Way before Aubrey Suwito’s tunes ever hit radio airwaves, one of his earliest compositions was first heard on Malaysian streets.
It was a jingle for Paddle Pop ice-cream and it was constantly played by many vendors. You are probably playing it in your head right now!
After completing Form Six, Suwito, who was born in Melaka, started his music career as a jingle producer.
“In Form Six, I played keyboard and bass in my school band. During a talent show, one of the judges, who was a jingle producer, spotted me,” Suwito, 51, said. “He told me I had potential and asked me to go over to his studio. As it was more appealing to me than studying, I went there often.”
In 1985, Suwito worked as a full-time jingle producer during the day (another one of his recognisable tunes is KFC’s Let’s Go To The Zoo) and played the piano at hotel lobby lounges at night.
These experiences gradually introduced him to people in the music industry, enabling him to dabble in pop music.
Suwito worked with Salamiah Hassan, Datuk Khadijah Ibrahim, Francissca Peter and Datuk Sudirman in the late 1980s as a musical director for their live shows.
“Around 1996, I realised I never really enjoyed doing jingles. It was music but it was never very creative. So I decided to start out on my own and went into album production, sound production and live shows,” he said of his foray into the music business.
Aubrey Suwito’s bleak years
The road ahead was a rocky one for Suwito. So much so that he calls it “the bleak years”.
“It was slow, I was just learning my craft. I wrote two hits back then – Casey’s Seribu Impian, and Syafinaz’s Ingin Bersamamu. I was trying to create a name for myself, but a name doesn’t necessarily come with cash.”
He recounted one difficult moment in particular. “There was a year when I had just released my own jazz album. It was approaching Chinese New Year and I had no money at all to celebrate. Thankfully, somebody called me up on the eve of CNY and wanted to buy 10 CDs. So that was our CNY fund.”
The tide turned in the early 2000s when Taiwanese and Hong Kong producers were looking for music arrangers in Malaysia and Suwito’s name came up.
“They were really tough (on me), I was good enough but I still needed to learn more. They would do music here by remote, meaning we never saw the artistes. So, they would give me a brief, I would do the music and send it back to them and they would say, ‘No, this could be better or this doesn’t sound right’.”
Suwito arranged music for the likes of Jacky Cheung, Sandy Lam and A-Mei between 2000 and 2004.
“I was being thrown into the deep end but that was a very good learning curve. After that, I noticed when I started doing local projects again, I had a jumpstart on everybody else because the projects were at an international level.”
Secrets to a hit song
Suwito got back into the local music scene when he was appointed as musical director for Datuk Siti Nurhaliza’s 2004 Fantasia tour – a working relationship that has lasted to this day. In the same year, Suwito signed on as musical director for the first Malaysian Idol show.
Not only did the reality singing series raise Suwito’s profile, his coronation song Gemilang became a major hit and earned the composer a Best Song trophy at the 2005 Anugerah Juara Lagu.
After his stint on Malaysian Idol, Suwito focused on his work as a composer and producer. His more recent hits include Siti’s Lebih Indah, Jaga Dia Untukku and Menatap Dalam Mimpi.
Asked about his secret to creating a hit, Suwito said, “The song must have a strong melody that touches me… I must really like the melody. Also, you have to be honest with your emotions. The soul mustn’t get lost. People must be able to feel the song.”
Suwito shared that his creative process relies on both moments of inspiration and effort. “I can’t just sit down and come up with a melody. Usually, I’m in the midst of doing something, like watching my son play tennis, and then I get a melody for a verse. So I record it on my phone. When I get back, I’ll work on the rest of the song.”
Suwito’s choice for a composition he is most proud of will probably surprise many. “There’s Senandung Beradu (Jaclyn Victor) that I love until today but never garnered any success. Of course there are the successful ones like Gemilang but I lean towards the songs that didn’t make it.”
Besides composing, Suwito has gained recognition as an album producer, with his works winning the coveted Best Album trophy at Anugerah Industri Muzik six times. He has amassed 19 AIM trophies in total.
“A producer is like the coach of a football team. You may have 11 great players in a team but you still might not win. You need someone who sees the bigger picture and gets the team to follow it. For example, a singer can sing louder, softer or harsher and a drummer can play at a faster or slower beat. So I guide them and craft it all into a package.”
This year, Suwito was roped in to be part of David Foster’s Asian tour and served as music director on Kris Dayanti’s recent concert in Kuala Lumpur.
Suwito has recently contributed tracks to Siti and Dayang Nurfaizah’s new albums plus a duet featuring Adibah Noor and Misha Omar. He is currently scoring a local movie due for release at the end of this year.
Suwito will be celebrating his 30th anniversary with a two-night concert called Aubrey Suwito & Friends With The MPO soon.
He teases: “It will feature a lot of my hit songs and songs that play an important part of my musical journey. For instance, Tanah Pusaka, was a song I loved as a kid, and songs from Sudirman, as he was the first person who hired me as a music director and he was such a big star.”
For tickets to Aubrey Suwito & Friends With The MPO, visit mpo.com.my.