Anggun may have left Indonesia in the mid-90s, but judging by the massive media turn-out that greeted the pop diva's return this week Indonesia has not forgotten it's prodigal daughter. Three years after Anggun's last concert in her native archipelago, televisions, radios and celebrity magazines rushed to attend her press conference at the Meridian Hotel in Jakarta. The cause of this current rush of Anggun-fever? None other than that the singer, whom Indonesians knew as "Lady Rock" in the early 90s, has gone on to enjoy a promising international career, putting Indonesia firmly on the musical map.
Anggun left her native archipelago in 1995 and moved to France, where she rapidly "discovered a new language and musicality." Fusing her Indonesian roots with this newly acquired experience, the young singer went on to bring out a promising debut album entitled simply Anggun. This skilful mix of pop, hip-hop and world sounds, featuring songs recorded in both French and Indonesian, received general critical acclaim and was soon followed by a second album, Désirs contraires, featuring songs recorded exclusively in French. Anggun proceeded to break onto the European market in style, earning herself a gold disc in Italy and going on to record the soundtrack of the film Open Hearts in 2002.
"No other singer from my country has managed to build a career like that!" declared one young Indonesian journalist at Anggun's press conference, glowing with obvious pride. Surrounded by a pack of press photographers snapping away at her heels, Anggun radiated calm and professionalism as she answered journalists' questions with no trace of showbizz sham and exaggeration. Available for a series of 'tête-à-tête' interviews with individual journalists before the general press conference, the singer listened attentively and spoke eloquently about her pet subject, music. "What do I think about the idea of singing in French back home?" she mused, "Well, why not? I don't believe language should be any kind of barrier. I think you have to be able to transcend language really. It's a bit like painting, in fact. There are some paintings where two eyes are simply not enough. You have to use a sort of 'third eye' and let yourself be carried away by emotion."
Throughout her exile abroad Anggun has kept a close eye on events back home, following the profound changes which have swept the archipelago since the end of General Suharto's thirty-year dictatorship in 1998. "I think more and more artists are expressing themselves openly and addressing major social issues these days" she says, "But you have to realise that Indonesians express their feelings in a very discreet manner. So while from the outside these changes in Indonesia may appear minimal they actually mark an important shift in attitude." The pop diva is not afraid of expressing her own opinions either, recently voicing her concerns about the environment on the album Gaïa (a compilation featuring an all-star international cast released on the Dreyfus label).
Anggun is willing to repeat the experience for the worthy cause of child protection, although she is not keen on the idea of expressing her own views in her songs. "Music and politics don't go together in my book," she declares, "It's like religion; you can write songs about God but I don't think you should parade your own opinions. There are some issues where it's right to reach out and touch the maximum number of people possible and others which should remain in the intimacy of individual souls." While Anggun hoes a cautious line as an artist, she admits she has had a deep personal reaction to recent tragedies in Indonesia (notably the terrorist attacks in Bali and the war in Aceh). "I've no intention of committing myself as a singer," she says, "but that doesn't mean I can't commit myself on a personal level… I wouldn't rule out the idea of writing an article for a newspaper, for instance."
Meanwhile, Anggun continues her singing career with aplomb. Her recent concert, organised by the French Cultural Centre in Indonesia, found Jakarta's Marzuki Center packed to the rafters with a capacity audience of 1,000. And the singer returned the crowd's warm welcome in full, throwing herself into her performance body and soul. Anggun had invited a number of hot up-and-coming talents to perform on stage with her in Jakarta and guest stars included Marseilles club idols Galleon, young pop crooner Julian Cely (for whom Anggun recently wrote a song) and Indonesian 'cyber-techno' outfit Cyno. The "world pop" diva's show attracted a very mixed audience, including both French and Indonesian fans and everyone from over-excited teenagers to the French ambassador. But Anggun's performance seemed to touch everyone's heart, appreciation reaching fever-point when the singer stepped down from the stage to shower the crowd with rose petals. This musical tour de force only made it harder to learn that this was the only concert Indonesia's prodigal daughter is planning to perform at home this year.
Translation : Julie Street