Homegrown & Well Known: SARI NYMPHEA

Without having any formal vocal training, Sari can still easily prove that she’s one of the best female rock singers Indonesia has ever had. With her band, Nymphea, they have become one of the biggest bands in Bali. Across Indonesia, they are quite well known especially in Java. They have a solid fanbase called Nymphriends. Sari, who’s half Ubud royalty and half Australian, is often asked to do guest vocals for bands like Superman Is Dead, Dialog Dini Hari, etc. If the Indonesian rock scene is fair, it shouldn’t be long before Sari reaches so-called rock stardom.

How did you start getting involved in music?

It all started from a tiny idea from one of my aunts, Ratna Cora. She thought that it would be cool to have a band in the family. This all happened when I was still in primary school, 6th grade to be exact. She gathered the youngies of the family, who were four of my cousins and myself. We started our family band, “Matasiwa”. At first we had only very little knowledge of playing the instruments, but we kept practicing (at home, no formal schooling). The good thing was that nearly all members of the family from my dad’s side were music lovers, so we got all the support we needed. We played “Top 40” songs at family gatherings, at the church, and we even got jobs at some big hotels around Nusa Dua! Not bad for a band of kids haha… From all the support from my family, I grew to really love singing. When at last I finished high school, I started to get to know people from the “indie community” in Denpasar. I was brought up in Ubud, so I didn’t really have many friends from Denpasar at the time. I started witnessing people just like me—not big celebrities or rock stars on TV—writing their own songs, and singing their heart out, shouting the words that they wrote. I was amazed! Before that I didn’t realize that we actually had a right to do that! (How stupid of me!!). But because my cousins were starting to get busy with their own lives, uni and all, Matasiwa faded away, and I started hunting for friends that would join me to start up a new band to shout my own heart out. Then I met Sogol, Gus Arie, and Risky. Nymphea was born.

How did you end up being a vocalist?

Funny actually, when the idea of Matasiwa first popped up, I chose to be a bassist. But because I just couldn’t get the hang of it, the other members suggested me to sing rather than play the bass guitar, because it wouldn’t be as hard to learn. And I thank them dearly because of it.

You have such an amazing vocal quality, a mix between a soul and metal singer, did you go to a special course for that?

Wow, thank you. I never really had any special training. I think I just got used to singing like that because when I was a kid, my family liked to listen to rock sounds. And just maybe…. (I have to learn more about psychology before knowing for sure) because when I was a school kid—from primary to high school—I wasn’t really the popular sort, mostly laughed at and picked on. Just maybe that’s why I started grasping the rough sort of music more and more.

You and your band once moved to Jakarta for the pursuit of rock stardom but it didn’t seem to work out. What happened?

That was a disaster!! We wasted a whole year and a lot of money living in Jakarta doing nearly nothing. Within a year, we only performed on stage about three or four times, I think. Other than that we cooked, cleaned the house, watched TV, went out and got drunk, and sometimes went to see other indie gigs. We weren’t the sort of people that socialized really well at that time, especially because it was in a totally different area, where the way you socialize was not the same as at home. So we didn’t get too far in getting gigs for Nymphea. But in the end we got the best things we needed at the time. We became wiser, especially in decision making, and our relationship within the band got closer than ever! So, personally, I don’t regret one bit of that “disaster” hehe…

Do you ever want to move again to Jakarta and what’s your next strategy to reach the goal?

I don’t know. Not at this stage anyway. Online social networking is getting better than ever. Being based in Bali is better for Nymphea at this moment, I would say. But we really do want to go and have another trip to Jakarta, even do another whole three months Java tour! Just like what we did in 2008.

About our goal, the only thing we really want and need now is to get more people in Indonesia and other countries to know about us and our music. We believe that everything else will follow. How do we do that? Twitter! Haha… Like I said, online social networking is great! And of course, we have to keep writing our songs from heart and soul.

Speaking of fanbase, Nymphriends, not only massive in Bali, Java as well. Anywhere else? How do you maintain this?

Yes, we are really happy, proud, and touched to see the many Nymphriends now showing up at our shows and on our social sites. At the moment, we maintain our relationship with them by contacting, now and then, one person from each area, who has been chosen to be the head coordinator by the other Nymphriends. And especially for the ones in Bali and Java (because of the “not so far distance”), we try to spare time to go and meet them occasionally. Like what we did in December 2011, we called the coordinator of the Nymphriends in Malang (Java) to set up a small gig for us and we went there by car, just the four band members. We had a great time! Small gig, huge energy! Nymphriends from all around East Java came that day!

Nymphriends other than in Bali and Java? We have actually got emails from some who claim to be from Makassar (Sulawesi) and Padang (Sumatera). We are hoping that the Nymphriends communities could grow faster there if we get to perform there one day.

How do you find the music scene in Bali?

My personal opinion, yes, it is getting better. When Nymphea first started in 2005, most bands were like one another. Not many were unique. Of course, now there still is the problem of many bands popping up sounding very much like some other band that inspired them, but at least now there is a much wider range of genres within the music scene in Bali. Another thing which I think is a major leap is that now bands know much more about what to do next after recording their first demo and can get into the local radios much easier than back then. And because there are bands from Bali who have already gone national, even international, I bet that it won’t take long for the other “good-band” in Bali to rise up to the surface.

About the solidarity, I think that now it isn’t going too well. Most bands only gather when they are performing at the same event, and those who do spend more time together are usually very closed in within their own group of people. Maybe it would be much better if everyone could spare more time to talk and share thoughts. Just to keep the friendship and the scene going.

You also have your own clothing label, Devillini. You design it yourself? How did it start?

I started up Devilini in 2005, just a few months after Nymphea was born. It is a clothing-line focusing on music & streetwear. So the products are mainly t-shirts, shorts, hoodies, bags, etc. Nothing fancy. At first I was the designer, but now because I have a full time job as my Mum’s personal assistant at her resort and having the days off entirely for Nymphea, I buy the designs from friends of mine, professional illustrators, who actually sell designs for a living. So, rather than force myself in the lack of time I have, I support friends by buying their designs. Fair and square! Hehe…

I started Devilini because I realized that being a vocalist of an indie band in Indonesia doesn’t help much financially. And because I’m the type of person who thinks it is better to own a small business rather than working at a big company, so I got the idea of running my own clothing line, which is pretty close to the music scene and also, I think, one of the good ways to keep the “indie culture” in Bali alive. At the moment my closest goal to achieve with Devilini is having our own shop. Hopefully it won’t be long now.

Let’s get personal, name three of your all-time favourite albums and why?

I’m not really good at answering this question. I don’t think I really have any favourite albums. I have a lot of favourite songs. Like “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin. A song which was meant to spread the message that owning more money or fancy cars or any other material doesn’t make you a better person. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. This was my favourite song that I sang with Matasiwa. I used to ask to play it every time we performed. “Everyone Goes to Heaven” by Navicula. I really like the lyrics of this song. It makes me wonder why people fight over which religion is better or worse, why people are so tied up in their religion that sometimes it overrides what they truly believe in, and why sometimes people spend more time “praying” for a better good but don’t actually get up and “do” anything to help.

Also three of your all-time favourite singers and why?

Not in order: Michael Jackson, not just as a singer, but as a human being. He was a strong guy. In some ways. He always tried his best and worked his hardest to get what he wanted, not just dream about things without making an effort to live it; Sheryl Crow, Listening to her sing was one of the reasons why I started to love the beauty and power of the female human voice; Bob Dylan, the songs that he wrote and the way he sings it showed me that you don’t have to have a lovely voice to be able to be a great singer and musician. It’s all about the soul you put into it.

Any last nagging words?

Well, the thing that I see nearly everyday in Bali on the road that makes me wonder is: Girls wearing their jackets back-to-front. Why? I don’t get it. Maybe Devilini should make a jacket that is actually supposed to be put on backwards, so they wouldn’t look so weird. Haha.

More seriously, I really do hope that events like “Ayo Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS” that was held in Ubud last February, would bring more sense and awareness to the people in Bali. Also, hopefully Nymphea’s and the other band’s support could help the information about “what HIV is and how to prevent it” spread even faster.


*This interview was firstly published on The Beat (Bali)# 308, Mar 30 – April 12, 2012

4 thoughts on “Homegrown & Well Known: SARI NYMPHEA

  1. Sari!!! I love your comment about the backwards jackets – haha! Please design a Devilini model, i’ll totally rock it backwards on the motorbike 🙂

  2. Lakota!! Haha.. But it’s true, right? The world seems to be going backwards.
    Maybe they’ve heard Menghitung Mundur” by Navicula too many times. 😀

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