Born in the Indonesia’s easternmost province Papua 30 years ago, Lala was fascinated by song since she was a kid.
The 30-year-old songstress has started to gain recognition in the Indonesian music scene thanks to her unique voice and funky look.
“Hey, curly!” These were familiar words for Lala Suwages since she was the only curly-haired student at school. Upset, little Lala would ask her mother to take her to a beauty salon to have her hair straightened.
Now, as she is grown up, she has begun to love and be proud of her curly locks, which have become her trademark since she stepped into the Indonesian music scene.
Born in the Papua capital Jayapura on Nov. 15, 1980 and growing up in Jakarta, Lala was fascinated by song since she was a kid, actively singing in church and pegged to sing at every extended family event.
Her father, who also likes singing, and her mother, who used to be a professional Papuan dancer and choreographer, support Lala.
“Papa knew I had a talent so he encouraged me to regularly practice singing and participate in singing contests or events,” Lala said.
“I’m not a good dancer, though. I’m a bit stiff when it comes to dancing. Even though my songs are mostly upbeat, I feel like I’m an electricity tower when I dance.”
Growing up listening to songs from Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, Cool & the Gang, Earth Wind & Fire and Whitney Houston, who later became her biggest musical influence, she still did not have much confidence to make singing her profession.
Young Lala was more interested in playing the role of detective, lawyer or any profession which dealt with politics since she liked to spend her spare time reading detective books instead of love stories.
“I thought I was not good enough in terms of singing quality,” she said, adding that she started to realize her talent in high school.
At university, she started taking offers to sing in cafes and later launched her professional career when she joined a group called Tabitha’s Friends.
She later had the chance to represent Indonesia in the international singing contest, Voice of Asia, which took place in Kazakhstan in 2003 and in which she earned the Major of Almaty prize.
While preparing to take part in the event she met her future husband, musician Bobby Sandhora, who once arranged songs for Lala.
Since that moment, the singer has been flooded with offers to perform at a number of musical events, including the international Java Jazz Festival (JJF) and JakJazz.
In 2007 JJF and Lala collaborated with a Dutch band called Daughter of Soul and performed with the Krakatau jazz band in a segment titled “A Journey to Krakatau”.
Her soulful voice and performances have brought her once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, like when she was given an album offer by Singapore-based record company Life Records.
The album, called Devoted to You and released in 2007, consisted of recycled love songs from the 1960s which she describes as simple, soulful and relaxing.
The success of Devoted to You was followed with a audiophile record, I Love You This Much, two years later.
While the clinking of piano dominates Devoted to You, the latter uses the strumming of acoustic guitar.
During those years Lala split her time between Singapore and Indonesia to record and promote her albums.
A record company once offered to produce her debut solo album, but Lala turned down the chance because she already had a deal with Catz Records.
2009 was an important year for Lala as she finally realized her biggest dream of making a solo album.
Her debut pop album, titled Langkah Baruku (My New Step) also includes two recycled song Semua Jadi Satu (All Become One), created by veterans Deddy Dhukun and Dian Pramana Poetra, and Nada Kasih (Love Tone), which was popularized by Fariz Roestam Munaf and Neno Warisman.
For Nada Kasih, Lala collaborated with Joeniar Arief (former member of Tofu), giving the song a fresher tone with R&B and jazzy nuances.
“It took quite a long time to finish this album because there was an adaptation process for the label to find out my uniqueness and selling points,” Lala explained.
When the album finally hit the market, she was relieved.
“When you are a singer and you have your own album, it means you already have an identity. The album proves my existence in the music industry.”
This year, Lala is gearing up for her second album.
“It’s still pop but the concept is way different from the first one. The second one is more vintage and oldies. It will be a unique piece,” she explains.
Just like her first record, she has penned many songs for her second album. The tracks still center on love with more serious and weightier lyrics.
“The lyrics are deeper than ever. The love thing that I talk about in this album is not only the love that you feel when you are in love, but also a more serious kind of love like the love towards your spouse,” said the singer, who also wrote songs based on her friends’ personal love experiences.
Her husband Bobby and renowned musician Tohpati also took part in her second album, which is planned for release at the middle or end of this year.
Lala’s unique voice and urban style certainly distinguishes her from other homegrown female songstresses.
“Since the beginning of my career I have wanted to have a different color, bring out different talent and introduce broader perspectives about the essence of beauty to the public.
“So far, people may be familiar with the beauties from the west or central parts of Indonesia, while I represent the character of women from Eastern Indonesia more. We’ve got our own style,” said the singer, who shared the stage with jazz mogul Bubi Chen at the recent Java Jazz Festival.
That’s one of the reasons why she sticks to her curly hair.
“I once tried to straighten my hair because I wanted to look stylish. It was in the early 2000s. My hair was really straight but I soon learned that having straight long hair was impractical in terms of treatment,” she said.
“The problem is I’m not the kind of feminine woman who likes to go to beauty salons. I like practical things. I can’t stand sitting hours in a salon to do a hair mask or anything. I give up!”
Lala then decided to go back to her natural curls.
“Besides, my husband used to say, ‘I love you just the way you are’. So, I keep my curly hair now. It’s good to be yourself.”
Lala also contributed her career success to her husband, as they worked hand in hand on a number of projects, including creating Lala’s two albums.
Working with her spouse, who she married in 2005, is not always as easy and smooth as she imagined.
“But the good thing about having a musician husband is he understands me,” said Lala, who became a mother in December of 2009.
Paving her way in the music world step by step, she always feels grateful.
“I do believe that the step-by-step process is more meaningful than an instant one since it allows us more time to better prepare,” she said.“I try to give it my best and maintain my existence in music.”
Source: The Jakarta Post