Long before Anggun Cipta
Sasmi toured with Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair, her
life had began normally in Indonesia, singing and dancing
like all other Indonesian children. There was always music
in her parents household, "Its just a part of the culture,"
she says, "When a baby learns to talk and walk, then the
parents will teach the baby to sing and dance. It's a
part of the culture, everybody can do it." Anggun continued
to explain, with an air of fondness for her distant homeland.
I had called Anggun early
last June 4th to make arrangements to meet with her later
that day, she wanted to hook up and discuss the photographs
we were going to do the following afternoon. When I reached
her on her cell, she was out and about somewhere in Paris,
shopping for a refrigerator and bed for her new apartment.
That sounds like fun I said—thinking all women liked to
shop—Anggun explained in a lovely English lilt, that although
excited about her new apartment, shopping for major household
appliances wasn't her favorite way to spend the day.
We arranged to meet later
for a drink, at the Hotel Costes—a magnificently decorated
hotel near the Jardin des Tuileries in central Paris.
Anggun entered the lobby of the hotel a few minutes early,
chatting away on her phone. "Have you been waiting long?",
she asked with genuine concern as I approached her.
The hostess seated us at
a small, round cocktail table in a fabulous courtyard
busy with potted plants, darting warblers and people chatting
over late afternoon drinks. Anggun wore a mossy green
tank top, black pants and strappy low heeled sandals.
Her shoulder length hair was parted down the middle, and
gently enveloped her face. The four terra-cotta coloured
walls rose majestically around us as several men at surrounding
tables craned their necks and lowered their sunglasses
to get a look. Perhaps because they recognized Anggun
from her music videos, or maybe just because she is so
strikingly beautiful. Immediately likeable and a consummate
professional, who appears unjaded by her rising international
fame, Anggun spoke and moved elegantly during our meeting.
And my professional demeanor battled my natural male instincts
to flirt—I was after all, in Paris.
So how did you move into
a professional career, from singing and dancing at home?
"My father always made it clear to us that we had to go
to school, but this is a formality. He said that you have
to shape your way of thinking, but then you have to find
yourself, what you want to do for the rest of your life.
And I always knew I was going to be a singer, I knew that
I was going to be in the entertainment business."
At what age then, do you
remember thinking that? "Well, I started performing at
seven, I had my first album at nine, so I think a little
before seven." She laughs, as if surprised by her own
answer. "People don't actually take you seriously, but
when I was that age I wanted to grow old, faster, so that
people can take me seriously, and I was you know, this
serious kid." Anggun laughs again, almost cheekily, while
remembering her own youthful spunk.
By the age of nine—and
with two years of experience behind her—Anggun's talent,
love of music and first recording (a children's album),
firmly began to shape her young dream, and she was well
on her way to becoming a child star, adorned by all who
heard her. Her artist father fed her creativity with poetry,
and although a Muslim, she was sent to Catholic school
to learn English and Christianity—her parents wanted her
to make up her own mind about things. During her teens
she recorded five chart-topping albums that solidified
her popularity as a rock singer—previously citing Bon
Jovi, Guns N’ Roses and Megadeth as major influences.
By 1990 she had toured extensively and received Indonesia's
most popular artist award. Three years later she was ranked
number 1 in the Indonesian charts and her videos were
airing on MTV Hong Kong. By the age of nineteen, Anggun
had sold well over an impressive four million albums and
had founded her own record label to produce her music.
It was now a week later,
and I was calling Anggun from my home in Toronto. Our
photo session last week had gone longer than anticipated,
and we ran out of time for the interview. She was attending
the opening gala for Pearl Harbor after our shoot—her
management at Sony Music France thought it would be good
publicity for her to go—and so she dropped me off in front
of Notre Dame Cathedral in her rush home to shower and
At a very young age, Anggun
had achieved the kind of success in her chosen career
that most don't earn in a lifetime. The hard work didn't
seem like work, and Anggun—full of passion and vigor for
performing—felt extremely lucky that people believed in
her and what she was doing. Why then—in 1994—would she
give up all of the success she had achieved and move to
Paris—a place that didn't know her—to begin again? "Because
when I was nineteen I had my own record company, and I'd
made five albums over there. I had done all this touring
and had the feeling that I'd done it. So what was the
next move for me, I mean, I was only 21 and I felt like
I was bored already. And I didn't want that, and so I
guess because I was still young, why not go somewhere.
Things were happening here and in America, and I wanted
to be part of that. I also wanted to go to a country where
there was a history; Indonesian culture is very heavy,
so I wanted to have the same kind of air."
Anggun's first stop in
the pursuit of an international career took her to London—a
place that she just didn't connect with—and she soon arrived
in Paris. "Everybody was talking about Paris, the new
melting pot of music, so I thought I'd drop by and take
a look, and it was just love at first sight." Anggun looked
up Erick Benzi—a producer and songwriter known for his
work with Celine Dion as well as a host of major French
recording artists. The connection between the two was
instantaneous, and they began working together immediately
on a CD that would become entitled "Au Nom de la Lune",
(In the Name of the Moon) and be released in June, 1997.
A short time later, Anggun—an international version
of the album —was released worldwide, with the single,
"Snow on the Sahara" prompting sales of over 1 million
copies in 33 countries. More than 100,000 copies sold
in the USA, where it ranked 19th on the Billboard Borders
Breaker Charts. "Snow on the Sahara" earned gold in France,
with widest play of the year for a single. Italy fell
madly in love with Anggun and the Swatch watch company
picked up the tune in a promotional ad campaign.
The following years saw
Anggun became fluent in French, tour with Lilith Fair—in
1998 which included a guest appearance on the Rosie O'Donnell
show—and MTV included her on it's CD Fabulous Women
along with Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan and Cheryl Crow.
Late last year, Anggun released two versions of her second
CD co-written with Erick Benzi, Desirs contraires,
the French language version, and it's international counterpart,
Where did the title come
from? "It was just my state of mind when I was writing
the songs. I was in the studio and the songs were the
chrysalis. I like the mystery of a chrysalis; you don't
know if it's going to be a yellow butterfly, or green
or red, or just a plain butterfly. But then, there are
no plain butterflies, every butterfly is unique, yeah,
Chrysalis. And it's the fact that I like metaphors, I
like second chances, I like that."
Anggun took a more active
part in the writing of the latest CD, Chrysalis,
for which she penned all of the English lyrics. Explaining
that although she had always written songs, and was deeply
involved in all of her albums to date, she had always
considered herself firstly a classical pianist and a performer;
she preferred to leave the writing and producing to the
professionals. But now it was becoming more of a necessity
to write her own material. "I think it is very natural
for an artist to want to have artistic control in whatever
she's doing, but it is very hard at the same time because
I'm hard on myself; I could kill myself with critics.
It's really hard, because I get the feeling that I'm naked.
When I was singing somebody else's songs, it was much
easier because it's not my story; I just do my job as
a singer. But these songs are about me."
Are they really personal?
"They're personal, but they're not autobiographical."
The lyrics for the song
"Look Into Yourself" talk about wanting to change, believing
in yourself and that dreams aren't made to be erased.
So does this song describe
any specific event in your life? "Well, yeah. Like everybody
I have ups and downs, and I have lots of downs, and that
was a song to cheer me up. That song actually... I wrote
it down when I was... this thing happened in my life and
I was extremely, extremely negative and I just wanted
to... but I'm not telling you what it is." Anggun laughs
charmingly as she deflects the question.
I'm not going to ask you.
"Okay, good. But it was just funny for me to think that
it was a positive song out of something very negative,
and I wrote it in a very negative state of mind."
In this same song, you
say "look into yourself, and be the master of your destiny."
Then in the song you've titled "Signs of Destiny," you
say, "I know that we are meant to be together, believe
in destiny." Do you believe in destiny, that everything
is planned for us? "Yes, I come from a country where we
read the palm, everything in our hand is writing. But
there's the left hand and there's the right hand. There
is what could happen, in the left hand, and then there
is the other possibility on the right hand, and I do believe
in that. There is a destiny that is already written, but
it has two ends and you're the one that has to find out.
So there's not one truth. That is what I like."
So how do you approach
life? "Now I'd like to actually learn about Buddhism,
I've talked to people who are Buddhist, and you know,
doing yoga and reading books... it's actually very simple,
love yourself so that you can love others, that's all.
But I'm no expert, I have so many questions."
I especially like the song,
"A Prayer", it seems so hopeful. Who are you singing to
in this song? "...God. But, I don't know, I was born Muslim,
but I went to Catholic school and now I'm approaching
Buddhism, and I don't know." Anggun continues, "I think
to believe is really important, I need to believe that
there's something up there, the highest high. I like to
think that way."
Do you think prayers are
answered then? "Yes, I do believe that. But the thing
is that you don't know when."
You have to be patient?
"Exactly. And sometimes the answer doesn't actually...
you don't have the answer the way you want it. It will
come in another shape, or in a person, or in an animal.
And you say, ah yes, this is it, it makes me feel better.
My father always said be attentive, pay attention to signs."
You've been in Paris six
years now, and appear to be a modern, young Parisian woman.
At this point how important is your Indonesian heritage
to you? Are you tired of people like me asking you about
it? "No, I'm extremely proud of it, the fact that my hair
is black and that I have all of this inheritance in my
blood. But the thing is, I don't want to sell this, especially
in my music, I don't want to do something obvious. I don't
want to do traditional Indonesian music; I'm not interested
in doing that. I want to introduce Indonesia in very subtle
ways, like wearing a perfume. You can smell it but you
can't see it."
So how does she feel about
Paris now? Anggun explains to me that although it is her
home, and she does love living here—she is still discovering
new parts of this fabulous city—it's been six years and
it's time for her to move on. I sense that her hunger
for adventure and new discoveries is strongly rooted and
she says she believes that change is good. "It's time
for me to learn another new culture," she says. "I want
to learn to speak another new language, maybe Italian."
Though she has no developed plans at this time to move,
her career has taken her to Italy and Sweden many times,
and she has acquired a strong liking for both places.
She describes to me excitedly her attraction to Italy
and the enthusiasm and passionate nature of its people.
But then at the same time, how she loves the Scandinavians
as well. "There's so many artists, painters, sculptors,
and the music's amazing. It's such a small country, the
weather's so rude and the people are so creative. It's
interesting to live... to be able to live in so many places."
With obvious Indonesian
and other cultural influences throughout her music—Spanish
guitar on "Valparaiso" and tabla on "How the World"—I
ask Anggun about her ideas regarding instrumentation and
writing. "I love breaking rules, I don't want to go by
the book," she says. "Music has no frontier, and what
I like is really to combine all these different sounds
and cultures." She describes to me how "Over Their Walls"
on the first CD has a Chinese feel to it—though she's
not Chinese—and how the same song features banjo as well,
how normally these two things don't get along.
I'd read somewhere that
Anggun liked Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan—a sensational Pakistani
musician and performer who was picked up by Peter Gabriel's
Real World label before his death. Anggun began to tell
me of her deep respect for him and slid into how she also
loved the music of Indian singer, Sheila Chandra. Her
reply was richly textured with excitement and obvious
artistic respect. Anggun told me a comic story about her
attendance at the Real World tenth anniversary celebrations
in Bath, England about a year and a half ago. How Sheila
Chandra was standing only about two feet away from her,
and how much she wanted to go over and talk with her,
but she couldn't—she just stood there. Then Sheila performed
one song that blew Anggun away, the party ended and Anggun
ended up not talking to her. "It was one of the biggest
mistakes of my life, I know it's so stupid.... I can't
So why didn't you say anything?
"Because I was... I was just being a stupid fan." With
great candidness and sincerity, Anggun laughs aloud at
herself for not talking to Sheila.
Anggun's last two CDs were
the result of working with Erick Benzi, and I ask her
if she plans to continue working with him in the future.
"Maybe not. As I said, it's always good to move on. Two
albums with one person is a lot. I think he is going to
be around, but maybe not as much as before." Anggun talks
about how he actually suggested this to her, because she
now knows more and more what she wants, and the excitement
in Anggun's voice is a clear reflection of this rediscovered
confidence in herself. This is why she's spending time
in Sweden, branching out even further and meeting Swedish
artists and producers.
When I ask Anggun about
other composers or musicians she would like to work with,
she tells me about how she met Brian Adams at the Vatican
during a show for the Pope. A month later she was in London
and Bryan invited her over to where he was doing some
writing with a Swedish musician that Anggun knew from
working with only a year earlier. They said that they
had a song they were thinking about doing for her. "I
was so flattered, but at the same time he's doing his
own material, he's actually recording his new album."
Only 27, Anggun has proved
twice already that she can succeed in the pursuit of her
dreams. With a powerful, soaring voice that listeners
compare to that of Annie Lennox, a newly discovered desire
to write more and more of her own material and a lively
hunger for life experience and love, Anggun should find
endless fodder to feed her passion for music, writing
and performing. She has already begun the writing of her
next CD—with her new Swedish friends—and has projects
with Indonesian musicians and Deep Forest, a massively
popular contemporary French group.
With all that said, I wished
Anggun continued success and thanked her for her time.
She thanked me kindly for the interview, and off she went
to eat the pasta dinner she had been cooking at her friend’s
house during the course of our conversation.