Ardhito Pramono had a year. In early 2022, the Indonesian actor and jazz-pop singer-songwriter was entering his fifth year as a recording artist, and things were looking bright: he had landed five nominations at the 2021 AMI Awards and released his fifth EP for Sony Music, a fable-based collection of jazz tunes for children.
So it came as a shock to everyone when the 27-year-old was arrested at his home for marijuana use in January and charged under Indonesia’s narcotics laws, facing a potential sentence of four years in prison.
After issuing a public apology and spending six months in rehabilitation, Ardhito returned to public life in June. A month later, he released “Wijayakusuma”, his first full album and his most ambitious track to date. Its title is no coincidence: in Javanese mythology, the flower of Wijayakusuma (or fishbone cactus) is said to have magical properties capable of bringing the dead back to life. It is also said to bring luck and happiness to those who see it bloom.
“A while ago, I got in trouble, I got arrested and all of that, it’s like I’m in a state of suspended animation,” Ardhito says. NME. “I hope this flower can bring happiness and a miracle for me to come back to life.”
Resurrection does not mean a return to the status quo. “Wijayakusuma,” released by recently relaunched independent label Aksara Records, marks a radical departure from the easy-listening folk-jazz style that Ardhito is known for by embracing the classic Indonesian sound of the 1970s and 1980s.
The album is nostalgic and decidedly Indonesian, reminiscent of the works of the country’s great “pop kreative” singers and songwriters such as Chrisye and Candra Darusman (with whom Ardhito had previously collaborated on the song “Waktuku Hampa”). Although anachronistic, this sound isn’t much of a throwback nowadays thanks to revivalist artists such as Diskoria, Mondo Gascaro and Parlemen Pop, among others.
There are still traces of Ardhito’s relaxed piano-jazz style on tracks such as “Rasa-rasanya” and “Berdikari”. But it’s the centerpiece “Wijayakusuma,” with a live recording of a full ensemble of Indonesian orchestra, gamelan, and Javanese sinden singing style (courtesy guest vocalist Penny Candra Rini) that really sets the tone. value the great ambition of the album.
“This album was so hard to make, it’s crazy,” says Ardhito. “The song ‘Wijayakusuma’ alone took about a year to release. Normally he [would take] me three months at the most to sit on a song.
The song “Wijayakusuma” took over 100 vocal takes to be correct because Ardhito and his team wanted to achieve that perfect, continuous take – much like how singers did in the days of the expensive recording of reel to reel. And Ardhito had to go back to vocal basics: “I had to relearn the pattern of my singing and even my inhalation techniques. These are things that I kind of forgot because I sang in those scales that I was so comfortable with. I have always relied on my folk and jazz crooner influences.
Another big change on ‘Wijayakusuma’ is the way Ardhito sings entirely in Indonesian – something he’s never done before, having sung mostly in English. “Around 2016, most hits by artists like Danilla, Fourtwnty and Payung Teduh were sung in Indonesian, so my label was skeptical about writing songs in English. But [2018 single] “Bitterlove” came out and did very well, even with younger audiences,” Ardhito recalled.
In 2018, while Ardhito was working as a radio host, he interviewed Narpati “OomLeo” Awangga, a songwriter and musician known for his involvement with Jakarta synth pop veteran Goodnight Electric and his “music selection project karaoke” OomLeo Berkaraoke. Over the years, the two became good enough friends that OomLeo criticized Ardhito for singing in English and arguably influencing a new generation of Indonesian musicians to follow suit.
“It is a testimony to the improvement of Indonesian artists that many can sing fluently in English and convey the[ir] message to listeners,” says Ardhito. “However, after talking to OomLeo and digging deeper into the catalog of Indonesian music and listening to artists like Nuri Satrio, Theresa Zen and Sam Saimun, I realized there was an incredible wealth of music and beautiful puns in ancient Indonesian lyrics. So why not embrace our own culture?”
“What I learned in rehab was: do it for today. Tomorrow is another story”
Ardhito is an established artist, having started composing music in 2013 and releasing material in 2017. By changing his musical style, he arguably risked alienating loyal listeners. How does he feel about this?
“I don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t care if this album gets a lot of streams or anything,” Ardhito points out. “But people need to listen to this album because it’s been done in such painstaking and detailed fashion, from the music to the lyrics.”
Most of the album was completed after Ardhito returned from rehab – seven tracks were recorded in two weeks. But only one tracklist song was written after rehab. On ‘Daun Surgawi’ (‘Heavenly Leaf’), rather playful and upbeat, Ardhito tries to playfully illustrate what it feels like to explore your creativity and deal with your anxiety without using drugs. A translated sample of his lyrics says: “My soul is awake / No more doubts / Laughter fills the calm night / Your green scent / Your big and beautiful pattern / There’s no disaster / It’s like nirvana.”
When asked if his rehab has contributed to his current state of well-being, Ardhito said his anxiety has improved and he is taking things day by day.
“I try to live my life to the full. I go on a last minute vacation, I try to compromise with what other people say about me. Just regulate your breathing, eat properly. These things are very important,” Ardhito shares.
“What I learned in rehab was: do it for today. Tomorrow is another story. If you can spend a day, two days, it will take you a week, a month before you realize it. One day you won’t relapse.
When NME catches up with Ardhito, he has just completed a week of touring and is proud of how his new material has been received. “When I was performing in Padang, many sang ‘Kesan Pertama’, and for me that’s a feat,” he says enthusiastically. “Now the challenge is to perform ‘Wijayakusuma’ on stage. Because it’s such a big song that needs a lot of musicians and equipment, it wouldn’t be good to just play it with a sequencer.
“But all the other songs got a warm reception. I feel very supported.
Although his arrest and rehabilitation have become an inescapable media storm and an inevitable part of the context for the release of “Wijayakusuma”, Ardhito is confident that the album will stand tall and proud as the controversy surrounding his past mistakes fades. .
“It’s the most advanced and personal album I’ve done so far,” he says. “Whatever I’ve done in the past, this is an album I can’t repeat. Controversies don’t last long, but your work will.
Ardhito Pramono’s “Wijayakusuma” is now available via Aksara Records