The Jakarta Post
Imagine President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono picking up his guitar, plucking its strings and singing a song. Hard to fathom?
Well, pigs are not flying yet, but believe it or not, Yudhoyono does on occasions turn himself into an artist, entertaining people with his vocal talent.
One day, on a trip to Brussels last month, for example, Yudhoyono belted a few songs over the plane's loudspeaker stroking his beloved guitar, causing a few journalists - about to take a nap - to blink.
"He *Yudhoyono* could just write songs on the plane... in Tampak Siring *Palace*... or during his trips to other countries like Australia," State Minister for Youth and Sports Affairs Andi Mallarangeng said Sunday. "...He would just pick up his guitar, pluck it a bit here and there, then he would ask us to sing his songs for him," he added.
While on this occasion, Mallarangeng - and a few journalists - was one of few high-ranking officials to have witnessed the President's spur of creative talent, this week, the entire world will be able to listen to his own music album.
Yes, just last weekend, Yudho-yono released his latest album, Ku Yakin Sampai di Sana ( I Believe I Will Get There ), which comprises nine songs he composed - but does not sing - himself. The 60-year-old retired military general, instead, asked famous Indonesian musicians to sing his songs.
In fact, Yudhoyono is starting to build a collection of albums, with Rinduku Padamu ( My Longing for You ) in 2006, Majulah Negeriku ( Go Forth My Country ) in 2007 and Evolusi ( Evolution ) in 2009.
"During my childhood in my hometown of Pacitan *East Java*, I used to play in a band I formed with my friends," Yudhoyono says in the preface to the album.
"Today, in the middle of my struggle to serve my country as a president, sometimes, during my leisure time, I express my feelings in the form of arts," he added.
As someone who's close to the President, Mallarangeng said, he often took part in the President's creative works.
"After he listened to me singing *his song*, for example, he would fix the song a bit, be it the lyrics or the music," he said. "After that he would ask us to sing *the revised version* again and record it."
While the President confesses writing songs helps him convey his inner feelings to the wider community, Andi explains, "it's through playing music and singing, as well as writing songs that the President finds a way to relax."
OK, so we might ask, what kind of inner feelings does a president like Yudhoyono want to convey when relaxing?
It turns out it could be anything - from the simple joy of being a family man to something wider like his concern for Indonesian children.
The song "Adakah" ( Is There? ), for example, reflects Yudhoyono's mixed feelings of joy and nervousness nearing to the birth of his granddaughter Almira Tunggadewi, his son Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and wife Annisa Larasati Pohan's first child.
"It took me a long time before I could really sing the song, because I had to imagine myself as Pak SBY, who was excited and nervous at the same time while waiting for his granddaughter to be born," said former Indonesian Idol winner Joy Tobing about the song Yudhoyono wrote in 2008.
In the song "Liburan Sekolah" ( School Holidays ), on the other hand, Yudhoyono recalls his childhood memory in Pacitan, a time when he had fun with his friends at the beach during school holidays.
"Playing and joking *with my friends* by the beautiful seaside was my preferred option," Yudhoyono said. "I usually wanted to celebrate my freedom in the nature - in my remembrance of God's greatness."
A song about his childhood memory? Check. A song for his granddaughter? Check. And Yudhoyono even wrote a song about his first two-year term at the office as President. The song "Rinduku Padamu" ( Longing For My Love ), which actually was already included in his first album, has now been made into an English version in his latest album.
While those three songs revolve around his private life, the songs "Untukmu Anak Manis" ( For You, Sweet Children ) and "Jiwaku Terang di Malam itu" ( My Soul was Enlightened That Night ) reflect his concern for the children in disaster areas and his adoration for the beauty of Indonesia.
"Although I was in Lima, Peru - a place that's very far away from my homeland, I didn't stop delving my soul into the beauty and the calmness of our own nature," said Yudhoyono of the song "Jiwaku Terang di Malam itu", which was sung by new pop sensation Vidi Aldiano.
Vidi is not alone. Along with famous names like Fariz RM, Rio Febrian, Tantowi Yahya, Elfa's Singer, Dewi Yull, Pay, Koeswoyo Junior, Joy Tobing, the young singer worked his hardest to satisfy the President with his talent. But the term "do the best", somehow, applied differently to senior musician Renny Djajoesman, who was responsible for the whole creative works for the album.
"Everything had to be perfect - the President is very attentive to detail; he's very precise about everything," said Renny, a famous female rocker back in the 1980s.
"We first had to submit the CVs *Curriculum Vitae* of all people who would work for this project. We needed to wait for the President's approval until we could all start working," she added.
Not only did she need to secure the approval for the whole team's members, storylines and the storyboards for the album's video clips and the album cover also required approvals from the President.
"Just for the album cover, we had to work over and over again," Renny said. "The fonts used for the title of the album, for example, needed to be changed several times until they could satisfy *the President's* taste."
However, Renny went on with a smile, "he truly appreciated all of our ideas - that's what we respect from him the most."
Besides working with Renny, Yudhoyono also collaborated with event organizer expert Harry Kiss from PT Suara Hati in producing and distributing his latest album. Harry said he would be distributing the album through MLM companies - aside from selling it in music stores. The album will also be available in local retail chain Indomaret scattered across Indonesia.
"Indomaret has 4,000 stores across Indonesia," said Harry, the father of Vidi Aldiano. "So just imagine if each of the store sells 10 copies - that would be some 40,000 copies sold in total. That would pass the Platinum *award*," he added.
Moreover, he went on, "there are thousands or even millions members of MLM companies *in Indonesia*. So, we could sell even more."
Harry is confident the album will sell outside Indonesia.
"Sure, we have such a plan," he said. "Because just in Hong Kong alone, we have 1.2 million Indonesian workers," he added.
So, in case we're interested in buying the album, how much will we spend for a copy?
"We've made it in two versions," Harry explained. "The first one - the economical edition - only costs Rp 20,000 ( US$2 ). So no more piracy please... it's very affordable," he smiled.
The second version, on the other hand, "is the collector's edition that costs Rp 60,000," Harry said, while showing a CD and DVD exclusively packaged in a tin-box.
Erwida Maulia contributed to this story.