Anies Syaichu stays true to reggae
Ade Tanesia Contributor Yogyakarta
Mention reggae music, and the legendary Bob Marley will immediately come to mind.
Despite the musical genre's popularity here for a long time -- many pubs in major cities play reggae to coax their guests out onto the dance floor -- only a few Indonesian musicians, like Tony Q and the Imanez Group, have dedicated their talents to it.
Recently, after spending much of his time on developing his musical talent, Yogyakarta artist Anies Syaichu released his new reggae album titled Yang Bagus Akan Datang (The Good One Will Come) under the Blass Production label.
The 50-year-old artist, who first became acquainted with music in his teens, established Primitive Band in the 1970s with some of his friends in Yogyakarta. Later, while he was living in Germany, he set up Chaos Company.
Only after performing and experimenting with different kinds of music, Anies decided to take up reggae. Reggae is Jamaican pop music, a combination of West Indian -- ska, rock steady -- and Afro-American music styles with a hypnotic, heavy bass sound (ref: Hal Leonard's Pocket Music Dictionary).
Wanting to experience the music first-hand, he traveled to Jamaica in 1986 for the Reggae Sun Flash Festival and there, he realized that reggae was his only choice.
According to Anies, unlike rock music, reggae does not require great stamina on the part of the musician -- it is simple and does not require a lot of chords, although discipline is still a requisite.
Amid its simplicity, he said, one needs to understand, to go deep into the music before performing it well.
"Your soul needs to get to the core of the music in order to perform well," he said.
His break came when he was recommended as a reggae singer for Asian Roots in Jakarta and soon, in 1994, he moved to Jakarta to try his luck with his music.
Asian Roots later became one of the outstanding reggae groups in Indonesia, releasing several albums and performing back-to- back schedules at noted bars at the Hyatt hotel, Amigos and Pasir Putih.
During performances, Syaichu usually crooned popular reggae songs, mainly Bob Marley's. With his distinct voice, resembling Marley's, people found themselves attracted to his performance.
Still, Anies wanted more. He wanted to prove himself as a reggae musician, and the only way to do this was by releasing his own album with his own songs.
With strong determination, he made a demo of his own songs in 2001, but unfortunately, no one wanted to produce his album. He went to Sony and EMI also, but to no avail.
"Sony wrote me a letter saying that my recording was good, but they also said they were not ready for this album," Anies laughed, believing that the company was not ready to produce an entirely reggae album.
A year later, Blass Production, owned by Felix, offered to produce an album. Without wasting any time, Anies returned to his hometown in Yogyakarta to prepare the album.
"Yang Bagus Akan Datang is a reflection of this country: Huge debts and costly education. Indonesia is getting messier, but I still have my optimism. I actually wanted to call the album Ratu Adil (Queen of Justice), as the album contains a dream I had about this messiah. I'm Javanese, and have read the prophecy by Jayabaya, who said that after this crazy era, Indonesia would become prosperous," Anies said of the 11-song album. He has already put together additional songs for the next two albums.
His love of the music is revealed not only through his songs, but also through his work in forming the Indonesian Reggae Community. The community comprises some 200 musicians from 17 reggae groups in Yogyakarta.
"Yogyakarta has plenty of reggae groups. If they are encouraged to write their own songs, there will be different explorations of this music. Reggae will not then be associated only with Marley," Anies said.
He decided to set up the reggae community out of his knowledge that the reggae community in Indonesia, particularly in the eastern part of the country, is quite big. He found it strange that music producers in Indonesia seemed reluctant to market reggae music.
The Indonesian Reggae Community is expected to show the strength of this community. "Hopefully, some cooperation will be developed to produce cassettes or CDs of reggae music. In this way, this musical genre will be promoted and better explored in Indonesia," Anies said.
One of the community's programs is to team up in recording a compilation of reggae songs.
Anies believes that in Indonesia, reggae could be branched out into many different genres in exploring the possibility of a uniquely Indonesian brand of reggae music.
Anies' greatest strength lies in his voice. Even at 50, it seems as though he was born to sing reggae.
"I smoke less before a show and take enough sleep and rest, because when I'm on stage, I have to sing and move for several hours," Anies said.
He strongly believes that one cannot miraculously become a singer. "You have to work hard to be one," he said.
All these long years, he has never stopped exploring. For him, performing is his life's adventure, by which he may discover his own identity, and God.
"Every time I sing, I feel like I'm singing before God," he says.