IN SEARCH OF SOUL
Singer Teza Sumendra talks about music and his love-hate relationship with social media.
Arriving late for a Speak! shoot, Teza Sumendra immediately apologizes for his tardiness while extending his hand to greet everyone in the room.
As Teza settles into a chair while that strikes me is that the 27-year-old soul singer is not what people often describe him to be: A wild, arrogant bad boy.
Teza is a quiet young man – only speaking when he needs to, laughing a lot during our interview – and honest and open when it comes to talking about his music and social media.
“I’m very outspoken on social media, but when I meet someone new or am going to a new community, I become quieter – more observant. I respect the people who I just meet. I watch what I say, then after an hour – or three –when I already feel comfortable with them, I’ll chat in a non-formal way,” he says.
Teza got his start as a contestant on the television show in 2006, when he was voted off during the top-12 elimination round.
“After the show, I built my career from scratch, because nobody cared who I was back then,” Teza says. “I got a lot of experience and lessons that I learned from . I met great people, like Ari Tulang and Indra Lesmana.”
He started to work with the jazz-pop band Clorophyl. “From them, I learned about jazz, acid jazz, RnB, soul, gospel and Motown.”
The Jakarta native, who says his voice is best suited to the neo-soul genre, did a lot of thinking before reintroducing himself to the public as an indie solo singer.
Teza’s self-titled debut album was released on the iTunes Music Store in April, featuring 12 tracks, 11 of which are in English.
He says that his songs use only simple English and that he hasn’t composed a lot of lyrics in Indonesian, since he feels he has a limited vocabulary when it comes to poetic, lovey-dovey words.
While Teza writes songs that are mostly about love, he offers a take that is somewhat edgy or even controversial.
Citing D’angelo, Maxwell and Michael Jackson as the musicians he grew up listening to, Teza, whose father was a music teacher, said his album could be described as romance at the age of 21.
I GOT A LOT OF EXPERIENCE AND LESSONS THAT I LEARNED FROM INDONESIAN IDOL. I MET GREAT PEOPLE, LIKE ARI TULANG AND
IF I STOPPED BEING A SINGER TOMORROW, I WOULD SWITCH CAREERS TO BECOME A COMPOSER OR A VOCAL DIRECTOR
“I want to give them [the public] another perspective about love. I know I’m not 21 anymore,” he says. “I give a little bit of a twist to it, so it’s more relatable and realistic […] In Indonesia, people are more drawn to love songs, but romance isn’t only limited to ‘I like you, the feeling is No, there are more sides of love and relationship that can be put into songs.”
When planning his solo debut, Teza was worried that his songs would be deemed too vulgar for local tastes (one even focuses on stealing another guy’s girlfriend).
However, given his forthright character, Teza said that he simply doesn’t care about what critics might say.
“I’m a person that not everyone can relate to,” he says. “I only have two close friends who can really comprehend my outspoken attitude, if I don’t like something I’ll be frank about it and that’s what I have in my mind when making this album. I write what I want to write and if you don’t like it, you better leave.”
This take-it-or-leave-it attitude is evinced on Twitter, where Teza has amassed more than 16,000 followers.
He likes to reply to those who mention him, such as a fan who just saw a performance. And then there are the Internet trolls.
The musician jokingly says he loves to encourage the negative people on his social media feed, saying that he feels like the smartest person in the world when he wins an argument with his haters.
“I know that they’re looking
for attention and when they get it they feel happy,” Teza says. “I don’t see anything wrong in giving them happiness, while I myself like to counteract their false statements.”
However, he says he’s annoyed by people who follow him because of his good looks or his good photographs on Instagram (where he has around 105,000 followers and counting). “I’m a musician with an album, so instead of following my don’t they just buy my album?”
While Teza admits that social media is a good platform to promote his work, he says he tries to stay as far away as possible from fame.
“It irritates me when people limited context of whether you’re on TV or not,” he says. “Each artist has their own segment and fan base […] I’m thinking about how to be successful without being famous, keeping it in an underground way with a small community who really appreciate the things I do instead of having millions of fans who judge or criticize you. I don’t want to deal with that, I just want to make music.” On the future, Teza is adaptable. “If I stopped being a singer tomorrow I would switch careers to become a composer or a vocal director. There are many opportunities in music. I took visual communications design for my bachelor’s, so in case I don’t survive in music, I’ve still got another skill.”
Top: Curated by Ek Thong Prasert at Central Department Store