Sound Check, vol. 11: Christabel Annora

By: Patricia Kusumaningtyas

Christabel Annora and her work are refusing to conform to a single artistic discipline. She is a singer, songwriter, and illustrator that hails from Malang, East Java, and is using her art to convey the versatility of her experience. Her go-to musical instrument is the piano, and as exhibited in her sophomore album, Dari Jauh, released last October, she can make such a simple instrument shine in her own way. 

The album Dari Jauh is a pleasant album to listen musically and thematically engaging at the same time. It’s a mixture of Christabel Annora’s personal reflections and her opinion on less personal issues. In “Mesin Waktu” she sings about fleeting moments and experiences that could be taken away from your hands in such a short time; in “Debat Kusir,” she sings about being tangled in conflicts and unnecessary debates, especially on the Internet. And, lastly, her album closer “Nyam..” is probably my favorite song out of her repertoire; conveying a foodie’s longing over her hometown’s food, it’s one of the few songs I sent to my mom while abroad (in which she replied, “She has a really beautiful voice, and it’s a really creative song!”). 

Fresh off of her release, I interviewed Christabel on her songwriting process, Malang’s music scene, and arts education.

Hi Christabel! What songs are stuck in your head right now?

The Sims 3 soundtrack, hahaha!

Tell us a story of your journey with the piano, the musical instrument that’s so pivotal to your work.

I got introduced to the piano when I was very little. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember my mom and my grandfather introducing the piano to me for the first time. Both grandpa and Mom really like to play piano, and they said I would join in from time to time!

In the album Dari Jauh, you included some instrumental songs, such as “Matamu.” What are the similarities/differences between your lyrics-writing process and your instrumental composition-writing process? Which one would you prioritize in writing a song?

I write all my instrumental songs in this album with spontaneity; there are no plans or drafts, so when it comes to the recording process, I would determine the theme on the spot and play the piano! It’s a more varied process when it comes to writing songs with lyrics. Sometimes I’d start with the composition first, sometimes the lyrics—there’s no fixed pattern to it. But usually the easier process is when I write both music and lyrics simultaneously; as I write the lyrics, I’m composing the song as well. 

In “Debat Kusir” you took on the theme of a never ending debate, especially through the internet. How do you balance the double-edged sword of the internet—enjoying its benefits without being tangled in all its absurdities?

The key is to not to carry your emotions and to keep an open mind. It’s possible to have that balance—to stay up to date without having your emotions stirred and following netizens’ debates.

You’re also an illustrator; how does your illustration work inform/shape your work as a musician? (Or vice versa)

I save more time and energy, hahaha! Besides my work being more economical overall (I can make my own artwork every time I release a new single), I become more open in my own creative ventures. It’s really fun, so far.

Following off of that—how do you think an artwork could communicate a musician’s intent to their listeners?

A musical piece’s artwork could, at the same time, focus and broaden a listener’s opinion towards the work. I did a little bit of research for “Debat Kusir”’s artwork by asking my close friends about their opinion towards the song—before its release. They told me that the song carries a serious issue, and is brought about seriously too, supported by a very bluesy musical mood. But then, I showed them a picture of the artwork and their views changed. The issue remains something serious, but the way I conveyed it was playful and not judging.

You’ve also had experience as a music teacher. What interests you in teaching? Do you feel like music education in Indonesia’s national curriculum is well-represented?

I’ve always been interested in music and teaching is a hobby I discovered back when I was in high school. In my opinion, the existence of arts education in our curriculum is already a push in the right direction to introduce music from a young age. If we want to improve it, I really hope that in the future, students can have an option to choose which subjects they want to study—for example, a student wants to take arts/music classes instead of other classes, and it’s allowed for them to do that—so that hobbies and talents of a certain student can be facilitated. I really like Nadiem (Makarim)’s new program: #merdekabelajar!

This is a really exciting time for Malang’s music scene, with a lot of rising musicians such as Sal Priadi, Coldiac, yourself included. What’s your favorite thing out of the Malang music scene?

My favorite thing is of course the support and creative atmosphere in the city of Malang itself. It’s really inviting its artists to be productive; every musician’s supporting each other and this is the thing that makes me excited about the scene.

Last thing—you’re a self-proclaimed foodie, as explained in the song “Nyam..” and your illustrations. What’s an unpopular opinion you have on any food?

I like to eat fried sausages with sweet soy sauce. At first I thought this was normal since it’s a staple food for me since I was little, until one day, everyone at my office told me that no one eats sausages with sweet soy sauce. I still didn’t believe it to the point where I created a poll on Instagram; 85% of voters chose to eat sausages with ketchup. Eww!!

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity and translated from Indonesian. Editor Claudia Siregar contributed to writing some of the questions.

Listen to Dari Jauh here:

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