Ayu Laksmi Re-Emerges in Full Bloom
Eighteen years after her disappearance from the music scene, Balinese singer Ayu Laksmi released her second album, “Svara Semesta” (“The Voice of the Universe”), on Nov. 25, marking both her birthday and her re-emergence in the Indonesian music industry.
“This album was created not just as a work of art, but as a symbol of my pure dedication to God, humanity and the universe,” Ayu said in the booklet accompanying the CD.
Consisting of 11 tracks, “Svara Semesta” is an array of world music compositions through which Ayu talks about the relationship between people and God.
In fact, some of the tracks on the album are based on the kekawin (religious chanting), which are a part of the verses of Veda, the most ancient Hindu scriptures.
It can be hard to believe that back in the late 1980s Ayu was known as a lady rocker, and her music appeared in a number of Indonesian films.
“I still remember the days back then when I was a rock singer, wearing jeans with an image of a skull. Now I like to dress up as a [traditional] Indonesian woman,” she said.
“While many people go for something modern, I have chosen to make a return to more traditional aspects of Indonesia.”
The tracks on “Svara Semesta” are divided into what Ayu refers to as two “spaces.”
The first space, called “culture and technology,” is dedicated to the glory of God and the universe, and the second space, called “human,” talks about the three elements of existence: birth, life and death.
Most kidung (sacred songs) in the first space are in the ancient languages of Sanskrit and Kawi (ancient Javanese), as well as Balinese.
But on “I Am Talking to Myself” in the second “space,” Ayu sings in a language she has invented herself, a language that “doesn’t exist in the world.”
“It’s a form of expression that came to me during the creative process, a collection of sounds that have no particular meaning,” she said. “It’s like I’m reciting mantras.”
Featuring a number of renowned Indonesian musicians, including Balinese guitarists Balawan and Dewa Budjana, “Svara Semesta” comprises mostly slow tracks with traditional nuances, including the use of the gamelan.
The first song on the album, “Maha Asa” (“Big Dream”), has very strong Javanese-Balinese overtones.
It is slow in the beginning and intensifies toward the end, with a mantra-like recitation in the middle.
Another standout track — “Wirama Totaka”— is taken from the religious chant Arjunawiwaha.
The song speaks about sincerity and pureness, elements Ayu said wree fundamental in almost everything we do, including creating works of art.
“Works of art sound, look and feel much more beautiful if they are created with sincerity,” she said.
Closing up the album is “Reincarnation,” a delightful composition with beautiful lyrics.
With a limited reliance on musical instruments, the song talks about flower seeds that, blown by the wind, fall to the ground and turn into new trees that give birth to the same fragrant flowers.
Listening to “Svara Semesta” feels like listening to both music and a poetry-reading.
It is possible that Ayu’s stunning renditions of the scriptures, and her powerful, husky voice amount to one of the most magical combinations in the universe.