The year was 1986 when the recording company EMI approached him to record a song for the ‘Hari Raya’ album. All it took was a guitar, an inspiration and a melody to produce one of the most listened to songs during Eid Ul Fitr in Malaysia. His students may know him as an Associate Professor, teaching music in UiTM but the rest of us knew him since his hit song Sepasang Kurung Biru came to life; meet Khairil Johari Johar and this is his story.
RUZANNA LISA: Thank you, Khairil for taking the time to answer our questions. I hope you’re doing well during these hard times. It’s been four years since your last single Aku Hanya Membisu, we’re excited to learn more about your song and what inspired you to write it.
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: Just love what I do; composing new ideas.
RUZANNA LISA: You took some time off from composing and writing new songs for quite some time. Was it due to your job as a professor at UiTM teaching music?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: Yes, I was busy with teaching and doing administrative work for the faculty and couldn’t find the time to write plus I was also preparing for my retirement from UiTM.
RUZANNA LISA: How different was it going from composing music to teaching music, and which of the two were more of a challenge in your opinion?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: Not much different. I’m teaching composition to composition degree students. When I’m teaching, at the same time I create new songs to show my students how it’s done.
RUZANNA LISA: I believe that the piano was the first instrument you tried to learn, is it your favourite musical instrument or do you have another?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: Yes, it is. I was seven years old when I had my piano lessons. Started out with classical pieces then when I grew older, I started to learn more pop music in my late teens. Then when I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, USA to study music composition, I learnt Jazz and Blues. When you play the piano, you can see what you are doing in front of you. When I compose music, piano is the easiest way to write and listen.
RUZANNA LISA: Music seems to run in your family, have you always thought of being a musician when you were younger to follow in the footsteps of your parents?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: My father was a composer, a very famous one too. My mother was also a composer and a teacher. So, the blood runs in the family. I wanted to follow both my parents footsteps. In a way I did both, become a teacher and a composer.
RUZANNA LISA: Are you still writing music whilst teaching your students?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: Yes, I do.
RUZANNA LISA: The pandemic has changed the education system forever. What are your thoughts on teaching music via video calls? Are they more of a challenge?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: As long as I can still teach and give my comments and pointers to my students, that’s all that matters.
RUZANNA LISA: Who do you look up to the most as a musician?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: My father, Johar Bahar.
RUZANNA LISA: When it comes to the music genre, what do you most listen to? Is it a different genre from the music you write?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: I listen to all kinds of genres. I composed mostly pop and jazz music, but I do other genres too.
RUZANNA LISA: If there was one song you could listen to for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: The song is Everything I Do, I Do It For You by Bryan Adams because my wife introduced his music to me. Some of the music that I wrote was influenced by him.
RUZANNA LISA: It’s been a great honour to interview you. Thank you once again for taking the time to spend time with us. Is there a message you’d like to give to aspiring musicians?
KHAIRIL JOHARI JOHAR: Thank you. To all the aspiring youngsters who wish to pursue music, don’t be afraid to take risks. It’s okay if you stumble along the way, it’s how you learn. Don’t give up on your dreams. Music comes from the heart.