Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Syaharani: Exploring her comfort zone

Matheos Viktor Messakh, , The Jakarta Post, , Jakarta | Sat, 01/03/2009 10:33 AM | People

Syaharani likes to swing to many things in life, but she only chooses those that suit her soul and mind.

SYAHARANI: Courtesy of SyaharaniSYAHARANI: Courtesy of Syaharani

That was why the 37-year-old jazz singer recorded her first album when she was 28 although many recording offers had come her way since she was only a high school student.

Born in the small town of Batu in Malang, East Java, Saira Syaharani Ibrahim's father is of mixed Indian and Sulawesi decent, and her mother is of mixed Greek and Central Java Surakarta blood.

Syaharani was never formally trained, but her mother Elly Zapantis, a soprano singer, was a great influence on her.

"My mom has given me a lot of sense. We used to sit around her, watching the moon, singing and talking. This pastime is still the best stress release for me," she said.

Although she has been aware of the works of jazz legends like Nat King Cole, Shirley Bassey and Frank Sinatra since her childhood, becoming a jazz singer was not her dream.

As a little girl, Syaharani was more into sports -- she was a sprinter and a badminton shuttler at school.

If she had not injured her ankle during the final stages of recruitment for a regional training camp, she would probably be known today as a badminton player.

Her first encounter with music industry was back in 1987, when she moved to stay with a relative, a music producer, in Jakarta three years after the death of her father, Hasan Ali Ibrahim.

Through her relative -- who has arranged tours for world-class musicians like Miami Sound Machine, Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder in the country -- she became familiar with the industry and even became a backing vocalist for Titi DJ.

She was encouraged by friends, including rock musicians like Ian Antono, to enter recording industry, but she declined.

"It's not my character to be a rock star. I prefer something cool and calm, and that's really jazz."

After finishing high school, Syaharani returned to Malang.

But due to economic reason, she abandoned her dream to become an architect and started to work as a customer service officer at a private bank while studying accountancy at university.

She continued singing at night as the vocalist of two university bands, which she joined at the same time.

Juggling he job and her singing career was not easy, and wanting to be honest with herself, she quit her job.

"I like to sing and it's not fair to tell my boss that I will stop singing," she said.

Her life took a twist when she went to live with a relative in Bali after breaking up with her boyfriend.

In Bali, she ventured into singing jobs now and then until she was offered a job after a show at Tavern Club in Kartika Plaza Hotel.

Syaharani said her mother opposed her decision, but she was able to persuade her to agree with her even though it meant she would have to stay longer in Bali.

Soon, she became familiar with some of the country's jazz musicians. One of them, drummer Gilang Ramadhan, introduced her to bassist Todung Panjaitan, who recognized her talent and repeatedly asked her to move to Jakarta, which he argued was the best place to nurture her jazz career.

She finally changed her mind in 1995, moving to Jakarta where she got along very well with the country's leading jazz musicians.

With Todung, Andi Ayunir, she then formed the group Cyano, as well as becoming a vocalist for the Thief Band with Indra Lesmana and Dony Suhendra.

Three year later, jazz musician Benny Likumahuwa asked her to join his band, which included noted musicians Bubi Chen, Sutrisno, Cendy Luntungan and Oele Pattiselano.

"Thank God, I have so many seniors who teach me a lot. This is why I like being a musician. This is the environment I want, not the one I saw when I was in high school, where fans line up waiting for their idol."

The rest of her career is a mixture of friendship and professionalism.

With the band, Syaharani launched a debut of her original music by releasing the compilation album What a Wonderful World in 1998.

One year later, she embarked on a solo career, recording her first solo album Love.

The complexity and diversity of jazz seems to find deep resonance with Syaharani's authentic performance style, becoming a star attraction who enlivens the show with her playful and inspired vocal.

With her sultry voice, Syaharani has performed in some prestigious domestic and international jazz events, including the annual Java Jazz and JakJazz Festival as well as the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands in 2001.

Her talent has made some world-class musicians like Al Jarreau, Dave Koz, Keith Martin and the Yellowjackets share their stages with her during their concerts in the country.

While jazz vocals are her mainstay, in 2002 Syaharani also ventured into what she called psychedelic music by releasing her album Magma, comprising songs with touches of jazz, fusion, ethnic and trip-hop.

She admitted that Magma was not a very successful venture. She returned in 2004 with her third album Syaharani.

In her creativity process, Syaharani does not fear to navigate the fine line between the realm of the pop singer and the genuine jazz vocalist.

She has even attempted to cross the line, by holding her first solo concert titled Cross Genre Music at Taman Ismail Marzuki in 2004.

For her fourth album Untuk Kamu (For You) -- a crossover jazz project -- she tried to make jazz "ear-friendly", blending in the influences of pop, soul, jazzy groove and a bit of rock 'n' roll and blues.

And she is not only exploring and combining different music style, but also begins to expand her talent into theater.

She performed in theatrical musical acts Nyai Dasima (Madame Dasima) and Gallery of Kisses as well as in music flick Garasi (Garage). She also wrote theme song and lent her vocals to the movie Betina (Female).

Early last month, she released her first book, Life Stage Delight, a personal reflection of her life as an entertainer.

When many musicians put their career in the hand of the industry, she runs the management of Syaharani & The Queenfireworks with four of her friends.

She said the independent label was good for young musicians to learn how to manage themselves and if they were lucky, they could become entrepreneurs.

"It's difficult, but it's a challenge. Independent label is a picture of ourselves. If we undermine our own works, we never get the real picture."

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