The singer shares the journey behind his new album, “Wallflower,” and his thoughts on emotional wellbeing
Singer Afgansyah Reza is starting off strong this year. After his album was postponed last year due to the pandemic, he released his first single “Say I’m Sorry” last February, which was then followed by another single, “M.I.A,” a collaboration with Chinese singer, rapper and dancer Jackson Wang. And after that, his long-awaited album “Wallflower” was finally released. “Wallflower” is his first project with Empire since he signed up with the U.S. label around two years ago.
The second single, “M.I.A,” created a lot of buzz and it almost broke Afgan’s Instagram account when he announced that he was releasing a song with Jackson Wang. After all, this is the first international collaboration for the charming singer. Afgan met Jackson back in 2019 when they were both doing shows in Korea. They got to talking and instantly became friends. Then, one day, Afgan said that he has a song that he thinks will be amazing if Jackson took part in it. He sent the song to Jackson, who loved it, and the rest is history. Jackson immediately recorded his own part and wrote down his own verse as well.
The ongoing pandemic naturally made it impossible for the two singers to record the song and shoot the accompanying music video together. So, Afgan shot his part in Indonesia and Jackson did his in Korea. Against all odds, they made it work. Besides the great chemistry and communication between the two, the fact that they were friends first and have connected personally helped turn the idea into reality.
Afgan admitted that he learned a lot through the process of combining their two visions. They had to go back and forth about the video, the music production, the mixing, the mastering … and all of that via text or video calls. Afgan included Jackson in every decision and took notes from him as well. Meanwhile, the entire process of creating “Wallflower” presented a big learning curve for the Indonesian singer. From writing the materials with the producers from the States, adapting to a new environment, working with strangers, everything was new. But he took it all in stride because he knew that it was going to improve his way of doing music in the future. It was nerve-racking but liberating at the same time, as the charismatic singer described it.
Everything happens organically in Afgan’s life, including the story about how he met Ghazi Shami, the owner of the Empire label in Singapore. Afgan was so impressed by the man because of the way Ghazi carried himself and his visions. The Indonesian singer instantly knew that he wanted to work with him and the Empire label, because the energy doesn’t lie. They clicked and Afgan felt that it was meant to be. “I just love everything that happens organically, I don’t want anything to be forced.”
To be signed by the San Fransisco based label is exactly the challenge that the 31-year-old singer needed. He has been in the Indonesian music industry for thirteen years and he felt that he needed a breakthrough. So far, when people hear his name, the one thing they always think of is sad ballads and love songs. And yet, he has so much more to offer, which spurred his desire to break out from all of it. That’s basically why he decided to go to the States and record his latest album.
“I just love everything that happens organically, I don’t want anything to be forced”
The entire album was recorded before the pandemic and scheduled to be released on 2020, but was eventually put on hold as the world closed down. That took a mental toll on him, to put it mildly. He wasn’t being productive with no gigs allowed, and had to hold everything back when he was so excited to release the new album. So, with 2021 well underway, he told his label that they had to release it. Even with the pandemic still going on, it doesn’t mean that they cannot release art, so he rolled with the punches. “I went ahead with no expectations. I was saying to myself: All right, the most important thing is you like your song, if people don’t like it, then so be it. If people like it, then great,” he reminisces.
When the first single “Say I’m Sorry” was released, it blew up on TikTok and became viral, which was not what he expected at first. When “M.I.A” also went trending, all the positive reaction made all the waiting worthwhile. With the new album released, Afgan has plans to do a few virtual shows. And, of course, the best perk of doing a virtual show is that people from all over the world can join and help him introduce his sound to new listeners.
Throughout all the waiting, Afgan stayed calm and positive by meditating for 20-30 minutes after he wakes up. He also has taken to reading self-help books. Afgan was also one of the personas included in the second edition of Nadya Hutagalung’s book Walk With Me to talk about emotional well-being. He was first asked by fashion designer Didit Hediprasetyo, who worked with Nadya on the book. As he learned more about the project, he immediately agreed to lend his voice to the story because the topic is something that is really personal to him and something that he still struggles with. He wants to share with everyone that it’s okay to feel that you’re not emotionally well. More importantly, he wants to share that people can get through challenges like that together and more people need to be aware of this. So, he met with Nadya via Zoom, and she asked him about his life.
The main reason why Afgan wants to tell his story is that so his fans can relate to him as a human being who goes through real problems. All this time, they only see him on the surface, through his songs and videos. Now, he wants them to see that he’s also dealing with hardships in life, particularly with his emotional well-being. That is something that he’s been struggling with since he was a teenager as he was bullied in school. It really traumatized him to the point that he had to go to therapy. Today, Afgan wants his fans to know that they can also get help when faced with things like depression. Going through therapy helped him acknowledge his feelings and allowed him to reorganize his mind and his thoughts, so when he’s feeling depressed, he goes into problem-solving mode. First, he acknowledges why he is feeling the way he is, what triggers it and what’s the solution to overcome it. Then he continues by writing what he has to do, step by step, so everything is organized. “I think it’s important for you to know why you feel the way you do and what it is that’s going to make you feel better, and then just focus on that.”
With music as his medium, what’s important for Afgan is for his fans to feel good—and that hearing his music heals them in some way. The hype is just a bonus. Over the years, he also learned to place boundaries between his personal and professional life. He draws a line because he doesn’t want to be obsessed with fame or popularity. Those don’t last forever. The most important thing is that he knows himself. He admits that it’s a constant battle, but meditation and having a conversation with himself every night helps him to stay true to himself.
PHOTOGRAPHY JOE SABARTO / GROOMING GROOMING BHIEMO