THE JAKARTA POST
His name might not be familiar to all, but 36-year-old Sandhy Sondoro has made remarkable achievements in music, putting Indonesia on the international stage by winning New Wave 2009, a contest for young pop singers.
Music has been part of Sandhy Sondoro's life since he was a little boy. His mother was in band made up of co-workers from her office; his cousin, Ira Maya Sopha, was a famous child singer during the 1970s.
Sandhy, born in 1973, listened to different kinds of music, ranging from American pop, to folk, jazz and the blues; in particular, he adored The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Neil Young.
Yet his music career began unexpectedly and unplanned, while he was in Germany.
He went to Germany to study architecture after he graduated from high school in Jakarta. As he lived alone there and needed to support himself, he was on the lookout for a job.
"I was a singer in a uni band but we rarely appeared on stage, so I couldn't rely on the band to make more money," Sandhy says. He did have the opportunity to work in a supermarket, and headed there by bike.
"But I didn't get *the job* because I was late," he says. "On my way back to my apartment, I saw a busker on the street. I thought, *Well, being a busker was a good idea.'"
He approached the busker to ask if he could join him in singing on the streets. The busker agreed. "So I borrowed my friend's guitar and played on the streets. We got about 50 deutschemarks in an hour and we shared the money," he says. "That wasn't bad."
They played three times a week before he decided to go it alone.
"The money was enough to pay the rent or buy materials for my studies," he says, adding he also busked on subways.
But he wasn't destined to remain a busker forever. He started to write more songs and played in some gigs in Berlin with his band.
His voice made him stand out. Greatly infl uenced by African-American musicians such as Ray Charles and BB King, renowned for their powerful voices, Sandhy often takes people by surprise with his soulful voice.
Should you hear his voice without knowing anything about him, you might even guess that he is an African-American singer because the way he sings is so "black". That he is Indonesian surprises many who hear his voice first.
He interprets all kinds of songs, such as Percy Sledge's classic "When A Man Loves A Woman", in his own distinctive style.
"I'm a big fan of African-American musicians with their blues and soul music. I always sing songs the way I want to sing them, with my own character," he says, adding that if the legendary BB King happened to drop by one day, he would be delighted to write a song with him.
He developed as a self-described "all-round musician", spending many years jamming with musicians in jazz bars in Berlin and other cities in Europe.
Recognizing his great talent, some African-American musicians in Berlin encouraged Sandhy to take the next step and make his breakthrough.
His talents began to attract wider attention when he took part in a talent show, created by prominent entertainer Stefan Raab, that aired on German TV two years ago. The aim of the program was to fi nd young musicians.
Even though he came fi fth in the fi nal, Sandhy's performance impressed many major German musicians such as Gregor Meyle.
His participation in the competition also opened up the way for further opportunities in a number of shows such as House of World Cultures in Berlin.
The release of his debut album Why Don't We, in early April 2008 marked Sandhy's entry into the music industry. The album contains 12 songs in English.
His first single "Shine", for which he collaborated with duo DJs, Ibiza and Dublex Inc, was soon in the radio charts in major European cities such as Berlin, Madrid and Paris.
It was a good start, but Sandhy was not about to rest on his laurels. He continued to try new things, including competing in New Wave, an international music competition for young singers, in Jurmala, Latvia.
The annual contest has become an important event in the international music arena because its live concerts on central channels attract millions of spectators and attention from important journalists and media - not to mention the fans, who are impassioned about the event and support the competitors with all their hearts.
"It wasn't completely my own idea *to take part in New Wave*. Brandon Stone *music producer* suggested I take part in the competition," he says.
"I'm not really the kind of person who is crazy about participating in American Idol-like contests, but I took the opportunity as a way of getting free promotion. Besides, I love Indonesia and I wanted to promote the country at the international level."
He had little idea of winning, although he admitted he wanted to. "But in any case, *I thought* I would benefi t from the atmosphere of the contest and from working with professional artists," he says.
In the competition, he proudly performed his own song, "End of the Rainbow", for the judges.
The song and his performance captured the judges' attention; he ended up sharing fi rst place in New Wave with a Ukrainian singer.
The victory gave him the opportunity to realize one of his dreams: to tour the world.
"I'd like to share my songs with people *everywhere*, so that they can enjoy my music," Sandhy says.
Despite his achievements and international exposure, Sandhy remains a nice person with a great sense of humor. He is certainly not the kind of a singer who becomes a snob just because he has lived and had successes abroad.
At the beginning of our recent interview, Sandhy, sporting blue jeans, an orange T-shirt and a scarf, started out quietly, with a little smile on his face.
But as time passed, he became more animated and warm, starting to tell some jokes and fooling around.
During his spare time, he says, he likes to write songs or watch funny movies. "I like comedy. It really saves my tough days," he says. "My favorite is Benyamin Sueb. He's awesome."
Although Sandhy has been living in Germany for years, he has not forgotten his home, and sometimes performs at gigs in Jakarta.
He recently accompanied himself on the guitar for a performance of "Bengawan Solo" for the opening of a batik exhibition in a shopping mall.
His fans in Indonesia can listen to his soulful voice on an album called Jazz in the City, from Sony Music Indonesia, containing two of his songs, "Malam Biru ( Kasihku )" ( Blue Night ( My Lover ) ) and "End Of The Rainbow".
He will also be working with star Glenn Fredly for the latter's next album.
With his music career well on its way, Sandhy freely admits that when he was younger, it never crossed his mind that he might end up earning a living from music.
"I used to want to be an architect, you know. Because I like drawing. I sometimes drew comics during class when I was a student," he says.
"But I have changed my mind. Being a musician is much simpler. All I have to do is bring my guitar and sing."
And he plans to stick with music in the future.
"Because I'm a natural born singer. I can't do anything better," he says. "It's what I do best."
Ladies and gentleman, let's welcome our very own newborn world singer!
Full name: Sandhy Sondoro
Discography: Why Don't We ( 2008 )
Indonesian representative artist in tsunami victims benefi t concert "Berlin For Asia" ( 2005 )
Berlin representative in Stefan Raabs song contest Ssdsdsswemugabrtlad on TV Total" ( fi fth place ) ( 2007 )
Musicload Favourite Artist ( September 2007 )
Supporting musician for Indonesian band Slank's German tour concerts
Presented with Satya Lencana Karya Satya from KBRI Berlin ( 2008 )
Supporting musician for Gregor Meyle
Supporting musician for Ben Hamilton
Braunschweig Featured Artist on City Jazz Night ( 2009 )
Winner of NEW WAVE 2009, an international contest for young pop singers, in Jurmala, Latvia.