IN SEARCH OF SOUL

Singer Teza Sumendra talks about mu­sic and his love-hate re­la­tion­ship with so­cial me­dia.

The Jakarta Post - SPEAK! - - Front Page -

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

IN­DRA LESMANA

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.”

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