GAC member Gamaliél on debut solo EP ‘Q1’: “I just wanted to find peace with my past”

Indonesian singer-songwriter on how his formative musical influences and personal grief played a role in his solo EP

Last year, most Indonesian pop acts were forced into inactivity by the coronavirus pandemic – but that was not the case for the pop trio GAC. After a decade of hits such as ‘Berlari Tanpa Kaki’ (‘Running Without Legs’), ‘Bahagia’ (‘Happy’) and ‘Dahulu’ (‘Back Then’), the trio came to the understanding that – global pandemic or not – their next chapter should be embraced not as a group, but as individuals.

Group member Gamaliél Tapiheru – who is bandmates with Audrey Tapiheru and Cantika Abigail – tells NME that GAC’s “completely amicable” decision to take a temporary hiatus predated COVID-19.

“Our final live performance was August 31, 2019, so it was a coincidence that we took our hiatus during the pandemic,” he laughs. “As a three-headed group, we literally have spent 10 years together, but the whole routine has gotten a bit tedious. Finally, we agreed that as individuals, we needed our own space. Also, we believed that [this hiatus] was important for our mental health as well.”

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Initially, Tapiheru – who performs under the mononym Gamaliél – had no intention to make ‘Q1’. His first solo EP released March 31, it’s arguably his most experimental and personal body of work to date. He just wanted to make “feel-good songs and mid-2000 R&B music I once loved as a tween”. He also didn’t expect, once he attempted to focus his ideas into a singular vision, to be greeted with what he describes as “a slap in the face”.

“Because I had gotten so used to being a part of a group, I didn’t know how to make my own decisions,” he explains. “I always ended up questioning myself, ‘Is this what I want or what somebody else wants?’ Because for the past 10 years, it was all about putting the group above my own vision.”

What ultimately gave Gamaliél the “tough love” he needed was a childhood photo of himself. “When I looked at that photo, I imagined that kid was disappointed in me,” he sighs. “I imagined that kid telling me, ‘Why are you talking to me? You have become such a people-pleaser, I don’t even recognise you anymore!’ And at that moment, I decided to dedicate my first solo record as a mea culpa to him.”

“Because I had gotten so used to being a part of a group, I didn’t know how to make my own decisions”

That spiritual ‘conversation’ led Gamaliél to a soulful exploration of his past. Not only did he return to the type of music he used to love as a tween, but he was also keen to rediscover pieces of his past that could serve as points of reference for his record.

“I had realised that The Sound Of Music was a real life-changer for me. That film introduced me to harmonies and it led me to my passion for vocal producing,” he says. “I revisited this bootleg VCD of Mariah Carey I once listened to when I was 9. I think it was back in her MTV Unplugged days. Her riffs and runs were incredible!”

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Once Gamaliél was ready to get into the studio, his first move was to call Aldi Nada Permana, an Indonesian producer known for crafting pop hooks for the likes of Cakra Khan and Rizky Febian. “Aldi is the type of producer who is down to trying anything new,” he says. “I told him, ‘Al, I don’t know what genre this record is going to be, but I need your help to turn this ‘unknown’-ness into music’.”

The “unknown”-ness soon turned into ‘Forever More’: a six-minute melting pot of R&B, baroque pop and chamber pop, complete with Gamaliél crooning about regrets and redemption. “I had already decided the purpose of this record – that I wanted to apologise to my past self,” he declares. “I told Aldi, ‘I wanted to make something that my past self would have loved.’ I also wanted to add lots of strings because I remember I used to want to be good at playing violin, but I failed miserably and quit.”

A creation as personal as ‘Forever More’ was never without complications. “Because [the song] was so personal to me, I was very particular about everything – from the chord progression to my vocals. Also, vocal-wise, it was the hardest song I have ever recorded,” explains Gamaliél. At this point, he couldn’t have cared less about “commercial appeal”: “Sometimes it’s healthy for an artist to make something just for themselves.”

The risk Gamaliél took seemed to pay off when ‘Forever More’ earned him his first Anugerah Musik Indonesia Award ever as a solo artist last year. But the victory twisted into a bittersweet memory. “My father was in poor health when I told him about the nomination. He was happy, but he wasn’t completely responsive at the time,” he says. Gamaliél’s father soon passed away in late October 2020.

On the night of the AMI Awards, Gamaliél came to the ceremony prepared with a victory speech – but it was not to be. The artist, who had contracted and thought himself recovered from COVID-19, was tested again in the venue’s lobby – only for the result to come out “reactive”. “I was stunned. I didn’t know that I could still be reactive post-recovery,” he remembers. In the end, Gamaliél watched the award ceremony from the venue’s parking lot through a livestream. “It was a year of mixed feelings,” he remarks of 2020. “My father died, yet I won an award.”

Gamaliél felt spurred on to record more songs – which eventually led to ‘Q1’ (read as ‘first quarter’). Keeping Aldi as his producer, Gamaliél invited Indonesian jazz muso Gerald Situmorang as his co-writer for his next track ‘Unfindable’. “I had always wanted to work with Gerald,” he says. “And I believed he would understand my music transitions” from Top 40 pop to chamber pop. He also took another page out of Mariah Carey’s handbook by belting in a near-falsetto in the outro – an opportunity he admits “is not necessarily available when you sing as a trio.”

“I wanted to make something that my past self would have loved”

Feeling like he was on a hot streak, Gamaliél took no time to follow up ‘Unfindable’ with the romantic ‘Adjacent’ – this time enlisting Kenan Loui, an Indonesian producer mostly known for his classical work. “I’m a fan of Antonio Vivaldi and [Australian/British string quartet group] BOND, so I wanted to make something pop with classical elements. The violin interlude also added more spice to it,” he beams with pride.

Finally, it came time for Gamaliél to finish writing ‘Ethereal’ – a song he had secretly been working on since November 2019. It was his father’s death that gave him the inspiration he needed to complete the dreamy ballad. “I wanted this song to feel like a home, but at the same time, a home is not the same without our beloved ones. For me, this song is about how I want to see my father again.” Once he completed ‘Ethereal’, Gamaliél knew that the EP was complete as well.

With ‘Q1’, Gamaliél believes he has achieved his purpose as a soloist, and cannot guarantee there will be ‘Q2’. “I have no ambition to break free from GAC,” he stresses. “I just wanted to find peace with my past, and I knew this was a journey I had to embark on my own.”

With ‘Q1’, did he finally find that peace?

“Yes,” he nods with a relieved smile. “Very much.”

Gamaliél’s ‘Q1’ is out now

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