Photo provided by Universal Music Group
Sandrayati’s newest single, ‘Suara Dunia’, was just released on the 11th of November. It tells a story about the beauty of indigenous land and culture, and is the oldest song off the artist’s upcoming debut album, Safe Ground. Having finished recording the last track earlier this year, the album is due to be released on the 17th of March 2023. Just as worth anticipating is her first-ever headline show in London, which will take place on the 22nd of March at St. Pancras Old Church.
Sandrayati’s heartfelt songwriting and soft vocals in ‘Suara Dunia’ are as lucent as those in ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Found’, two songs that her audience has been indulging for the last months. Their delicate soundscape is marked by their raw acoustic instrumentation and the melodic core of Sandrayati’s voice.
The Indonesian artist has always had a passion for singing. After meeting Ólafur Arnalds, the GRAMMY-nominated Icelandic composer, she took a leap in her life and moved to Iceland to start writing her own original songs. Her friendship with Ólafur and her openness to the new environment has greatly facilitated her creation of Safe Ground, which was produced by the Icelandic composer.
On the 16th and 17th of September, Sandrayati opened for Ólafur on both nights of his touring show at Eventim Apollo. I was there on the first night, and her performance was illuminated by elegance. Immediately after the lights were dimmed, the audience was hugged by her affectionate voice that floated across the spacious venue. Her lyrics effortlessly reflected her deep personal relationships with nature, as well as an intimate care for others. Even though she was the opening act, Sandrayati perfectly demonstrated her potential to grow into independent musicianship.
Before the show, I sat down with Sandrayati and chatted with her about the things that inspire her music, and the creative process behind it.
How are you? How are you feeling about tonight?
Good! Really good, really excited.
Are you excited about any specific pieces that you'll be performing for this set?
Yeah, I’m actually gonna be playing with Karl and Unnur, who are the viola player and the cello player on my record. It's something really special for me to experience this song live with the string arrangements for the first time. I’m really looking forward to that. All of the songs played tonight are on the [upcoming] record, so not all of them you can go home and listen to.
I have listened to some of your music and I really like it! It gives me the feeling of being taken to some tender places. What are the inspirations for your music?
There are several things to be honest. I’m really inspired by nature and in a way, my relationship with nature. I think that plays a part in the pace of my music. A lot of my friends inspire me, because I have a lot of musician friends. Just hearing everyone’s process is always really intimate to me.
My parents are activists. They work with environmental movements and human rights movements in many parts of the world––mostly in Asia, in Indonesia where I’m from, in Africa, and in South America. Being a daughter of activists really inspires me a lot [in terms of] their work and their vision for the world. I care about a similar essence myself and I guess I’m approaching the work a little differently. But definitely, different issues that are going on in the world, specifically to do with the environment, and human rights, specifically women’s rights, really inspire me. My storytelling, especially in this album, is all connected to that in one way or another. It may not seem like it from the outside, but actually everything has underlying stories connected to my parents’ work.
That’s so lovely. Could you talk a bit more about the process of making the album? Were there any difficulties?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve never recorded a full-length album in a studio before. That process is very different. I’m usually quite raw and I need my guitar to sing. But this time, it was really about taking everything apart and learning a new approach. And that’s always hard. I also recorded this album during the pandemic. I was in Iceland. It was a new and foreign country to me. I was just going through a lot of identity crises in a way [laughs]––trying to place myself where my roots are, and having to grow new roots in a foreign place. And that’s not always easy. But this album kind of helped me to create that place for myself to feel at home, because I really feel at home when I’m singing.
You have been to different places to make and play music. In what ways do you think it changes your music, if any?
I think places are always influencing people, whether we know it or not, whether we’re conscious of it or not. I’m really interested in how we as people shift and grow, or are inspired by places. I think that’s what makes people in a way. Whether I know it or not, it affects my music for sure. I’m really interested in creating relationships with places, in the same way that we create relationships with people. Places become a part of anything I’m creating.
When I was watching your music videos for your singles, I noticed a variety of elements. You are not only a musician, but also a dancer. So I think it’s very interesting that you’ve incorporated the visuals into the audio. For you, what are the connections between these art forms?
I love that question, because I used to study theatre. I was an actress––well, I was learning to be one. I was studying it because I’m so interested in all places where these different mediums could meet. I am still new at it when it comes to my own work. I used to work on lots of other people’s work: working with movements, not necessarily always dance, but movement. Creating a very physical theatre, that was my thing. I love physical theatre. There’s something so intriguing to me about embodiment, and how that can look different depending on your body, who you are, and what you’re trying to embody or what you’re trying to express. I think if we leave the body out of it, then we’re not seeing the full picture.
I’m also a yoga teacher. I work in a studio in Iceland. Yoga for me has been a huge opening for creating body awareness. I actually learned yoga through my theatre practice; one of my theatre teachers does yoga. So it really inspires me to be able to learn about how to integrate a story, for example, into a song. And it can be shown in so many different forms physically. But which way do we want to [choose to] show it?
Like with the ‘New Dawn’ video, when I was working with Andrean, the dancer, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do. But then he found so much meaning in the story of the song that I never knew about—and I was the one who wrote the song! When we create movement, it reveals a particular layer that wants to be seen. And that’s such a beautiful thing to work with.
How does the future plan look like now that you’ve finished the album?
Now is the first time that I’m actually starting to share my music live, which has been amazing. This summer, I was on tour with RY X and supporting him. At the start of this album, I was a little bit restless, actually. I really wanted to capture the vision I had and was a little bit ahead of myself. And with Ólafur’s help, this album came back to really just the essence of a voice: the voice being the centre, that being the intimacy, and all of the acoustic instruments kind of hugging the voice. I imagine my next EP will still have that core essence of these intimate, acoustic feelings. But I’m really interested in exploring more textures. Maybe it’s more electronic textures, maybe more ambient textures. I’m very curious about exploring something with beats. But I’m trying to take my time with that and be patient, because this whole process has taught me how important it is to slow down, and really take the time to ask what you want to be.
Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor