The Jakarta Post
Precious primates: The EP's third track "Orang Utan" attempts to raise awareness of orangutans as one of the most critically endangered animals in Indonesia. (Ardhito Pramono management/Courtesy of Ardhito Pramono and his management)
Ardhito Pramono is known for being many things: a singer, songwriter, pianist, actor and the artist responsible for ushering the jazz-pop genre into the mainstream. With such a portfolio, it seemed there were only two paths for the two-time AMI Award (and one-time Citra Award) winner to pursue: either capitalizing on his tried-and-true jazz-pop formula or taking a left turn into an unexpected direction. He decided to choose the latter—by recording a children’s music album.
Speaking with The Jakarta Post, the 25-year-old explains that his latest direction is not meant to be a kick in the pants—especially for his fans. “I’m grateful for my success so far, and I have no plans to stray away from the [jazz-pop] genre. But, if you look at the careers of jazz musicians overseas, recording children’s music is almost like a rite of passage. The two genres are pretty correlated,” he explains while making allusions to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald (“Old McDonald”) and Louis Prima (“Yes, We Have No Bananas”).
Pursuing children’s music holds personal importance for Ardhito as well. Although Indonesian children are familiar with Disney songs, he finds that those tunes “are not the same [in terms of relatable values] as the ones composed by a fellow Indonesian. They offer different emotional connections.” Moreover, his love for his nephew added more urgency to his latest pursuit. “When I look at [my nephew] I want him to listen to high-quality, age-appropriate music. Music that is fun, educational and completely Indonesian.” After finishing recording the entire album, Ardhito feels bold enough to declare it as his legacy. "I want this album to live on even when I’m old and senile,” he laughs.
When it comes to creating children’s music, a story is vital. Ardhito took inspiration from Semar, a character from Javanese mythology who is often regarded as the most sacred figure of the wayang ensemble. “I want to reintroduce [Semar] to the young generation. I think it’s important to draw a story from existing Indonesian folklore.” Hence, a mini-album titled Semar & Pasukan Monyet (Semar & the Army of Monkeys) was born—a fable in the form of seven jazzy tracks, each of them serving as a "chapter.”
Semar & Pasukan Monyet is entirely written by Ardhito and produced by Aldi Nada Permana—a promising producer who is silently responsible for the pop hits of Andmesh Kamaleng and Rizky Febian. Ardhito offers nothing but high praise for his producer. “I always try to give him a shout-out during my live performances,” he says. “It’s not every day you can find a versatile producer like him.”
Does the fable stop at Semar & Pasukan Monyet? Not so fast, according to Ardhito. He still has bigger plans in mind—a musical, for instance. “I really want to turn this album into a musical. Something euphoric and Broadway-like. I have been talking with some people about the possibility [of making the musical]. Let’s just say I have a good feeling about this,” he teases.
Regardless of the numerous risks Ardhito has taken in his five-year career, there is a particular one with which he is still struggling. “I really wanted to collaborate with other artists, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so,” he says awkwardly. For Ardhito, collaborations are not entirely different from sacred partnerships such as marriage. “Because your names will be etched on that record forever. Therefore, [at least for me] it requires a lot of trust.”
Wild folklore: Taking inspiration from the legend of Semar and his love for animals, Ardhito Pramono's upcoming EP consists of 10 tracks that also serve as "chapters". (Ardhito Pramono management/Courtesy of Ardhito Pramono and his management)
That being said, it doesn’t mean that he has no fantasy collaborators in mind. One particular name has been on his mind. “I was blown away when I sang with [Indonesian singer and web series actress] Lyodra the other day,” he refers to his televised appearance on the reality television show Indonesian Idol in late March. “The chemistry we shared was nothing I have ever experienced before. She didn’t just elevate the song; she added new meaning into it. If we released a duet version, I think it would outsell the original one,” he grins.
Does this mean we should expect another "Something New" from them? “I mean, I don’t know about her, but I wouldn’t say no,” answers Ardhito.
Semar & Pasukan Monyet track by track with Ardhito
The first track is meant as a “proper” musical transition for Ardhito—from his adult-oriented jazz sound to a childlike festivity. The biggest challenge, according to him, was how to establish a balance. “And not just for this song. For me, lyrics are [not a supplement, but] an instrument. I wanted to write lyrics that were witty and specific, but at the same time, easy to understand by children. I always had to keep in mind who my [target] audience was.”
“Tiger Song (Do The Wiggle)”
The second track brings Ardhito in full swing—sometimes literally. Not only does Ardhito introduce the Tiger as a quasi-antagonist of the fable, but he also attempts to bring awareness of Sumatran tigers—a subspecies that is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “Because I need to have kids understand how rich our country is,” he explains. “And also, how fleeting such richness is if we keep ignoring it.”
A similar spirit is also infused into the third track, this time by putting orangutans front and center. Production-wise, Ardhito applies a more-is-more approach by adding animal sounds and a spoken lyricism. “The whole thing ended up being very funny,” he chuckles. “I also added a ragtime quality to spice things up.”
“1,2,3,4,5, (That’s How It Goes)”
The fourth track makes the perfect centerpiece of the album due to its multiple lyrical interpretations. On this upbeat track, Ardhito shifts from the animal world by teaching kids about numbers. However, there is more to the lyrics than meets the eye. “With this song, I decided to give a little ‘adult’ life lesson. I wanted to teach them that life is not like a series of very neat numbers. Basically, this song is about my life when I entered my 20s,” he laughs. “[The song] became really personal.”
The sixth track brings forth the showmanship in Ardhito—a cabaret-like show tune that, in other artists’ hands, might end up a cheesy, commercial jingle. “This [song] is me at my ballsiest!” he jests. “When I was recording my vocals, I put my arms wide open and channeled the Broadway kid in me.” Asked whether “Banana” offers another subtle meaning, he simply quips, “Nope! I just wanted to sing about bananas!” with a laugh.
“Friend Til The End”
Regardless of the G-rated fantasy of Semar & Pasukan Monyet, Ardhito believes that “fantasy only works when realism is included.” On the penultimate track, he sings about the most realistic definition of friendship, that is “compassion that doesn’t wish for anything in return. I think friendship is probably one of the purest forms of love. True friends will always be there, even when the bond no longer exists.”
“Life Could Be Amazing”
The final track does not necessarily mark the finale of a saga. “Think of it as a lullaby a mother sings before putting her kid to sleep,” Ardhito elaborates. His habit of using the phrase “could be” is not to be missed—a habit that is not completely a subconscious one. “I don’t believe that anything good in life lands on your lap just like that,” he mulls. “You could have an amazing life if you put your mind to it. It’s not a matter of destiny.”