Award-winning singer-songwriter Afgansyah “Afgan” Reza, clad in standout streetwear looks from Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer ’19 collection, waxes lyrical about the things he’s fighting for.
Almost 1 billion YouTube views. More than 3.6 million followers on Instagram. And 27 million Spotify streams in 2018. Singer and songwriter Afgansyah “Afgan” Reza is undoubtedly a superstar. For over 10 years, his outstanding talent has produced soulful songs that resonated with diverse audiences. And his local and international awards and recognitions prove this. This conversation, though, isn’t about his career milestones; you know those already. We wanted to dig a little deeper into the life of the star, the story behind that handsome face. This is a talk about his past struggles, present challenges, and future hopes.
DAMAN: The last time we spoke to you was almost 3 years ago, back when you just released “Sides” and did a Southeast Asian tour. What has changed since then?
Afgansyah Reza: How time flies! My perspective towards what I do now has changed tremendously—and in a better way. The music industry has also changed. We now have to have a lot of new strategies to engage our audience. Now, I am much more aware and adaptable to the changes that are happening fast.
DA: Wait, are you saying you’re actually fighting for your career and longevity?
AR: Yes. Everybody is fighting for survival, especially when you’ve been in this industry for a long time. My career is over 10 years old now. To sustain it is a whole new challenge, especially with a whole bunch of new talents coming in.
DA: How did you break into the industry a decade ago? Tell us about your journey to stardom.
AR: When I was in high school, my friend encouraged me to go to this karaoke place that allows you to record your voice. The owner of the place loved my voice and offered me a record deal right away. I was still in my high school uniform when it happened. It was crazy!
DA: Growing up, who was your music idol?
AR: Michael Jackson! Everything about him was just inspiring. His performances were always mind-blowing. The way he told stories with his music is timeless. He was genuine, a true artist and you can feel it in his songs.
DA: Now that you’re at the peak of your career, can you tell us about the strategies you are currently implementing?
AR: Just an honest and transparent social media platform.
DA: Walk us through your creative process. When you write songs, what inspires you?
AR: Movies, books, my friends’ life stories are among the things that can inspire me. But most of my songs stem from personal experiences, from what I am feeling. I am a Gemini. I am a complicated person; I deal with a lot of emotions.
DA: What song of yours has a special place in your heart? And why is that so?
AR: “Jalan Terus” [“Keep Going”]. This song is about a relationship that’s shunned by society. But to me it is about life in general. That song speaks to me in so many ways. It empowers me every time I am down. It gives me strength. It’s the song I am most proud of—a personal favorite.
DA: What can we expect from your next album?
AR: To be completely honest, I have no plans right now. I just want to take my own time because the last two years have been hectic. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine how I did it! I released “Heaven” as part of my fifth album “Dekade” that came out last year. It’s a compilation album—my greatest hits—to celebrate my 10th year anniversary in the music industry. Now I just want to chill and see what happens. I am taking a break from my own solo project but I am actively doing collaborations.
DA: Tell us about these exciting collaborations.
AR: Following the success of “Heaven,” I am currently working on an Extended Play (EP) with Isyana Sarasvati and Rendy Pandugo. It’s a collaboration album with retro-disco tunes. We have already recorded two songs (as of interview time). Also expect a ballad version of “Heaven.”
DA: If you weren’t discovered in that karaoke place, what would you be doing now?
AR: Being a singer has always been my dream. I just love music. I couldn’t imagine myself doing something else.
DA: If we were to raid your closet, what would we see?
AR: You will see a lot of jackets and suits. You won’t see any bold colors or flashy patterns in my wardrobe, those are not my style. I like wearing loose and oversized clothing, lately, so you’ll see a lot of those too. I am all about being comfortable—a good balance between comfort and style.
DA: If you were to raid a closet, whose would it be? Why?
AR: I like Jaden Smith’s style. I can see myself wearing a lot of his clothes. It suits my personality. It’s different from the old me because, usually, I would wear something more formal. But now I feel like I know my style better, I prefer to wear something urban and “street” but still a bit sophisticated and has a cool twist to it.
DA: Is this a purely personal style or influenced by your stylist?
AR: My stylist has a part in shaping my style. I am not the type to follow fashion trends, so with my stylist I have someone to talk to about what style suits me most.
DA: Do you ever look back at old pictures and say “What the hell was I wearing?”
AR: Yes! [Laughs] I have tons of those. When I first started I didn’t have the luxury of hiring a stylist. So, each time I performed, especially on TV, they provided me with their in-house stylist and wardrobe. And because I was just starting out—and certainly didn’t want to make a bad impression—I wore them. Once I wore this pilot/navy-ish costume. The design was so cheesy. They made me wear it to an award show I ended up winning. I gave my speech in that outfit. It was well documented; the photos are everywhere.
DA: Imagine you’re Virgil Abloh. What would your debut collection for Louis Vuitton look like?
AR: I would put out a collection that reflects my personal style. Expect something sophisticated with an urban and street style twist. And lots of monochrome in loose fittings.
DA: What’s your favorite piece from the Louis Vuitton photo shoot in Tokyo?
AR: I love the long, mint green leather coat. It’s so cool!
DA: Imagine you’re at the Grammys; what will you be wearing? And if you were performing, how would your performance look like?
AR: Definitely Louis Vuitton, but something that speaks to my personality. I’d like to perform with a very minimal set—very raw, intimate—so I could really showcase my voice. But I’d also like to have a twist to my performance. Like, in the middle of my performance, I’ll bring out Kendrick Lamar to hype it up and show a different side of myself.
DA: It’s February, the month of love. What is it like to date Afgan?
AR: I have a few good qualities that I’m quite proud of. I can be selfless when I love someone. I always put them first. I’m a pretty fun guy to be around too. I am pretty spontaneous, very adventurous. I’m not possessive. I’m honest— and I never ever cheat.
DA: What’s your ideal date night?
AR: I’d like to go to a bar and have a drink or two and then go back to my place and chill. I like watching movies. I like having conversations. I like eating. I’ll usually order takeout or we cook something.
DA: Describe your perfect relationship and partner.
AR: I would like to meet someone who can accept me for who I am. To really embrace me as a person—all my flaws. To be there for me in good and bad times. Someone who has a good sense of humor and the right attitude. Someone smart and with a good heart.
DA: How do you personally measure success?
AR: I measure success through the impact that people feel from my art. I met a lot of people who said my songs helped them, that my songs are the soundtracks of their love lives. To be part of people’s lives is great success.
DA: To those who are just starting in the music industry, what is your advice to them?
AR: Be your authentic self. It’s going to be hard—a really tough journey—so better have a strong character. Do not give up easily. And don’t listen to the rubbish that people say because it won’t matter.
DA: You’ve accomplished a lot at a young age. What else are you still fighting for?
AR: My freedom. We live in a society where everything is dictated: You have to be what they want you to be. Like, if you reach a certain age, you’re expected to settle down, get married. My heart right now beats for my passions and I want to be great in them—and these need time. I am fighting for the freedom to do what I want, to explore myself.
DA: Other life passions—can you tell us what these are?
AR: I own a few businesses. I opened a bar two years ago in Pondok Indah Mall. It’s called Hatchi. I also own an activation agency where we do events for companies. I also own a karaoke place, something that reminds me of where I was discovered. They are doing really well. I’m so grateful that I have good business partners. I had bad ones before, but now I am happy with the ones I’ve got. They are good and responsible.
DA: If you were to speak to your younger self, what would you tell him?
AR: Don’t be so afraid. Because what you’re afraid of is not going to happen. It’s all in your head. I was bullied when I was a kid, not only by the students but also the teachers. It got to the point where I just couldn’t go to school anymore. It was that bad. I had a pretty rough childhood. I didn’t stand up for myself; I was so afraid. I grew up to be a very shy kid, someone who is not comfortable being around people.
DA: And fast forward 10 years later, what would you say to your future self?
AR: I am proud of you for making it this far. Whatever it is that you went through you conquered it. You have so many things to be grateful for. I hope you’ve made your life useful to others.
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