Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Violinist Hendri a reluctant celebrity

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

He has been the unknown backup musician for dozens of singers and pop groups. Most people probably know him as the long-haired violinist playing behind singer Chrisye, pop group Kla Project, rock band Dewa, dangdut singer Evie Tamala and many more.

But Hendri Lamiri, sporting short hair now, is becoming something of a celebrity himself these days, though he is quick to dispute this claim.

"I'm a musician, I play violin, I'm no celebrity," the 29-year-old violinist said.

We met recently at a cafe in Plaza Senayan, Central Jakarta, with Hendri bringing along the whole family, including his five- year-old son, Ridho Pratama.

"Only a few people know that I have a son," he smiled.

When asked about his wife, Hendri paused and stared at the table. "I ... have already separated from Ridho's mother. So ...," he laughed faintly.

The subject quickly changes to how Hendri started playing the violin.

He recalled his childhood in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. When he was younger than four years old, Hendri often watched his brother take violin lessons.

His late father, who was a music teacher, began to teach Hendri the violin, but as the instrument was too big for him, the lessons were limited to holding it.

"When I was exactly four, my father ordered a violin for me. I hadn't even begun school at the time," said Hendri, the youngest of eight children.

Hendri proved to have a natural talent for the violin and immediately fell in love with it.

"You know, the violin is very special and unique. You can't just play it, you have to know the instrument well. When you play it, you must be in the right position, bowing it well and with full concentration. It is easy to hear if you don't play it correctly," he said.

His debut performance came a year later, during a visit to the city by former president Soeharto.

Aiming to put on a unique show, local conductor Simfoni Akcaya hired Hendri.

"It wasn't because there were no other violinists but, you know, a six-year-old violinist, especially in Kalimantan ... it was like, wow!" Hendri said.

After that, job offers started to pour in and Hendri was hired by a hotel to play pop standards like Misty, My Way and Love Story, as well as country music.

While Hendri was still in junior high school, noted musician and songwriter A. Riyanto stopped by the hotel and heard Hendri play. Impressed by Hendri's talent, Riyanto asked Hendri to accompany him to Jakarta.

But Hendri was not willing to leave his mother, especially after his father had died when he was 10 years old.

After graduating from junior high school, Hendri asked his family's permission to move to the capital.

"The whole family was like, 'What? What will you do? You're still a kid!' But somehow I had the courage to go. I was so sure that I could do something. I just wanted to fill my father's shoes, at least as a good musician," Hendri said.

In Jakarta, Hendri worked at a number of five-star hotels and bars.

"I was playing music just to make money to go back to Pontianak, because I missed my mother so much," said Hendri, who went to high school in the capital, before enrolling in and resign dropping out of a university here because he was so alone and had to support himself.

After accepting an offer to join the group The Panbers, Hendri worked with them for about seven years.

He also started to attract the attention of numerous other artists, but Hendri said his breakthrough came in 1994, when he played on Kla Project's album Klakustik and supported them at concerts.

At around the same time, he was bringing together some friends from Pontianak, forming the band Arwana, which has released two albums to date and is working on a third.

"It was an old obsession to form a band. I just want to show people here, we're a band from Kalimantan," Hendri said.

Hendri has backed almost every singer in the country and says he is not picky about who he plays with.

"I've backed all kinds of music, even dangdut and religious music. It's not because I'm greedy. But I'm a musician. It's not good if I'm stuck in one genre. Like it or not, it's just a matter of taste.

"Another reason is that the violin has to be played every day, if not it'll feel rigid. So playing for people is a kind of exercise for me."

Hendri said there are many quality violinists in Indonesia, but most of them don't have the confidence to play.

"It's best if you just try. If you can't, then that's it," said Henry, who also plays the drums and guitar.

As for Singapore-born violinist Vanessa Mae, who performed here at the end of September, Hendri said that Mae's success lay in good management and promotion.

"I'm not saying that she's not good, she's just not extraordinary. There are so many great violinists, especially in India, and their skills are way above those of Vanessa. But, of course, the packaging and management is not as great as her's."

The management and the packaging, Hendri said, is a weakness for Indonesian artists, many of whom are followers.

Hendri is now working on a solo project, tapping noted musicians like Erwin Gutawa, Dwiki Darmawan and Purwa Caraka for the project. Planned for release next year, Hendri wants the album to penetrate the international market by presenting what he calls "Indonesian pop, with a touch of ethnicity".

"It is, of course, every musician's dream to go international. I think the obstacle for our artists is first of all the language. So, since I speak through the violin, I'm quite certain that the album can be accepted."

Another of Hendri's dreams is to become a music arranger.

"I want to be at least like Erwin Gutawa. He's such a great arranger because he has this sharp intuition."