in London at the start of the year and was planning to be based there for a while, but had to come back before the borders closed. So that definitely put a spanner in the works.

Playing shows and touring is obviously a no-go for now, so I’m trying to just work on writing and releasing more music. It's been kind of a forced incubation period for a lot of us. It hasn’t been easy but I’m grateful for the odd production gig which tides me through."

You mentioned that “Room at the Table” was inspired by the events of this year, could you elaborate on what you were feeling when you were writing the rest of the song?

"I’m always grateful, and almost relieved I guess, for all the positive feedback with the updated version of "We Are Singapore" over the last couple of years. It’s great that people, especially younger Singaporeans, could identify with the new lyrics. There were a lot of requests for the 2018 prelude to be turned into a song of its own, and I sat on it for a while because I felt like I didn’t have anything else to say at the time.

But there was this sudden urge to want to finish it halfway through this year, mostly because of everything that has been going on lately, not just in Singapore but the rest of the world.

Finishing the song definitely came from a place of frustration with the state of things, more so than when I was first writing the prelude. I think I was just looking for something that could help serve as a self-reminder and provide some encouragement for others, otherwise I’d just feel more bogged down."

There was a two-year gap between the prelude in 2018 and the rest of the song. What was your process like? Did your mood or feelings towards it change?

"I guess the whole premise of updating "We Are Singapore" with the new prelude was about taking an honest snapshot of where we are right now, instead of glazing at everything through rose-tinted lenses. But it was also about reminding ourselves to have more patience.

I don’t think the sentiment has changed, maybe there’s more sense of urgency when it comes to taking ownership of being the change we want to see."

You talked about "Room at the Table" being a call-to-action of sorts. What are you hoping to inspire Singaporeans to do?

"Besides using the release as a way to continue raising awareness for charities to help our migrant workers during this difficult period, I hope its lyrics serve as an aspiration for a more inclusive society.

I know I’m not the only one who feels that we need more open but kinder discourse. More graciousness, more forgiveness, more understanding of each other’s views. More constructive criticism rather than empty finger-pointing."

With this song and with the proceeds going to TWC2 and Itsrainingraincoats, you’re hoping to bring awareness to the struggles that migrant workers have in Singapore. Could you tell us a bit more about your thoughts surrounding this issue?

"It's definitely been quite a hot topic that’s arguably been raised to the forefront only because of this whole Covid-19 situation. It’s a tough issue to try and unpack, but I think the first step is just simply for us to recognise their contribution to what we call home today.

You can’t deny that a lot of them make up the backbone of this country. And while our government’s doing their best to make sure they get proper treatment, some are bound to fall through the cracks. We should try to help where we can."

You’ll be performing “Room at the Table” to open this year’s NDP. How did that come about?

"The music director Dr Sydney Tan, who also did 2018’s NDP, gave me a call and asked if I had an item that would be appropriate for this year’s show, so I pitched the song to him. Understandably, the material needs to be vetted whenever it comes to National Day. I can’t imagine the many levels of approval “the future is uncertain and everything must change” needed to go through back in 2018, but I’m glad they trusted me and Dr Sydney with it.

But with "Room at the Table", because it’s no longer attached to being the theme song which probably needs to tick a few boxes, I was even more free to just say what was on my mind. And once again, to Dr Sydney’s credit, it got approved without needing any editing."

You’ve been a part of the National Day celebrations a few times now, what does it mean for you to be part of the event and be able to perform your own songs on this stage?

"It’s definitely nice to feel part of something that’s supposed to bring the country together, as well as to get to work with, or even just share the same stage as some of Singapore’s best talent."

This year’s NDP is going to be very different from previous years. How do you feel about it?

"I think Royston Tan (creative director for this year’s NDP) has done a great job given the circumstances. The show feels a lot more intimate, which I personally like, and I hope it gets translated well on television. And it’s nice to be indoors for once!"

You’ve spent a significant amount of your life away from Singapore, do you think it gives you a different perspective on life here? And how so?

"I’m privileged to have been able to study overseas when I was younger, and I get to travel as part of my job. It’s made me less complacent and comfortable knowing what’s out there. Having that extra perspective definitely helps me to appreciate what Singapore offers and the things that I used to take for granted at home, but it also challenges my perception of what makes one happy or successful.

I guess I’ve learned that the grass will only be greener where you water it."

Top image by Lee Chang Ming / Charlie Lim Music