France 2012: Anggun

Photo: Paolo Zambaldi



What if you could tell the world who you really are in 12 songs? That’s a bit what it feels like when you listen to Échos, Anggun’s new album.

A lot has been written about the Indonesian singer. Some people have mentioned a fairytale to explain the rise of a young music-loving girl who became a superstar in the country of her birth before striking out to conquer France and the world when she was only about 20. Following a stream of hits in French, English and Indonesian (and her massive international hit, Snow On The Sahara), she has now sold over 2 million records in just a few years. Her albums have been released in 35 countries and she has made the Top 5 in the European charts and the Top 20 of the US Billboard charts. Add to this a wide-ranging list of prizes and honours including a World Music Award, giving the Christmas concert at the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul II, an interview with CNN in New York and her extremely prestigious nomination as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France. Quite simply, Anggun is the Asian artist who has sold the most records outside Asia, without doubt one of the most famous Asian stars internationally, and indisputably the most popular Indonesian celebrity in the world.

Paolo Zambaldi

People have also often listed the duets the woman has been involved in. Her eclectic musical tastes make her feel just as comfortable singing with Céline Dion, Julio Iglesias, Peter Gabriel and Zucchero as with DJ Cam, Laurent Wolf and Pras from The Fugees. Her eclectic taste in movies have seen her perform the theme tune for American blockbusters (The Transporter II produced by Luc Besson) and arthouse films (Open Hearts directed by Susanne Bier, the icon of Dogma Films) and even the soundtrack to the latest feature film by legendary director Claude Lelouch (Ces Amours-là). With each passing year and album, she has kept surprising us and kept reinventing herself through new artistic projects and her own personal development. Échos, in a sense, sums up this transformation, returning to the pop sound that made her name, but this time with new collaborators. The origins of this album are to be found in the coming together of two teams familiar with success: Gioacchino, Marie Bastide and Pierre Jaconelli on the one hand, and the trio of Jean-Pierre Pilot, William Rousseau and Vincent Baguian on the other.

“I love her timbre. I’d been wanting to work with her for a while,” explains Giacchino, who has already worked collaborated with the biggest French stars. “And I found in her the very same depth of personality that I liked about her voice.” He drew on the long conversations between the singer and Marie Bastide, a talented young lyricist, to compose some tailor-made tracks for her. Once again, the song Mon meilleur amour with its Irish sounds is about the inevitable break-up of a love affair that one must come to terms with to rise again from the ashes, like the promise of a new dawn in our lives. Déracinée timidly speaks of the loneliness and fear of the unknown that were often a feature of the singer’s constant moving around. Whereas a few years ago Anggun still sang of exile as a painful experience, now she knows where she is headed, as she has accepted that her destiny will always be bound up with travelling.

Photo: Paolo Zambaldi

Anggun was returning from her work as an FAO/UN Goodwill Ambassador in New York when Marie Bastide wrote L’Année du serpent for her, a restrained song that gives the thoughts of a woman remembering 9/11. “Everything was clear. The words flowed naturally,” the songwriter explains. “She told me that 2001 was a disastrous year for her and that inspired me to write this story.” Again, though, the message is a constructive one. It tells of her trouble getting over it and how she takes stock in order to turn the page. They are the words of a free, fulfilled woman who accepts the consequences of her decisions and watches her words.

And yet, without any excess exoticism or pointless clichés, you find subtle traces of the singer’s Indonesian roots via the various subjects she tackles. Toi l’éternelle talks of accepting the death of a loved one without undermining the modesty of mourning, nor seeking to squeeze a tear out of the listener at any cost.

On the other hand, the extremely sensual Promets-moi le ciel, written and composed by Axel Bauer, conjures up the passion and sense of drama that is such a part of Indonesian literature – but also so universal.

Jean-Pierre Pilot and William Rousseau were coming off the back of major successes in French-speaking Europe when they met Anggun. “What surprised us was the contrast between the simple, fun-loving woman we had in front of us and the image of the superstar diva we know from her videos or live performances. The two personalities coexist inside her in perfect harmony,” William Rousseau explains. “As a result, we were keen to explore her more private side without going off into completely pared-down musical style.” The team got down to work with Olivier Schultheis and Vincent Baguian. “Vincent played a crucial role in the choice of subjects,” says Jean-Pierre Pilot. “He got the singer to reveal the woman. One of the first songs we recorded, L’Etiquette, is an illustration of a desire to look beyond the received ideas some people might have about this artist.” And many women will identify with the themes of the album: the weariness of Mon coeur, the amorous indecision of Psycho Maniaque. Anggun reveals herself to be both mischievous and totally fulfilled. Yet the power of the melodies does not supplant the emotion, as illustrated by the bittersweet Je crois en tout and the discreet J’ai appris le silence.

Sometimes fatale, sometimes disappointed, often amorous and always strong, Anggun sings about the woman she was and above all about the woman she is today. Neither completely the same nor completely someone else, with Échos she gives us her most personal and paradoxically most universal album: the Échos of an artist who is no longer torn between two cultures – her heartland of Indonesia and her adoptive country France; she has managed to find an equilibrium between these two worlds and to make the very best of them.