Anggun around the world

From Asia to the U.S. - via Paris!


09/11/2000 - 

When Anggun touched down in France in 1995 no-one had any idea that the young unknown was a major star back home in Indonesia. Anggun found her feet in France in no time at all, however, making a name for herself with her debut album Au nom de la lune. The former child prodigy went on to score a string of hits in the international charts and recorded several foreign-language versions of her album. Anggun's fame has now spread far beyond France and Indonesia, raising some interesting questions about her cultural identity. As the popular Indonesian diva releases her second CD album, Désirs contraires, we bring you a mini-retrospective of her career.

Born in Jakarta in 1974, Anggun Cipta Sasmi recorded her first single at the tender age of 7. Blossoming into a teenage prodigy, Anggun went on to launch a professional singing career. Managed by her father Darto Singo (a well-known singer and producer in Indonesia), the teenage diva recorded no less than five albums between the ages of 12 and 19. Anggun's sound - which owed more to Bon Jovi-style rock influences than traditional Javanese gamelans - scored an instant hit with Indonesian music fans. The teenage diva went on to work with the country's leading music producer, Ian Antono and ended up rocketing to overnight fame, playing to capacity stadium audiences.

In the early 90s Anggun branched out in a new direction, abandoning her superstar status in Indonesia when she fell in love with a French man and headed off for Europe. The couple spent a short period in London, but finally settled in Paris where Anggun attempted to launch her singing career again from scratch. Taking a series of French lessons at the Alliance Française, the young singer was determined to conquer new fans in Europe. Within a few months of arriving in France Anggun had teamed up with influential musician and producer Erick Benzi (famous for his work with the likes of Johnny Hallyday and Jean-Jacques Goldman). The partnership proved to be a successful one and Anggun's debut album, Au nom de la lune, scored a phenomenal hit in 1997, selling a million copies in 33 different countries.

Anggun's mix of soft, sensual melodies, FM pop and a sprinkling of traditional Indonesian instruments struck a chord with music fans worldwide and her single La neige au Sahara soon rocketed up the international charts. French fans and music critics were quick to claim Anggun as one of their own, but although the Indonesian singer lives in Paris and sings in faultless French the success she is currently enjoying – all the way from Singapore to L.A. – has had a strong Anglophone slant.

The Albums

Anggun has only released two albums since re-locating to France, but her discography is jam-packed with different imports (often with only minimal differences distinguishing them from one another). The Indonesian diva's debut album exists in four different versions for a start. Originally released in French-speaking countries in 1997, under the title Au nom de la lune, the album featured sixteen songs recorded in French. The following year Sony Japan re-released Anggun's debut album in Asia. Renamed Anggun, the album featured nineteen tracks this time round, including sixteen songs in English and three in French. (A sixteen-track version was also made available). Then in 1999 Anggun focused her sights on the Anglophone music scene, attempting to crack the U.S. market with an 11-track version of her first album, rebaptised Snow on the Sahara.

Anggun's record company appears to be following the same strategy with the singer's latest album, Désirs contraires. An English version of Anggun's second album - renamed Chrysalis - was released in Asia in September. This version features fourteen songs (like the French original), but a special Indonesian version has now also appeared including a fifteenth bonus track (Yang Kutunggu). Dazed and confused ? Yes, so are we! The main difference to bear in mind is that the lyrics on each album have been adapted or, occasionally, entirely rewritten by Anggun herself – but the music is the same on each version!

Interestingly enough, while it's incredibly easy to buy several different versions of Anggun's new albums, it's practically impossible to find a trace of anything Anggun recorded in Indonesia in her teen-star days. In fact, take a brief surf around the Net and you'd be forgiven for thinking that today's 'world' pop diva has nothing to do with Indonesia's former child star.

Ironically, while we could find no trace of the teenage Anggun, her name appears to crop up on countless compilations recorded over the past couple of years. Anggun features on Fantastic Females (recorded for MTV Asia in 1999), the Indonesian compilation Indo Hits, Top of the Pops - The Best of '99 (released on Sony UK in 1999) and German compilations Das Album der Megasongs vol.7 (WEA '99) and The Music of the World (OW99). What's more, Anggun is the only foreign artist - apart from Ophélie Winter – to put in an appearance on the Quebecois compilation La chanson au féminin (WEA 2000).

The Hits
Meanwhile, Anggun's single La neige au Sahara (better known as Snow on the Sahara) made a huge impact on the international charts, shooting into the European Top 100 in April '99 (at number 83), the Billboard Border Breaker charts (at number 19) and making it into second position after Céline Dion in a Billboard journalist's favourite singles of '98. Anggun also made it onto the playlist of an Afro-American radio station in Texas, sandwiched between Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston! ( Throughout '98 and '99 Anggun made it big everywhere, in fact, Snow on the Sahara charting everywhere from Norway to Albania and spending several months at the top of the Malaysian charts.

Anggun's new album looks set to make just as great an impact. Still Reminds Me, the first single release from the album, made it into the Weekly Top 40 of the Indonesian radio station Kisi 91.8 FM (kisi fm) this summer. And in October 2000, it's riding high in the Tokyo Hot 100 of the Japanese radio station J-Wave (J-wave/Tokyo Hot 100) and also and also caused a major stir in Italy (Pagine Radio). In fact, thanks to some powerful promotional campaigns from her record company, Sony France, Anggun appears to be crossing international frontiers faster than the speed of sound!

Radio and TV

Surfing around the Net, fans will find traces of several appearances Anggun made on American TV to promote her debut album. These include an excerpt from the famous "Rosie O'Donnell Show". In December '98 Anggun also hit the road with Bruce Hornsby, playing a special Christmas concert in Portland, which was broadcast on local radio station "the beat@107.5". Besides touring with Natalie Merchant, the Indonesian diva has performed numerous concerts across Europe, Asia and the USA – but, strangely enough, almost never played in France!

One of the highlights of Anggun's recent TV appearances was a mini-concert broadcast at the end of August '98 in the "Sessions at West 54th" on PBS (Sessions at West 54th). One woman in the audience, who was not a particular fan, recalls the atmosphere of this concert recorded in New York with a group of French musicians: "David Byrne introduced her as a major Indonesian star who'd moved to Paris to develop her 'artistic integrity' – which, in my opinion, seems to consist of copying American rock and throwing in a few Oriental-sounding flutes here and there … Basically, she's less pop than Madonna, but definitely more rock than Fiona Apple. Most of the - largely Indonesian - audience who'd turned out to see her in concert didn't seem to understand what language she was singing in. It was only when she did a cover of Bowie's Life on Mars that anyone realised she was singing in English!"

The Music Press

However, this rather damning account of Anggun in concert is outweighed by hundreds of articles written in praise of the Indonesian star. Snow on the Sahara generated a huge amount of press coverage in North America, the American music press and cyber-media opening their arms to the original newcomer. Legendary American rock magazine Rolling Stone devoted a short article to Anggun (Rolling Stones), as did the respected New York weekly Village Voice, which reviewed the "Malaysian Madonna's" performance at the Lilith Fair Festival (only making one small error about her nationality!).

In fact, American music journalists appeared to be unanimous in praising Anggun's vocal talent and songwriting ability - and the majority have not overlooked the singer's stunning good looks and unusual background either! Anggun's music has frequently been compared to Deep Forest or Annie Lennox and, in an article published in the Boston Phoenix (August 3rd 1998), Michael Freedberg draws parallels between the Indonesian "funk diva's Europop orchestrations" and the voices of Jane Birkin and Céline Dion. However, Freedberg considers that Anggun's English lyrics "lack the languor and wetness of French" In spite of her Indonesian origins, he considers that the singer has now become "a true Parisienne".
Anggun also features heavily in the Asian media and, needless to say, merits a listing in an American website about Asian stars around the ( Meanwhile, the Indonesian star is still enjoying the fruits of a major promotional campaign she launched in Asia in 1998. The release of her second album, Chrysalis (at the end of summer 2000) was thus guaranteed to attract major coverage. Most journalists appeared to focus on Anggun's "emigration" to Paris rather than the album itself, however. In September 2000 the normally highbrow on-line newspaper (based in Hong Kong) reported that: "Anggun regrets not having got her driving licence before she left, because she finds strange French road signs extremely difficult to memorise"!

Meanwhile, over in Singapore – where Anggun made a special appearance to sign her new album on October 21st and performed in concert on October 26th - journalist Arti Mulchand at the Straits Times (Straitstimes) has devoted no less than four articles to the singer in the past few weeks. Mulchand reveals that although Anggun recently obtained French citizenship, she still feels "Indonesian first". After interviewing the singer over the phone, the Singapore-based journalist also noted that Anggun's Indonesian was now speaking "in a French-tinged Indonesian accent". In the interview with Mulchand, Anggun was at pains to point out that her musical influences are "generically Asian, not just Indonesian".

Filipino journalist Lionel Zivan S. Valdellon, who has also written extensively about Anggun, considers the singer to be "a very good ambassadress for Indonesia and Asia in general". However, he points out that Anggun "was never really a huge star in Asia. Here in the Philippines, people may know one or two of her songs but they won't be able to look at a picture and identify who she is. I think she had a larger impact in Indonesia. The warm response that Manila gave her was basically due to the fact that MTV Asia was playing her songs quite constantly and later on, local radio stations caught on. Aside from the success of the songs Snow on the Sahara and A Rose in the Wind, I don't think many people in Manila know her." Valdellon interviewed Anggun when she played a concert in Manila at the beginning of '99 ( and on that occasion the singer told him that one of her main aims in life is to "introduce Indonesia to the world in a very progressive way". However, this does not mean she wants "to have arrows pointing at herself saying 'Indonesian ! Indonesian !". She doesn't "want wear batik". In the same interview Anggun complained that all too often music fans in the West mix up different Asian countries : "I think it's about time people know something more about Asia, not only as a vacation place."

Back Home In Indonesia

Journalists back home in Indonesia have followed Anggun's career with equal interest. The singer returned to her homeland in October - for the first time in five years – causing a huge stir in the local media. The greatest concern on everyone's mind seemed to be that Anggun has lost her "Indonesian identity" since moving to France. In fact, Indonesian reporters' questions still seem to revolve around the fact that the singer left her homeland five years ago with a French man (who has been extensively quoted and interviewed in the Indonesian press, whereas he has merited barely a line in the West). The Jawa Pos newspaper referred to Anggun as the Indonesian rock singer who has "disappeared in France". And, in the same paper, Anggun spoke of how upset she has been by Indonesian journalists "tarnishing her name" by spreading false rumours about her having fled to France because she was pregnant or had AIDS.

Ironically, the Indonesian press has also given the singer a hard time about the fact that she has not yet settled down and started a family. She was also heavily criticised for not having called in to see her parents during a three-day visit to Jakarta. One of the main Indonesian dailies, Kompas, devoted several pages to Anggun when she returned home in October. Journalists did review the singer's album, but they seemed more concerned with enquiring about the singer's new lifestyle in France. Anggun told reporters from "Kompas" that she had "no intention of returning to Indonesia for the time being", omitting to mention the fact that she had now acquired French citizenship. On the other hand, on the web portal, Anggun assures fans that she still has "Indonesian blood in her veins" and makes several criticisms of the French way of life, complaining about the country's high cost of living.

Straddling two radically different cultures, Anggun is faced with the dilemma of being seen as a quaint "folk pop star" or throwing off her country's traditional culture and becoming a stateless artist. In short, the singer is faced with the difficult task of conquering the world's pop charts and hanging on to her identity in the process. Meanwhile, fans and music critics are left wondering whether Anggun should be classified as an Indonesian singer or a French star. But for the moment Anggun's music appears to have no problem whatsoever in crossing national frontiers.

Catherine  Pouplain - Pédron