A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Every time the country suffers from a major disaster, radio and television stations are likely to play Berita Kepada Kawan (News for A Friend), one of the many hits composed and sung by Ebiet G. Ade.
Through his contemplative lyrics, Ebiet seems to remind people watching and listening to news about killer tsunamis in Nangroe Aceh Darusalam and Pangandaran in West Java, or the earthquake in Bantul, Yogyakarta, to take care of the environment. Take a closer look some of the lyrics of Berita Kepada Kawan:
Barangkali di sana ada jawabnya; Mengapa di tanahku terjadi bencana; Mungkin Tuhan mulai bosan melihat tingkah kita; Yang selalu salah dan bangga dengan dosa dosa; Atau alam mulai enggan bersahabat dengan kita; Coba kita bertanya pada rumput yang bergoyang.
(Perhaps (you) over there have the answer; Why disaster hits my country; Perhaps God is already tired of our behavior; (We) always make mistakes and are proud of our sins; Or perhaps nature is reluctant to befriend us; Let's try to ask the shaking grass.)
Besides environmental themes, Ebiet, who was born in Banjarnegera, Central Java, on April 1955, also explores topics of spirituality and love in his poetic lyrics.
""I prefer to be called a poet than a singer. My voice is not that wonderful,"" Ebiet, whose real name is Abdul Gafar Abdullah, said during the recent launch of his new album, In Love: 25th Anniversary.
The album's release was scheduled to coincide with Ebiet's 25th wedding anniversary with Yayuk Sugianto, a sister of 1990s pop singer Iis Sugianto, who has given him three sons and one daughter.
""The album is an expression of love to my wife and four children,"" Ebiet, who has released 17 albums since 1979, said after singing one of 15 songs on the album, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.
Ebiet's die-hard fans, who are mostly between the ages of 40 and 60, consider his love-themed lyrics the singer's real strength.
His admirers certainly will not forget Camelia, a character from the albums Camelia I in 1979 to Camelia IV in 1980. The Camelia series reportedly sold a total of two million copies.
Although Camellia was a fictitious figure, many enthusiasts -- like the singer himself -- fell in love with the girl and were sad when she died in the fourth album.
Ebiet's other love songs, such as Lagu Untuk Sebuah Nama (Song for A Name) and Elegi Esok Pagi (Next Morning's Elegy), also stay in the hearts of fans.
But Ebiet's works do not always have deep and serious themes.
Although the lyrics are still poetic, Ebiet's song Cinta di Kereta Biru Malam (Love in the Night Blue Train) tells of his (imaginary) sexual relations with a girl during a train trip from Yogyakarta to Jakarta.
""Not many of my fans noted that I also made naughty songs like this one,"" Ebiet said in introducing the song, which is included on the new album.
Ebiet's fans include common people, politicians and high-level government officials, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The President sang with Ebiet two weeks ago during an anniversary celebration for the Democratic Party, which Yudhoyono co-founded.
During the performance, Ebiet wore a blue Democratic Party jacket, raising speculation the singer would soon join the political party.
""No, I'm neutral. I belong to everybody. I was just showing respect for the people who invited me to sing,"" Ebiet said on the sidelines of the launch of his new album.
In a bid to attract new fans, Ebiet, who has received several awards, including the BASF Award, AMI Award in Indonesia and Planet Muziek Award from Singapore, worked with several younger musicians on the album.
One of the musicians, Anto Hoed, arranged two of the 15 songs on the album, produced by Trinity Optima Production. Other composers such as Adi of Kla Project and Billy J. Budiardjo helped arrange the other songs.
""The album is like a bridge between my old fans to younger audiences,"" Ebiet said.
Ebiet seems to be following in the footsteps of other senior musicians, such as ballad singer Iwan Fals and the late Chrisye, who collaborated with younger artists to produce well received new albums.
Maybe Ebiet will ditch the batik in favor of T-shirts and jeans as he attracts younger fans to his timeless classics.