Sun, 18 Jun 2000

Iwan Fals turns his talents to orchestral music

By Endi Aras

JAKARTA (JP): Virgiawan Listanto took pleasure in the hardship of starting out in music 25 years ago.

As a high school student with strong social concerns, Tanto, as he was nicknamed, wanted most of all to be independent. He chose to be a public transportation conductor and a street singer in pursuing his goal of independence.

"From stall to stall, my singing rings out, oh, for this is my lot in life" -- the lyrics of Kulangkahkan (The Steps I Take) are testament to his great love for his work in the early years. With a guitar in hand and a shrill voice, he sang for his supper in the markets and residential areas of Bandung, West Java.

It led to some colorful experiences. "I once had hot coffee thrown over me and was given Rp 25 (0.3 US cents)," he recalled.

The young man who enjoyed studying self-defense and playing soccer, and was called "fals" by his friends because he sang in a falsetto, made it through the trials.

The nickname stuck, and at 39 Iwan Fals is a living legend in Indonesian rock music.

In recent years, the musician known for continually changing his look has preferred to live far from busy metropolitan life full of frivolity. When his career started to take off, he chose Condet, East Jakarta, as his place of residence with his wife Rossana, his son Galang Rambu Anarki and daughter Anisa Cikal Rambu Basae. Although he has frequently moved house, Iwan continues to choose homes in pastoral surroundings, such as Cipanas, Bumi Serpong Damai and in the Bintaro area.

Since the death of Galang, reportedly from a drug overdose, Iwan has lived with his wife, nicknamed Yos, and his daughter in the village of Leuwinanggung, far from urban centers. They are putting their lives back together after the ordeal and severe impact of Galang's death.

Earlier this month, Iwan was a surprise visitor to Kampung Naga, the insular village situated between the cities of Tasikmalaya and Garut in West Java. Iwan, Yos, Cikal and several members of their contingent appeared to savor the unusual sights.

"We just came from a show in Tasikmalaya. The organizers invited us here," Yos said.

After taking in the spectacular architecture, Iwan performed the Friday prayer with the villagers, renowned for their rigid adherence to tradition.

Iwan and his entourage explored the village. He conversed with the villagers, most of whom were ignorant about Iwan Fals the musician. He prayed, ate and danced with them, also trying his hand at the traditional rebana musical instrument.

"I don't know if I'll want to compose a song from this, but this is interesting for me," Iwan said as he rested after climbing the 316 steps which connect Kampung Naga to the parking area.

The previous day, Iwan, along with Cok Rampal, Inissisri and Nanoe, held a concert in Tasikmalaya at the invitation of Oi Tasikmalaya, his local fan club. Although it was the middle of the day, Iwan and friends kept their agreement to perform 25 songs in succession.

Iwan appears different today. His hair is short, and he has shaved his mustache and sideburns, making him appear younger than his years.

Apart from his simple ways, Iwan also seems a wiser man. "Yeah, it's all part of getting up there in years," he said succinctly.

In his characteristic halting speech, Iwan talked about his plans for Oi and what he hopes to do next on stage.

Question: You look younger.

Answer: Yeah, only because of a botched haircut. When I was making a video clip, the director said my hair should be cut. I went along with it. It turned out to be too short.

You were said to be apathetic about releasing the new album.

Yeah. They are just old songs with new arrangements by Iwang Noorsaid. It's called Entah (I don't Know) and Kumenanti Seorang Kekasih (I'm Waiting for a Lover).

When will it be released?

I don't know, that's up to Musica Studio. But they said this June.

You don't have any new songs?

Oh, lots. I never stop making songs because that's my job.

How did you feel about singing your old songs with their lyrics about love?

It was a bit awkward. It's been a long time since I sang them. Maybe it's also because I'm already an old man, but I'm singing love songs.

Are you giving your full concentration to your fan organization?

Yeah. It's great. Like yesterday's show, which was arranged by Oi Tasikmalaya. They obtained the funding themselves, then put on the show.

When you get a lot of requests for shows, which do you choose -- the regular organizers or Oi?

For the time being, my preference is Oi. What's more if the events are scheduled at the same time, then I prioritize Oi.

Why? Don't you stand to lose?

That is my commitment. If I have given my word, I keep to it.

Any plans for a solo concert?

Yeah, maybe for a foundation. But I don't know for sure.

There are rumors you want to set up an orchestra.

Oh, that's up to my friends. It's probably still a long way off.

What do you think about orchestral music?

Well, I think it's more perfect. The nuances are wider. I always imagine the expressions of the musicians. Just think about if musicians are playing together with the same feeling, the same expression -- it's bound to be great.

What if it does happen?

Well, I don't know. I would have a new experience and enter a wider world.

You will need time to practice together, right?

Yeah. For me, the most exciting part is being able to communicate with them. I'd be able to get to know their world. But if I only show up and sing, then it's much lighter.

What ideas do you have for them?

I haven't thought about that. I just wonder if the orchestra would play without looking at the score.


Members of the orchestra usually look at the score and to the conductor to give directions. In my opinion it breaks their concentration.

What would you propose?

If possible, not using the score. Thus, there would be full concentration and the result would probably be excellent. All of them would be playing according to their feelings. I believe in that. If we reach that point, it'd be awesome; the players will be able to express themselves. Imagine if all the violinists were playing with feeling. Well, it'd be wild.