Monday, December 27, 2004

Interview: Anggun

A phone interview and a very generous editor at Pulp magazine = one of the best interviews I have ever had the chance to conduct. It's interviews like this that make me miss the days when I did a lot of freelance work covering the music scene. I'm replubishing this PULP piece here because... well... cos I can. ;)

Circa: 2002

The Indonesian orchid continues to bloom in France. If there is anything we’ve learned about Anggun it is this – she is intensely private. Even after releasing “Snow on the Sahara”, her first English language album, she continues to live behind a perfumed cloud of mystery. Ask her about her thoughts on music and she will talk for hours. Anything about her private life however, is taboo. At best, she is candid about her prized possession – a pillow she calls a “guling” that travels with her wherever she goes. But that hasn’t kept anyone from trying to breach her censor board.

Three years later, the release of Chrysalis and a phone call from France gives us another chance.

Kage: Hi.
Anggun: Hello. Sorry if I sound like I am talking with my nose. I catch a cold. I am not used to wearing turtlenecks and clothes for cold weather. I like to wear sandals. Things like that. I am Asian!

Kage : Do you feel the need to be a representative of Asian artists?
Anggun: No actually but whether I like it or not, I will be. The fact is there aren’t a lot of Asian artists in the European and American scene. I try to do my best but I don’t want to be alone in the scene anymore. Coco Lee is starting but you can still count on one hand who has. Lea Salonga with Broadway. But that is like a different kind of music too.

Kage: In what way is this new album different from the last one?
Anggun: Musically I think, technically speaking, it has less world music. You know how on Snow on the Sahara I had a lot of Indonesian instruments? In Chrysalis, I toned down the ethnic part. I don’t want to give a reason that just because I’m Indonesian that I have to put Indonesian music. It’s still very Indonesian since I wrote every song. The ideas, the point of view… I’m Indonesian so I don’t think we have to underline that again by putting the music. Now it is a subtle approach.

Kage : Do you find that taking your time to record makes for better quality albums?
Anggun: Well it gives me more satisfaction. I don’t know about quality. That’s subjective. I like to take my time. No rush. I like to make sure that everything is in place. I have to be 1000% (yes a thousand, not a hundred) convinced that it is good. My name is on it. I am the artist. So if it is not good then it reflects on me.

Kage : What was it like to co-write all the songs in Chrysalis?
Anggun: I like that I have artistic control. I am my best enemy and harshest critic. Which is bad in a sense because I am never satisfied. Then again, an artist is never satisfied. (It is) Good motivation to push yourself. I like being unsatisfied.

Kage : With music or in general?
Anggun: In general but mostly music. When you are unsatisfied you keep reaching for more.

Kage: Why the title?
Anggun: I like the idea of a creature inside a chrysalis. That you do not know what is inside. Maybe it will be a red and blue butterfly. Maybe a yellow one. I like the idea of how this creature starts as a worm then in the chrysalis, it becomes a butterfly. I like the before rather than after. The mystery. If you don’t believe in reincarnation at least believe in this… the transformation, becoming something else.

Kage : Are you transforming?
Anggun: I can see myself evolving, transforming. You should feed yourself with different experiences to make yourself more aware. Travel to different places. Be open to new experiences. I know that I have not done a lot or seen a lot so I have a long way to go. But I am aware of that.

Kage : Were there songs that didn’t make it to the album?
Anggun: A lot. I don’t know if I will use them for something else. Or put them in another album. For me writing songs is like freezing time. This is what happened to me at this time. A snapshot. For me, it has to be personal. I want to make sure that I deliver the right emotion. That the message gets through. But that doesn’t mean that I wont be able to sing past songs with the same emotion because I went through the experience and I recorded the song already. But I cant put an old song to a new album.

Kage : Does the need to sell your music dilute its quality? In other words, do you think about the commercial aspect when you are recording?
Anggun: I don’t actually but my producer does. Show & business. I deal with the show part, they deal with the business. It is teamwork. The good part is knowing that you have a good team with you. It’s a good start.

Kage: Is life easier now that you’ve successfully broken into the international scene or is life more complicated?
Anggun: Not complicated. Just less and less time for myself. But this is something that has been my life. I grew up doing shows, traveling, having interviews. I like that. This is my life. Whenever I am on tour, I give and I receive so much from the public so I don’t feel tired. It’s dangerous to your health if you aren’t careful. Oh excuse me.

(A dog starts to bark in the background. Anggun comes back after saying something I don’t understand.)

Anggun: That was my dog.

Kage: What kind of dog is she?
Anggun: A german sheperd. She doesn’t like other dogs but she likes people.

Kage: Do you speak to her in Indonesian or French?
Anggun: She was trained here so I speak to her in French if I want her to understand me. When I play with her, I speak in Indonesian. Baby talk.

Kage: You’ve been likened to Annie Lenox and Sade… any thoughts on that?
Anggun: I think that it’s a huge compliment. I think that its normal that at the beginning people tend to compare you to other artists because it takes such an effort to be recognized for yourself at the start. But yes, it is a huge compliment to be compared to them. They are artists that I really respect. I love Sade.

Kage: What risks have you taken lately?
Anggun: Changing teams. Willingness to work with new people. Breaking the security of the past.

Kage: What was the last cd you bought for yourself?
Anggun: I bought an album by this band called Clawfinger. It’s a Swedish rock band. A good album. I like to discover new things. There is this Italian band that is amazing. Quinto Rigo It’s a traditional quartet that does rock. Amazing but they are not very popular outside Italy. Maybe it is not commercial enough. But does it have to be like that? Good music is not measured in how many albums you make.

Kage: What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? That way I can ask it now and we’ll both be happy.
Anggun: Are you in love?

Kage: But that’s a personal question and we know how you don’t like to be asked personal questions.
Anggun (laughs): That is true. But people ask me if I have a boyfriend or if I am married. But never if I am in love.

Kage: So, are you in love?
Anggun: Yes, I am.

Kage: And that’s all you are going to give me right?
Anggun (laughs) : Yes. Right.

Kage : At least give us this, do you still travel with your “guling”?
Anggun (laughs): Yes actually and its embarrassing because the people in my band make fun of me because it is so big. I have it right here right now.

** The interview ends here but we actually stayed on the phone just a little more to talk about men and love and the evils of shopping and self-esteem. Anggun is a wonderful human being and such an inspiration.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

The Bizaare Bazaar

What. A. Weekend. And while it wasn't technically travel related, it was a trip! See, a few of us got together last Sunday and held a full-scale sale at Ana's house. We'd been prepping for it for the last two weeks. Making sure our goods were all in order, figuring out how to make the payment system work and inviting everyone we knew to the event. Because really, this wasn't just any bazaar... this was the Bizaare Bazaar... a sale like no other.
Noelle and I pimped our Brown Belly products and looked like a slice of Hawaii with our fake flowers and beach inspired gear. (Taking full advantage of the whimsical mood of the day, I donned my pink & orange butterfly wings and never looked back.) Ana took care of Bohemiana (naturally) and the horde of goodies she'd brought back from a recent trip to Japan. Looking at her booth made you automatically think "Oh Tokyo!" Talia's Beadnik tent displayed the treats she bought during her 6 week trip to Mexico... very south of the border. Her Brazilian-inspired beaded thongs were the biggest hit I think, eliciting both gasps of indignation and admiration (sometimes from the same person). Representing Manila in this accidental international fare were Cat (Planet Zips), dear friends Regine and Mon (owners of Sit) with their dog couches and the girls of Wildberry with their lovely clothes.
All in all it was a success ... with family, friends and friends of family friends dropping by to have a look around, fill their Christmas lists and sit a spell by Ana's pool. During sales lulls, even us booth owners would take time out to hang out and enjoy the balmy weather. There was one lull where we were ALL bored and just sat around staring at Mexican jumping beans. But lulls dont last long and by 4 in the afternoon we were back at our stations, at the ready... writing our receipts and talking hesitant customers into buying our goods.
One of the best moments of the day came in the form of Regine's niece, Regina... a four year old darling dressed in head to toe pink. She asked if she could help me sell things and of course I let her. I've never seen a more focused four year old! Every time I would walk away -- to get a drink of water for example - she would run after me, grab my hand and say "Tita Kage, we cant leave the stall. What if someone wants to buy from us?" Duly reprimanded, I would let her lead me back so we could hawk flower pins, Indo pants and tube tops together. At one point, she picked up the Brown Belly calling card and asked me what it was. After I'd explained that my number and Noelle's were on it in case someone wanted to call us she asks "Where is my name?" Precious. Any time this child wants to help out, she is more than welcome.

We finally closed up shop at 8pm and began the business packing up what was left of our goods. It was only then that all the adrenaline I'd been running on all day started leaving my body. Damn, I was tired! In fact, we all were. And yet, oddly enough, it was a good kind of tired. I had spent the day promoting my line... with my friends... sharing the occasional beer. And we made money to boot.

Like I said... what a weekend!

Some photos from the day:
One of the Brown Belly tables.

Napoleon models the couch named after him. Good dog.

Talia, Cat and the energetic Mexican Jumping Beans.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


It's time to FIESTA in the last month of the year!

8 - Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Malabon MM & Vigan, Ilocos Sur – in Malabon, a fluvial parade down Malabon river.

8 – 9 - Feast of Our Lady of Caysasay Taal, Batangas (fluvial parade)

12 - Pagsanjan Town Festival

16 – 25 - Misas de Gallo – literally, masses of the cock, as everyone wakes up at dawn to go to Church. There is widely held belief that if you go to all the morning masses, you get to make a wish at the end of it.

18 - Lantern Festival at SM in San Fernando, Pampanga

4th week - Binirayan San Jose, Antique – commemorating the arrival of Malaysian datus on the island of Panay

24 - Maytinis Kawit, Cavite – reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a room

last Sunday - Bota de Flores Ermita Church, Manila – girls offer flowers to the Nuestra Senora de Guia

28 - Holy Innocents Day, the day of pranks.

30 - Rizal Day

31 - New Year’s Eve, incredible noise, lots of music and the ringing in of 2005.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

La Union Long Weekends: 2

Due to Ramadan and National Heros' Day, we were given two long weekends for the month of November. And due to Mother Nature's rather capricious um, nature, we were also given good conditions for surfing. So off I went to La Union twice this month -- yay!
Trip Two (Nov 28/29) had me, Noelle and Didoy on what we called our semi-adventure trip. With no room in any of the mangers, we were pretty much resigned to living out of Didoy's car... and looking forward to a cool and breezy night sleeping in a tent we planned to pitch on the beach. Instead we find out that, at high tide, the water comes up to cover the entire shoreline... and other plans must be arranged for the evening.
Highlights from this particular weekend:
- Living out of the car. Nothing like hangin' up your damp bikini across the inside strap of a soft rack and letting it air dry.
- We made plans to head over to Bacnotan an hour after we arrived in San Juan. A lot of people were telling us not to as the circus was going to be there -- loads of first-timers and crowded line-ups. Thing is, didn't really see us as having much of a choice since the beach break was all blown out and I'm not skilled enough to charge the Point when it's overhead. It turned out to be fun after all. A lot of the first timers were at the shoulder... and most of the local boys were there as well, giving lessons... which pretty much left the peak open for everyone else. I had two major wipe-outs... one where I thought my lungs would burst from holding my breath and tumbling underwater. I also caught fun rides -- nice, smooth, long ones where I internally whooped and did mental Indian Warrior Princess dances.
- Seeing Alex again! The last he and I had any quality time with each other was over two months ago and it just felt good to finally catch up with him. And he had one of the best stories to tell me... which I listened to raptly while La Union delivered another one of its beautiful sunsets. I kid you not, these are gobsmackingly amazing sunsets -- it goes pink then orange and it just burns. It looks like the ocean is trying to drink the sky. And there I was ... without a camera. But see, sometimes, it's the photographs in your head that are the most precise.
- The fried chicken at Angel & Marie's place (Surfer's Retreat). Go and try it.
- Pitching the tent ... on the concrete driveway in front of Viva/Buji/Earl's place. It was funny because 1) it was a GIANT tent and it took up nearly the whole width of the driveway. Insane. Who makes tents this big?! and 2) as we hadn't planned to sleep on concrete none of us had earth pads or mats... I dragged my board bag in to add a little cushion to the floor but it wasn't quite up to snuff.
- Sitting around another fire. Listening to my cousin Inky jam with other percussionists. Cat and Pao came by later on in the night and brought out the zips. Cat looked awesome zipping by the firelight. Had she been wearing fairy wings she would have looked like something out of a Gaiman illustration. The problem was that as more and more people arrived, it began to feel more and more like Manila... and less like La Union. That coupled with having surfed all day forced me to retreat to my giant tent ... where I eventually drifted off to sleep... lulled by the sound of passing buses and vehicles.
- The next morning... waking up to brewed coffee courtesy of Joncy who was living at Becky's apartment which was right in front of our giant tent. (Yes, hello run-on sentence! Lost your punctuation marks did you?).
- An overcast morning session at Bacnotan again. Cleaner rides. No death-defying wipe-outs. And the first time I ever walled a wave in my life. (Cue sounds of marching band and the falling of many many bits of brightly colored paper).
We left La Union at 4pm. I let Adam Levine's sexy voice lull me to sleep. The suddenly pouring rain woke me up when the soft rack began leaking. Ten hours and two stop-overs later we got back home to Manila. Half my ass was wet from the leaky rack, my blanket soaked through, the smell of damp car clinging to my clothes and an ache in my bones from being cramped in the car.
I didn't care.
The weekend had been worth it.

La Union Long Weekends: Part 1

November 2004
Due to Ramadan and National Heros' Day, we were given two long weekends for the month of November. And due to Mother Nature's rather capricious um, nature, we were also given good conditions for surfing. So off I went to La Union twice this month -- yay!
Trip One (November 14/15) was semi-work related as the team from TxTube was also there to shoot some segments for the show. It was semi for me as I am not really a full time member of the team but do pitch in every once in a while.
Some people from capoeira were with me this time around -- including my two teachers! It was good to be able to hang out with them outside of training as it had been quite a while. Then again I didn't really spend a lot of time hanging out either cos while the swell conditions were less than ideal though -- rather small. But since I hadn't properly surfed in a while, I wasn't going to be picky.
Apparently there were more than a few of us who had the same game plan in mind. At one time there were just under 50 of us in the line-up sharing a small section of the beach. Every wave was a party wave -- this was no time to be selfish about what little swell we were being given. I ran over two Japanese guys two separate times -- and conversely got run into a bunch of times as well. But it was all good.
Other highlights:
- Paolo coming over to me while I was mucking about at the shoulder and saying "what are you doing there? Come with me. Now." And I meekly (haha) followed him to the peak. He pushed me into the first two waves just "to help (me) get my mojo back." And it worked! After that, I was on my own at the peak... but catching rides. So... thanks Pao Pao!
- Hanging around a bonfire listening to people jam on guitar and percussions. Then later watching as Pao and Pino spun fire. My failed attempt at trying it sober has proven one thing: I am much braver (or more stupid) when I am under the influence. Haha!
- Dressing up as The Flash and the Wonder Twins just because. Then paddling out and attempting to catch a wave. Paolo did. Me? Not so much. But it was fun to laugh like that again. That kind of laughter where you think you may just swallow your own tongue. Haha!
- Just enjoying the feel of my board undulating in the water... looking around and seeing everyone else in the water... the waves were crapand yet there we were... just taking whatever Mother Ocean gave us... and being grateful for it.