Cover Story / March 2019

Singing Her Way to the Top

Her path in music was not always smooth, but music has always been an important part of her life.

“Music was my passion ever since I was a kid. I grew up in a family of art lovers… I had big dreams to become a singer, songwriter, producer and arranger. As a kid, I always wrote down my dreams in detail. I believe that when we are sure of our dreams, the universe will find a way to make each of them come true,” the curly haired singer told GlobeAsia.

With her singing and piano-playing skills, Yuna started writing songs when she was only 15 years old. The first song was “Berawal Dari Tatap,” based on her experience as a high school freshman with a crush on a senior.

It was just an outlet for her self-expression and she did not record it until her first album in 2013.

“I’m the type of person who can’t open up to many people. I’m more comfortable expressing myself through writing or through a song that I play on the piano,” said Yura, whose biggest influences are Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and James Brown.

Yura did not pursue music professionally until she participated in The Voice Indonesia in 2013, yet she was eliminated. However, Glenn Fredly, who was one of the judges, saw her potential and offered to produce her first album. “Glenn is one of the heroes in my music career,” she said.

She added that they both share the same dream of making the Indonesian music ecosystem more supportive by endorsing younger, less experienced artists.

“Glenn endorsed me, and I hope that one day I can also help a musician make a name for themselves,” Yura said.

Regaining Strength

Following the success of her first album, Yura launched “Merakit,” named after one of the songs on the album. The word, which means “to assemble” in English, reflects Yura’s process of rediscovering her inspiration and strength in music.

“’Merakit’ became the title track because it shows the long journey I experienced for the past three-and-a-half years. I fell and went through the lowest moments in my life. I felt confined, restrained, and had my path blocked by a certain something and someone. But the thing about a creative soul is that it can never be confined. My worst moments brought me to maturity in composing and songs made me more perceptive of my surroundings and become more independent as a woman,” she said.

Yura wrote the song after performing at Yayasan Tuna Netra Wyata Guna, a foundation for the visually impaired, in Bandung, West Java, during Ramadan last year. It was the first time she sang specially for an audience comprising disabled people.

“What I didn’t expect to see was their enthusiasm. Perhaps audiences everywhere don’t really know how the performer feels. At that time, I was at my low point. I was quite depressed, but I still tried to remain professional,” Yura said.

She cried when an audience member came up to her and said she wanted to become a singer because she wanted to make people happy, just like Yura had made the children happy.

“The genuine, simple words were like a slap in my face… Those words lifted my spirits and reminded me that even people with limitations can dream big and are willing to make them come true,” Yura said.

After that, she composed “Merakit” and asked the people of the foundation to sing in the choir. They also featured in the music video, which was released on Feb. 8.

“I learned that your limitations should never stand in your way of your dreams. It’s okay to fall. Just get up, smile, and keep assembling your dreams.”

Being Independent

Yura does not just sing and compose, but also runs her own label, Ayura. She said she really enjoys the challenges.

“Creating an independent label isn’t easy, but there’s an invaluable satisfaction when our songs and the messages reach the people the way we want to. It’s not easy and we need consistency, focus and a lot of time and effort,” the singer said.

Instead of lamenting the fact that selling physical albums is getting more difficult, Yura celebrates the existence of digital platforms.

“As an independent musician, I feel that the digital era has facilitated me. I’m sure that it’s not just me, but all independent musicians out there who feel this way because the many digital platforms are easy and free for us to access. Now everyone also has an opportunity to promote their work on social media,” Yura said.

Uploading music is now just a click away, but it means there is more competition among musicians. Responding to that, Yura said the key to survival is “making good content” and “being honest in our work.”

Keeping It Local

Since streaming platforms allow anyone to access any artist’s songs, Yura said getting the attention of listeners around the world has become easier. That is why, while some Indonesian musicians use English lyrics to mark their foray into the global market, Yura believes her Indonesian songs can go international.

In her first album, there is an English-language song called “Get Along With You,” which she wrote herself. Yura said there may be another English song in the future, but for now, she wants to focus on “loving Indonesian language and exploring it.”

Yura also has another mission: popularizing songs in traditional languages. To prove that she is proud to hail from Bandung, one of the centers of Sundanese culture, she created a song called “Kataji,” which is Sundanese for “enamored.”

“It’s a very upbeat, Broadway-style song,” Yura said, adding that “Kataji” was created to show fellow Indonesians and foreign listeners how cool the Sundanese language really is.

“I am quite concerned that young people nowadays easily love songs in other languages, such as Korean, while they barely know the meaning, but just because the songs sound cool. I thought, why not [do the same]? I feel that foreign languages sometimes sound ‘sexy’ and fascinating, so I think Sundanese can also sound sexy to the ears of foreigners,” said the singer, who dreams of collaborating with Indonesian singer-songwriter Tulus, British singer-songwriter Jessie J and American singer, songwriter, record producer and dancer, Kehlani.