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Novel inspired by Iwan Fals' songs marks legend's 45th anniversary in music

Gisela Swaragita
Gisela Swaragita

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, September 4, 2020  /  03:30 pm
Novel inspired by Iwan Fals' songs marks legend's 45th anniversary in music

Indonesian singer-songwriter Iwan Fals. (kompas.com/Roderick Adrian Mozes)

Legendary singer-songwriter Iwan Fals celebrates his 45th year of working in the Indonesian music industry by releasing Air Mata Api, a novel written by author Piter A. Redjalam based on 12 of his songs.

The novel was released on Thursday marked with a humble event at Iwan's home in Leuwinanggung, Depok, West Java. It was also the musician's 59th birthday.

“There are 12 Iwan Fals songs in the novel, and each song has its own story. [We] plan the book to be [part of] a trilogy,” Annisa Cikal Rambu Basae, Iwan’s daughter, said at the occasion. The novel is also planned to be adapted into a film in 2021.

Piter, a die-hard fan of Iwan, said he needed 10 years to complete the novel. “I grew up with Bang Iwan’s songs. I have listened to them since I was in elementary school,” he said. “I needed 10 years because there were always ups and downs [during the writing process]. Sometimes I got lazy, sometimes I wrote frantically, sometimes I got stuck.”

The book's title Air Mata Api (Tears of Fire) is based on the singer’s song of the same name, which conveys the feeling of anger experienced by marginalized people.

“[I imagine someone] who is so angry, [it makes] his tears turn to fire. If this was adapted into a story, it would be very interesting,” Piter said.

Iwan said that at first he was surprised that someone wanted to write a book based on his songs. Moreover, he admitted that he did not read novels that much.

“I haven’t read a novel for a long time, but because Cikal told me to, I read [Air Mata Api]. I have toned down in reading serious stuff, I read more [on] Twitter,” he said with a laugh. He added that reading the novel gave him a feeling of nostalgia about his college days when he read many books.

Iwan said he was pleased by how the novel turned out.

“This is crazy. I was taken back to 1967, when Juki, one of the novel’s characters, was only 6 years old, although I wrote the songs in 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981,” he said.

The book is available at bookstores and online stores.

Iwan Fals is often dubbed as the Indonesian version of Bob Dylan due to his guitar-harmonica playing style and heartfelt lyrics laden with political protests.

The singer, whose real name is Virgiawan Listanto, started his musical career as a busker on the streets of West Java's Bandung in the 1970s. After releasing four self-released albums, in the 1980s he joined Musica Studios, one of the biggest recording labels in Indonesia.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Iwan was known as one of the most outspoken artists in protesting against the New Order's government. His lyrics are filled with descriptions of the circumstances of the poor and criticism of those in power and with money.

The song “Galang Rambu Anarki”, taken from his Opini (1982) album, was written for his newborn son. It narrates about new parents who are delighted for the birth of their son but also worried about the looming financial difficulties that might prevent their son from growing up comfortably.

Another popular song “Guru Oemar Bakri”, from his Sarjana Muda (1981) album, talks about the life of an exemplary teacher named Oemar Bakri who has taught for 40 years despite the small salary he receives.

Iwan Fals’ popularity was also supported by his simple music arrangement, and it took no time for the public to get familiar with his songs. Some have even become anthems often sung in protests, including "Bongkar" (Tear Down) and "Bento".

From 1975 to the present time, Iwan Fals has released around 45 studio albums. He has collaborated with some of the best talents in the Indonesian music scene, including creating the supergroup Kantata Takwa with fellow musicians Sawung Jabo and Yockie Surjoprajogo as well as poet WS Rendra. The group released a self-titled album in 1990 to critical acclaim. In June of the same year, Kantata Takwa staged a concert attended by hundreds of thousands of fans, making it a historical event in the country’s musical history. (wng)

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