Singer-writer Dewi “Dee” Lestari is not worried if her new literary work, Rectoverso, is not as successful as her bestselling debut novel, Supernova.
Neither does she need to be anxious about whether her latest album, also named Rectoverso, will be able to surpass the success of her debut album, which was released long ago when she was one of the popular trio of singers Rida Sita Dewi.
Comparison is irrelevant. Unlike other albums and books she has produced, Rectoverso, Dewi said referring to her new productions, is unprecedented.
“We do not have a benchmark that can be used to gauge the success and failure of Rectoverso. Many people have produced albums and many people have published books, but none have ever produced a hybrid of the two,” Dewi told The Jakarta Post confidently at a restaurant in South Jakarta.
The release of Rectoverso was done quietly: Dewi decided not to hold a big press conference, and instead invited one or two journalists at a time to exclusive, in-depth interviews.
This is not because she had a hard time dealing with gossip reporters eager to print the story behind her divorce with R&B singer Marcell, but because she wanted to explain her latest project in detail.
So, what is Rectoverso actually?
Dewi said it all started with an experiment she did in 2006 when she was writing the song “Hanya Isyarat” (Only a Sign).
“At the time, I felt the urge to let out my artistic expression, and I wrote that song, but I was not totally satisfied. Then I decided to write a short story with the same title and inspiration,” she said.
The result was what she called Rectoverso; literally meaning two sides of a page that seem to be separated, but are actually one and complementary.
But in Dewi’s own terms, the word actually refers to the emotional, if not aesthetical, experience she had when she sensed the poetic elements that united the song and the work of fiction.
However, it was not until she met with her friend, Iman Sastrosatomo, who was then working at Warner Music Indonesia, did she decide to turn her impulsive experiment into a serious project.
“My friend said, `why don’t you relate your career as a writer to your career as a singer? That will distinguish you from other singers’,” Dewi said, quoting Iman.
She had no problem selecting her old songs — the lyrics of which, she believed, had a strong narrative power — and writing a short story for each of the songs.
She chose 11 songs and wrote 11 works of fiction with corresponding titles.
Dewi considers them all as sets of twins; art pieces that originated from the same source of inspiration but that are independent from each other.
“No,” she said sharply, “the songs are not the soundtrack of the works of fiction.”
She said the works were not identical and that people could enjoy each one without having to worry they had to also experience its “twin”. This is why, Dewi said, she will not sell them as a package.
“If people want to buy the book, they have to go to a bookstore. If they want to buy the CD, they have go to a music store,” she said.
Despite its experimental nature, Dewi expects Rectoverso will be received by her fans; be they the ones who see her as a singer or those who see her as an author.
It’s like a “bridge builder” for two kinds of people with different art preferences, she said.
“I just want to touch (people’s) hearts,” she said, adding that the book contained “the most romantic stories she has ever written”.
Some of the songs on the album may be familiar to many of her fans, like “Firasat” (Premonition), for instance, which was popularized by her former husband.
With the help of arranger Andi Rianto and Ricky Lionardi, Dewi said she attempted to give new “life” to her old hits. The single for the album, “Malaikat Juga Tahu” (The Angel Knows), has already been played on radio charts.
Known first as a singer before rising to fame as a writer, Dewi is often asked which career path she would take if she had to choose between the two vocations.
Rectoverso, she said, is the clear answer to that question; for it is considered a single art piece that exhibits both her literary and musical talents.
The 32-year-old artist has released five albums since 1995, including one solo album, Out of Shell, in 2006. In the same year, she published Filosofi Kopi (The Coffee Philosophy), her first anthology of short stories, after enjoying the huge success of the Supernova trilogy.
“Both (writing and singing) are an integral part of me. At last, I could answer that question with this art piece.
“It shows two channels of creative energies that have always been part of me; words and music. This is the first piece that represents the whole me,” she said.