Nadin Amizah: Indonesian indie folk storyteller on pain, poetry and the “hopeful” return of music festivals

Speaking to NME at Joyland Bali, the 21-year-old Bandung singer-songwriter keeps the mystique of her 2021 EP ‘Kalah Bertaruh’ but opens up on songwriting in the pandemic and her return to the stage

A realisation hit Nadin Amizah before she took the stage for her set on the first day of Joyland festival in Bali: she was about to sing sombre ballads to thousands of people looking for a good, fun time. They’d been primed by the acts preceding her: the fist-pumping combo of alternative pop band Rock N Roll Mafia and dance-pop trio Agrikulture.

But the 21-year-old quickly snapped out of her brief moment of anxiety. “Turns out, I don’t really care,” she tells NME shortly after her set. “When I see someone I admire performing on a stage, no matter what kind of noise may come their way, I am there to see the performer and I care about them only. And I want my audience to feel that way [about me] as well.”

In hindsight, the singer-songwriter had nothing to worry about. The crowd sang along to ‘Sebuah Tarian Yang Tak Kunjung Selesai’ (‘A Dance with No End’) and ‘Mendarah’ (‘Bloodied’) – arguably Amizah’s saddest songs to date. Amizah may or may not have been holding back tears as she dove into the heartbreaking lyrics, but she was definitely amused when some men in the audience screamed her name – an experience she finds “adorable” considering “most of my audience is female”, she giggles.

“[Joyland Bali] gives me hope. Perhaps music festivals are possible again”

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Amizah kept things low-key since the release of her EP ‘Kalah Bertaruh’ (‘A Losing Game’) last May and its accompanying live sessions dubbed ‘Cinta dan Bentuk Kalah Lainnya’ (‘Love and Other Forms of Defeat’) a month after. A musical examination of real-life romance gone awry, the five-track EP continued the artist’s exploration into folk music while incorporating elements of bedroom pop. ‘Kalah Bertaruh’ was critically acclaimed, collecting two nominations at the 2021 Anugerah Musik Indonesia Awards: Best Pop Album and Best Alternative Male/Female Solo Performance for opening track ‘Sebuah Tarian Yang Tak Kunjung Selesai’.

Despite the positive reception and the fact that it was released a mere 10 months ago, Amizah is no longer interested in further dwelling on ‘Kalah Bertaruh’ in the press.

“I don’t really like being repetitive about what I write. No offense to anyone, because it’s always fun going on radio tours as I gain different perspectives on what I have to say,” she says, noting that she gave only one media interview when promoting the project. “It’s just that this EP has a link to someone whose reputation I would still like to protect. I still hope I can stay friends with him as well. That’s why I feel like it’s best to take things gently.”

The lingering heartbreak of ‘Kalah Bertaruh’ has something to do with it, too. “I feel like this EP is not something to make a fuss about,” she asserts. “There were still some happy notes in my first album, therefore the stories I told came from a happy place with no pain at all. This EP, I’m afraid, comes from pain, so I’d rather not talk about it.”

Nadin Amizah interview Kalah Bertaruh EP Joyland Festival Bali 2022
Nadin Amizah at Joyland Festival 2022. Credit: Narend/Joyland Festival

She is more than willing, however, to talk about her debut album ‘Selamat Ulang Tahun’ (‘Happy Birthday’), which she believes has “transcended” its original form since its 2020 release. As its title suggests, ‘Selamat Ulang Tahun’ recounts and archives the singer-songwriter’s life before she turned 20, its lyrics traversing subjects such as coming of age, family and loss of innocence. The album is more intimate for being recorded entirely in her bedroom.

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Now that she is turning 22 this year, Amizah believes that ‘Selamat Ulang Tahun’ is growing up as well, as “each song can still be developed further with the stories that I have collected for the past two years,” she says. “The stories [in the album] are still relevant: my confusion, my fear and my family.”

Amizah spent her downtime attending online classes and writing songs. Some artists experienced creative blocks during the pandemic, but not Amizah. “It so happens that there have been lots of interesting stories during this pandemic, and they are, like, song-material. Does it matter whether [I’m writing in a] pandemic or not? I don’t think so,” she shrugs.

Amizah has no plans at the moment to release more original solo material, though she is remaining creative. In September last year, she was featured on ‘Pun Aku’ (‘I Myself’), the 42nd album of Indonesian country-folk veteran Iwan Fals. Their collaboration, ‘Untukmu’ (‘For You’), received a music video released on Valentine’s Day this year. The song was not written by Amizah, but she was involved in conceptualising the video.

“I was asked to write the treatment but because I was busy working on my Bachelor’s dissertation, I told them that I couldn’t be the director for it,” she reveals. “Instead, I brought the person who directed the live sessions for ‘Kalah Bertaruh’ [Senry Alvin]. He’s a director who can easily translate what I want with little instruction.”

And then, 2022 came along – and an offer to perform at Joyland Bali. Accepting it was a no-brainer, even if she didn’t immediately grasp the festival’s scale: “Once I saw the line-up on Instagram, I was like, ‘Oh, this is a real festival!’” she quips with a giggle.

Despite her excitement, Amizah – a Bandung native whose festival credits so far include We The Fest and Prambanan Jazz Festival – still had some reservations. Just like the other musicians, she was initially concerned about Joyland being cancelled by the authorities. “But Alhamdulillah, we received that support and even the President showed up,” she gushes. “It gives me hope. Perhaps music festivals are possible again.”

Nadin Amizah interview Kalah Bertaruh EP Joyland Festival Bali 2022
Nadin Amizah at Joyland Festival 2022. Credit: Narend/Joyland Festival

For her nine-song Joyland setlist, Amizah was keen to showcase ‘Selamat Ulang Tahun’ and ‘Kalah Bertaruh’, both of which had never been performed live due to the pandemic. Keeping the festival’s breezy, beachside setting in mind, she decided to balance her more pensive material with “euphoric moments” by opening with the upbeat ‘Taruh’ (‘Bet’) and incorporating “bubbly” arrangements, most notably heard on ‘Hormat Kepada Angin’ (‘Respect to the Wind’) and ‘Beranjak Dewasa’ (‘Growing Up’).

But Amizah was still determined to bring an element of contemplation to Joyland. Her most well-known song, ‘Bertaut’ (‘Connected’), was left untouched, and she began each song by reciting a brief, original poem. At first she worried it would polarise her audience, but after “a moment of self-reflection” realised that without the poetry, “something would be missing. There would be no sparks anymore – at least for me, as a performer.”

Sparks are indeed flying for the performer Nadin Amizah, who fans will be delighted to know is raring to take more stages after Joyland. She exclaims gleefully:

“I just want to do a tour! That’s it. That’s all I have dreamed about these days!”

Nadin Amizah’s ‘Kalah Bertaruh’ EP is out now

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