Alphamama Brings Her Artistry To Ubud
by Renee Melchert Thorpe
The 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival had a special theme of Saraswati: Wisdom and Knowledge. In reverence to the goddess of Arts and Literature, the Festival featured extra artists in visual and musical endeavors. Arguably the most creative band to come together for the time-honored closing party was a conglomeration of percussionists, vocalists and assorted instrumentalists like Ben Walsh (blazing riffs on drums built from junk that very day), and the incomparable vocalist Toni Childs. Australian renaissance woman (whose father is from Manado, Sulawesi) Alphamama was also jamming onstage, playing keyboards and singing her original music while the crowd swayed in appreciation.
We caught up with Alphamama while she was on tour in Africa in November.
Tell me about what you’re doing in South Africa.
South Africa is the last stop on a global art tour before going home to Sydney. No gigs here just visiting family on my mother’s side and adventuring! We are planning to come back next year for performances and community work. By the time this comes out I’ll be back in Sydney again.
What was your training like? You’re a great keyboard player – were you taking lessons as a child?
My dad put me in piano lessons as a kid because he wanted me to play at his church. I was a very bad student but after he gave up on paying for lessons of course I suddenly began wanting to play and so used my ears to learn songs on the radio. I played and sang in my dad’s Indonesian church for years and that was great training for me. Not so much the technical aspect but more for the leaderships skills, understanding ambience and dynamics and also improvisation.
How did you find out about the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival?
The UWRF’s International Program Director Summa actually invited me last year but at that time I had a tour with Jessica Mauboy that clashed and so unfortunately I couldn’t make it. This year I was in New York when Summa emailed me and asked me if I’d like to perform. I was super excited about it because I know what a fantastic festival it is and also I love coming back to Indonesia.
How would you describe your compositions? Would you say your work reaches into many genres, or are you pushing the boundaries of aspecific area of music?
I guess the genre of my last album could be classified as urban but that’s pretty broad. I don’t really focus so much on musical genres because I love all kinds of music and I always want to be free to create without limits. Instead I focus more on a particular communication I want to get across like a story I’m telling or how I want to make people feel or what emotion in expressing. I guess if I had to describe my music I would say it has elements of soul, hip hop, African/Caribbean grooves, funk and R&B, but my live performances have a distinct jazz approach because I never perform a song the same way. Improvisation is a huge part of my show. Reading the audience and interacting with the musicians. That’s my favourite part.
How has your songwriting artistically evolved?
I’m really excited at the moment because my music is evolving with my own spiritual growth and merging paths. I’ve always known I was a healer and had been practising with various mediums but it hadn’t really spilled over into my music as much as I wanted it to. Many of my fans shared their stories of how my music had affected them spiritually but I wanted to approach it more consciously. My next album which I’m recording in Bali next year will finally combine my passion for healing and music. Researching the wavelengths or vibrations of emotions and thoughts affecting the being and the body and matching those frequencies to sound, the idea is to improve people’s emotional tone, disperse mental mass and bring about healing. Obviously still with my signature style!
What you say about vibrations and emotions sounds very much like Scientology research.
I have studied Scientology tech. I’m a huge fan of L. Ron Hubbard’s work and have firsthand experience of the transformation that it brings about. I strive to observe truth in the world and I learn from many, many sources.
Are you a multidisciplined artist? I get the feeling you have a lot of talent for visual arts.
I love art in all its forms! For me it’s the highest level of communication and it penetrates solid matter. I love fashion and visual art. I’ve written poetry, drawn and painted since I was really small, and then I got into sculpture for a while until I decided to focus on music. Fashion is a huge part of my artistic expression also and I do styling, hair and makeup, art direction and photography. I’m looking forward to producing a range using my own textiles that I’m currently designing with my partner, Bravo Child.
Any interesting collaborations in your career?
Working with Ngaiire is always pretty special and there’s a certain vocal chemistry we have with another beautiful Australian artist and good friend, Billie McCarthy. The three of us sang together for a while and it’s lovely to have Ngaiire’s voice on my album. I’ve worked with Kween G on a few tracks in the past and love her a lot! She’s a phenomenal woman and artist! I’m definitely keen to work with some Indonesian artists more. Recently I wrote with KunoKini, Flim and Matajiwa so we’ll see where those tracks end up.
What was it like to be up on that ARMA stage at the UWRF closing party, once everyone joined in together for a final jam?
Man, that was such a buzz!! Jamming with Ben and Tama Waipara and then Toni came out of nowhere! She’s an absolute hero for me musically and spiritually! It was amazing to connect with her and everyone else on that stage! It was so special for me also because musically it had Australian traditional and contemporary elements (digeridoo, vocals and drums) together with Indonesian traditional and contemporary elements (kendang, bass and keys). I was in sonic bliss! I think the audience felt that energy exchange and really added to the magic.
Anything else you would like to let our readers know?
As an artist of Indonesian heritage who grew up in the west, I’m very grateful for having such a rich cultural upbringing and influence. I think it’s time that Indonesians, the expat community and the global community started looking at Indonesia’s vast wealth and resources. There are some absolute geniuses creating valuable products and art but they aren’t getting the support they need. While corporations are raping the natural resources of the Earth, eventually it’s all going to run out but creativity will never run out, so I believe it’s important to invest financially in art and culture as a resource. I also believe that the expatriate community has a responsibility to integrate into the Indonesian community and build a future together. I plan to come back next year in April for performances, workshops and charity work. I would love to link up with anyone who can contribute to this in some way.