Singer Memes, second to right, enlisted the musical skills of her husband, composer Addie M.S., second left, in paying homage to Ismail Marzuki. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

Memes, Addie M.S. Add Touch of Jazz to Classic Tunes


FEBRUARY 13, 2015

Hip-hop artist Common once observed: "The impact of a conscious artist is necessary, and it ripples through the world." This rings particularly true for legendary Indonesian composer Ismail Marzuki, who may be long gone but whose music lives on today.

Born in the early 1900s, many of his songs speak about Indonesia's struggles for independence. Some sing of the beauty of Indonesia's natural environment, while others are romantic songs that portrayed Ismail's own love life. But they all have unique qualities that have outlived the songwriter himself.

Ismail, also known as Maing among his close friends, was born in Kwitang, Central Jakarta, in 1914. When he reached his teens, a popular keroncong (a traditional Indonesian musical style) orchestra named "Lief Java" ("Darling Java") was making headlines in the capital.

Against his father's wishes, Ismail joined the orchestra when he was just 17 years old, becoming both its singer and songwriter.

The rebellious step was the beginning of a long, illustrious career that would make him a legend in Indonesia's music history.

By the time of his death in 1958, Ismail had composed a total of 202 songs in a variety of genres, ranging from Keroncong, Jazz, Rhumba to Stamboel .

"As we can tell from his songs, Ismail Marzuki was brimming with creative ideas," said arranger, composer and conductor Addie M.S. "His songs are evergreen and still being re-arranged, sung and recorded until today."

Addie and his wife, singer Memes, launched their new album "Lief Java" in Grand Indonesia Shopping Town's Galeri Indonesia Kaya, Central Jakarta. The album, which contains 10 songs that are all sung by Memes, is a tribute to the late Indonesian maestro.

"It all started when my husband and I had a vacation in Bali in January last year," said Memes. "I told him that I wanted to make another album, but I want it to be different from my previous work; I want it to be meaningful."

"Lief Java" is the pop singer's ninth studio album.

It was Addie who suggested she paid homage to Ismail.

"With the album, we hope to preserve [Ismail's] legacy by introducing him and his work to the younger generation, particularly that of our sons Kevin and Tristan," the songstress said.

Memes selected Ismail's songs for the album herself.

"She's such a talented producer," Addie said of his wife. "She instinctively knows which songs would be hits and which wouldn't."

Djarum's Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation helped sponsor the record.

"Addie did an amazing job re-arranging Ismail's songs to give them a more modern sound so younger music fans can appreciate his music," said Billy Gamaliel, program associate of Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation. "The album will be a source of inspirations for all of us and reminds us of the resourcefulness of the Indonesian people."

"Lief Java" consists of nine timeless tunes by the legendary maestro, including "Selendang Sutera" ("Silk Scarf"), "Juwita Malam" ("Evening Beauty") and "Rindu Lukisan" ("Painting of Longing"), and "Sepanjang Jalan Kenangan" ("Down Memory Lane") by late Indonesian composer Is Haryanto.

"'Sepanjang Jalan Kenangan' has a similar feel to Ismail's songs in the album," Memes said.

In his 30-year career, Is composed more than 3,000 songs in both Indonesian and Javanese. Many are still featured on TV and radio today.

With a team of talented, young musicians -- including Andrew Darmoko, Boby Limijaya and Glen Dauna -- Addie arranged these timeless tunes with a modern, jazzy edge.

Memes's previous work consisted mainly of ballads and soft pop songs, but for "Lief Java" the 49-year-old enlisted the help of vocal director Raymond Pattirane to train and strengthen her voice.

"[Raymond] is the best in his field," said Addie. "We're honored to have collaborate with him."

"I'm quite amazed with Memes's vocals in this album," said journalist and music critic Frans Hartono.

Accompanying the singer throughout the record are the sounds of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra from the Czech Republic.

With the aid of composer and conductor Adam Klemens, Addie conducted the classical orchestra in Prague himself.

"Indonesia lacks the proper studio to record orchestral music," Addie explained. "For such a task, we would need a large hall with excellent acoustics and sound engineers experienced in classical music."

The husband and wife duo said they wanted the best for the album, which took them to Prague.

"We're not young anymore," Memes said jokingly. "We aim to make an impact on the new generation of music fans. We want this album to be perfect."

The pair applied the same level of dedication to the packaging of "Lief Java."

At a glance, the album looks like an exclusive diary with thick padded jackets. Its front and back covers are embellished with pictures of Memes dressed to resemble a Batavia-era socialite of the 1930s.

"The idea is to bring the listeners back to that glamorous era," explained the mother of two.

And the album succeeds in doing so.

"I really enjoy listening to the album while driving," said music critic Bens Leo. "The songs transport me to a more beautiful time and place."

Bens also praised Addie and Memes's attempt to revive memories of Ismail and Is through the record.

"It's a great album that obviously took a lot of effort by utilizing the talents of both top Indonesian and international artists," Bens said. "It feels so classy."

Ninok Leksono, author of the book "Ismail Marzuki -- Senandung Melintas Zaman" ("Ismail Marzuki -- Music that Transcends Time"), had nothing but plaudits for the album.

"['Lief Java'] does a wonderful job in keeping Ismail's legacy and music alive," Ninok said. "My only criticism is that it simply doesn't have enough songs; I would love to hear more of Ismail's work!"

When asked if Addie and Memes have any plans of creating a second album of classic Indonesian tunes, the singer vowed: "If the album is successful, we'll make another one soon."

"Lief Java," distributed by Platinum Record, retails at Rp 129,000 ($10) and is available in major music stores.