Cantika Abigail has learned a lot from her decade-long journey with the Indonesian pop trio GAC. One of those hard lessons was that music can be a “battlefield” – even after an artist scores a hit. In Abigail’s case, it was when their 2015 song ‘Bahagia’ (‘Happy’) catapulted them to nationwide fame.
“After ‘Bahagia’ was released and it suddenly became a hit, it started to feel like everyone saw us like we were this profitable stock,” the 28-year-old tells NME. “Eventually, it became a burden, as if we had to make something that would top or at least be equal to ‘Bahagia’. It’s difficult when art meets business.”
Six years after that sobering lesson, Abigail has released her debut solo EP ‘Ode To Blue’, which she likens to “finally coming home”. Recorded with the intention of “manifesting stuff that I couldn’t manifest while I was in GAC”, the five-track EP is a melting pot of her favourite genres: R&B, hip hop, dance, neo-soul, Afrobeats, and tropical pop.
More importantly, the EP is Abigail’s overdue opportunity to fully express herself, both as a soloist and as a woman. “Now that I’m going solo, I finally feel like, ‘If not now, then when?’ So I want to pour all of me in this – right now,” she says.
The last GAC solo project to drop this year, after Gamaliél’s ‘Q1’ and Audrey Tapiheru’s ‘LoveLock’, ‘Ode To Blue’ has been a few years in the making. In October 2019 – merely a couple of months after GAC went on hiatus – Abigail released the single ‘Start Over’, a neo-soul love song about embarking on a new relationship. The song’s bridge could also be interpreted as an expression of her eagerness to go solo: “Let’s start over / Let’s start over / Something’s callin’ / I know where I’m going.”
‘Start Over’ is on the EP but, it was follow-up single ‘SIGN’ that ultimately defined the project. Produced by Kenny Gabriel and featuring rapper and RAN member Rayi Putra, ‘SIGN’ marked a sultry turn for Abigail.
“I made ‘SIGN’ with Kenny Gabriel and I was like, ‘Ah, I think this is my formula! I think this is what Cantika Abigail’s colour looks like!’” Abigail says, recalling how working with Gabriel “triggered” more creative ideas in her. The “formula” seems to pay off: ‘SIGN’ has since been nominated for an Anugerah Musik Indonesia Award.
‘SIGN’ became the sonic and visual blueprint for the EP: Gabriel produced the rest of the songs in ‘Ode to Blue’, and Abigail doubled down on the sultry, red-hued aesthetic of the music video by coming up with more daring visuals for the EP. One, in particular, presents Abigail wearing nothing but sparkling mesh.
Abigail isn’t crafting a new image to feed the male gaze – it’s “because I love it”, she says with a grin. It comes down to her freedom to express herself, especially as a woman. “My dream is I genuinely want all women to feel safe and comfortable to express themselves.”
The EP’s title ‘Ode To Blue’ was inspired by her frequent trips to Bali where she found “lots of inspirations at the beach, specifically Berawa Beach”. Lyrically, the project deals with intimate subject matter such as desire, physical compatibility, and independence. Abigail drew inspiration from the likes of Beyoncé, Solange Knowles, India Arie, and Jhené Aiko. The latter, in particular, serves as a major influence for her: “Jhené Aiko is a female artist who is very vocal when it comes to expressing what she feels and what she desires, whether it’s about love or relationship or even sex.”
Abigail also wanted to “explore my vocal range as an alto” on ‘Ode To Blue’. “I think people still have this perspective that a singer has to sing on a high note and with powerful vocals, even though when you listen to Whitney Houston and Tony Braxton and India Arie, their low notes are amazing!”
Abigail’s low notes are on full display in the opening track and latest single ‘Ace of Hearts’, which is about kissing, making up – and then some (“After the fight / Hold you so tight / Doing you right / ‘Cause I know you like / When we make up / Turn off the lights now”). On ‘T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care)’, she takes a leaf out of Aiko’s book and declares what she wants: “Let’s make love like the world’s gonna end, my baby / You know that tonight is ours / I surrender all of my power / Let me please you”, over an uncredited background vocal from Mohammed Kamga of the now-defunct pop group Tangga.
Abigail underlines that the assertive ‘T.L.C (Tender Loving Care)’ is less about succumbing to lust and more about “communication” between two lovers. “Communication is number one,” she says. “It’s, like, ‘Let’s talk about what we want because I will set aside my power and my independence to serve you, but you need to tell me what you want.’”
Is she worried about how younger audiences might respond to the song’s sensual subject matter? “Nope,” she answers. “It can be a good thing or a bad thing, but even 11-year-olds nowadays are exposed to, say, Doja Cat.”
Abigail understands that this project might come off as shocking to the eyes and ears of those still expecting the family-friendly stylings of GAC. Abigail didn’t make ‘Ode To Blue’ with families in mind, she says, but women. With this EP, she ultimately wants to have conversations about women’s experiences.
“It doesn’t have to be about sex, but even when it comes to what we want and how to communicate in a relationship, women are still expected to bow down and say yes all the time. So I hope with this EP, women can talk about stuff that is maybe considered ‘taboo’ or ‘inappropriate’. Because we have to talk about [these women’s issues] so that we can find the solution together.”
Cantika Abigail’s ‘Ode to Blue’ is out now via Sony Music Entertainment Indonesia