In Conversation: Sandrayati

"I feel the most at home when I'm singing..."

The curtains open to a tranquil Germany, where the city of Frankfurt is bathed in light. Top tourist destination Palmengarten is where we lay our scene; a massive outdoor auditorium, steeped in history. With a Kew Gardens sensibility, Palmengarten has been bathing its visitors in grandiose architecture and nature since 1871. This is the sort of place that yearns for organic talent, one that can fill the massive outdoor space whilst respecting the natural setting. 

Cue Indonesian artist Sandrayati, blooming centre stage as if she’d been planted there. Supporting Aussie electronica artist Ry X on his European tour, Sandrayati’s performance gifts her audience with acoustic, soulful expression, providing an introduction to her upcoming debut album. 

A sea of hippies and lovers are relaxing on the Palmengarten’s grassy banks, gazing upon Sandrayati in her absolute element. An older couple recline on a bench that frames the stage, part of an almost sickly sweet number of lovers canoodling on picnic blankets. After Sandrayati’s aria on wandering, the couple tenderly kiss each other on the shoulder; their harmony feels a part of the performance. An aura of love permeates the crowd. 

Silky guitar tones circle the singer-songwriter as she rocks toward and away from the mic, drawing attention to vocals that possess the emotion of Dolores O’Riordan, and the melodic jazz of a young Joni Mitchell. Sandrayati’s harmony with the natural setting is confirmed in our post-performance chat, perched on a couple of plastic chairs behind the auditorium. “I really love to sing to the trees, because I get really nervous when I sing to people,” Sandrayati explains, “If there isn’t trees around, I’ll make sure in the day that I have a connection with one before I perform at some point in the day.” She agrees that Palmengarten is the ideal venue to reflect her inseparable connection to nature in sound. 

In Conversation: Sandrayati

Growing up, bathed in music by an international Indonesian community, nature and culture come hand-in-hand for the singer-songwriter: “There’s something really powerful about connection to place, because places teach us things, just as people teach us things… Indonesia is that place for me. I’m so lucky to be able to say that and be able to envision it.” Her music invokes moments of location, feeling bound through people or place, yet Sandrayati is something of a nomad. Barefoot, and cross-legged, Sandrayati appears totally comfortable at what is her first ever performance in Germany. Mid-set, she reveals it is because music is her true place of dwelling: “I feel the most at home when I’m singing. It’s the only time where I feel like all the worlds that I’m part of can exist.” Having lived in numerous countries and cultures, she’s used to being something of a chameleon, slipping into different environments. 

As a result, the world is Sandrayati’s stage. Not in the sense that everything is one big showy song and dance, but that nature and culture is so inextricably and inexplicably connected, that inspiration can be found on a continuum alongside performance. Our moment of meeting feels like the epitome of Sandrayati’s energy – her custom incense burning in the wings, as evergreen trees toss mini bouquets onto our laps. Notes on déjà vu are compared, as music floats in on the breeze. Whether from the effects of flying cross-continent or the unusual jardin tranquillity, everything in Palmengarten felt a little unreal.

Curiously, despite the performance’s only instrumentation being two guitars, vocals, and the soundscape of nature, the lack of percussion didn’t translate to a lack of depth. The full-bodied sound of Sandrayati’s upcoming album carries the stamp of production by Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds, who stirs with rousing strings.

Her latest single ‘Found’ evidences this, where persistent piano carries the ebb and flow of strings and singing that pushes back against constraints. Particularly poignant, ‘Found’ features the recurring lyric: “you can’t push to motion what needs to learn to be still” – softly sang, which strengthens its power. Musing on the lyric, Sandrayati chooses her words carefully and candidly, free of pretence, just like her surroundings, “The scariest thing for me is realising that the only thing that’s stopping me is myself, and that terrifies me. That line for me encapsulated that sometimes you don’t have to do anything about it. Just be. But it’s so difficult to just do that.” Rather relatable patter, this is an accidental mantra of quiescence and aplomb that seeps its way into the concert, and certainly leaves a mark. There is no one quite so down-to-earth as Sandrayati – “I feel like I’m part of the world. I’m part of something that’s bigger than my particular life… To remember that we’re connected is such a vital part of living today because there’s so much disconnection.”

As the sun sets over the Palmengarten, a smoky Ry X fades into view. The crowd erupts into glee, mood malleable from their comforting opener, and ready to enjoy another showstopper. Sandrayati’s departing words for Clash readers are humanist: “Remember to put on sunscreen and drink a lot of water.”

Sandrayati is supporting Olafur Arnalds at London’s Hammersmith Apollo next week. Tickets are available to purchase here.

Words: Gem Stokes

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