Afgansyah Reza Talks About His Ever-Expanding Musical Journey

This year has been nothing short of monumental for singer, songwriter and all-around music sensation Afgansyah “Afgan” Reza. In 2021 he released his first English language album titled “Wallflower” after signing up with U.S.-based record label Empire, which was preceded by two groundbreaking singles. More recently, he collaborated with—among others— American singer, songwriter, and record producer Robin Thicke as well as South Korean rapper B.I.

If we see “Wallflower” as Afgan’s crowning moment of the year, his recent high-profile collaborations were the proverbial cherries on top that cemented his reputation as one of the country’s most celebrated talents. Unsurprisingly, even bigger things loom on the horizon. So, after a day of trying out and posing with some of Dior’s latest menswear creations, Afgan once again shared his story with DA MAN. Here are the highlights of our latest conversation…

DAMAN: What do you think about today’s photo shoot?
Afgansyah Reza: I had so much fun today. I used to be very nervous doing photo shoots and I’ve always wanted to be on the cover of DA MAN magazine since forever and it’s happening right now. So, I thought that I should be, like, very nervous, right? But, when I got here, everybody seems so calm and relaxed, and I got to play a little bit more on camera. Sometimes I get too sti and I don’t know what to do, but today I feel like I explored a lot more styles and I’ve become more expressive in front of the camera.

DAMAN: A short while ago you released a remix of the song “Touch Me” featuring none other than Robin Thicke. Can you tell us the story about how this collaboration happened?
Afgansyah Reza: So, the song was already in my album, “Wallflower,” which I put out this April. It’s my first English album and this time around I worked with Empire, my label in the States. And actually, Robin is also under the same label as me. So, I kind of asked them if Robin would do a song with me. They said they’re going to have to check with him and they send him the song. It turns out that he loved the song and he said he wanted to do it, so that’s how it happened. I’ve never met Robin Thicke in person but we actually talk online, but I’m just so grateful that he decided to do it because I’m a big fan of his.

DAMAN: What was it like working directly with a singer-songwriter like Robin?
Afgansyah Reza: It feels like a dream come true, because since I was in college, I listened to his music a lot. I think he has got this soulful tone and I love his old stu like “Sweetest Love,” “Lost Without You.” So, it really influenced the way I sing and I’ve always loved R&B music for as long as I can remember. So, again, it was totally like a dream come true for me to be able to work with one of my biggest inspirations.

DAMAN: Speaking about collaborations, you’ve also recently teamed up with South Korean rapper, singer- songwriter and producer B.I. for the remix of his hit “Illa Illa.” What do you remember most about this project?
Afgansyah Reza: Well, the whole thing happened so quickly. Actually, B.I and I are under the same management team in the States, and they reached out to my team here in Indonesia and said that B.I wanted to do something with me and it’s an English version of his song “Illa Illa,” which put out like a few months before. When they sent me the song to me, I was like: Oh my God, this song is so beautifully written, the lyrics are very meaningful and deep. And the funny thing is they wanted me to rap in the song, which I’ve never done before. I was kind of surprised because I thought they were going to give me like this like melodic stu but turns out they want me to rap. I love the challenge and I did it anyway. I’m proud of how it all came about it and everyone was kind of surprised when they heard it: “Is this Afgan? Is he rapping right now?”

DAMAN: Ever since K-pop became a global sensation, people all over the world also began talking about the how well-organized and structured the management of talents and production of content can be. What is your opinion about the behind- the-scenes aspects of working with a K-pop artist?
Afgansyah Reza: I think everything they do is all well thought-out. It’s not just about the music, it’s the visuals and branding as well. Every aspect goes hand-in-hand in the project that they are planning to do or release. I learned a lot from them. I did a song with Jackson Wang and he’s really particular with what he wanted to do. Even though we’re doing it separately, he really knows what he wants to do, especially in the video and stu . So, I really learned a lot and I think that we, Indonesian artists, should work that way and we should pay more attention to details. Sometimes we kind of forgot about it but it turns out it brings the whole project and the whole concept to an even stronger place.

DAMAN: Having worked closely with an American music label and having collaborated with a K-pop sensation, do you think there’s anything— whether it’s from the musicality, business or management aspects or talent development—that the Indonesian music industry should really look into adopting?
Afgansyah Reza: I think it’s the whole package, like the fanservice that they do is on a whole other level. Also, they really pay attention to details on every project that they release—like the costumes, the videos, even the promotion, as well as the product itself. They release physical albums as collectible items. I think we don’t really do that anymore here in Indonesia. We just release on streaming platforms and that’s it. So, I think there’s a lot of components that we could take from the K-pop industry. I think that as Indonesians, we have the potential to be as big as K-pop, because there are so much talent here and it’s just a matter of the right collective movement that we have to do to improve this industry.

DAMAN: Of course, you can’t really have a story about your adventures outside of Indonesia without delving into Empire. Can you tell us how your partnership with Empire began?
Afgansyah Reza: My partnership with Empire began back in 2019. I was already thinking about doing an English album, but I haven’t found the right partner. So, I was kind of like looking around and shopping around. I went to London and I met my friend who works with Empire and he referenced the label. So, we had a meeting with people from Empire and they believed in my vision and my music. They wanted to sign me as one of their artists and it just happened so quickly. So, in 2019 I went to the States for a month to record and write the album, and it has been the best experience. I’m looking forward to making more music with them and just to explore the other sides of me that people haven’t seen yet.

DAMAN: Then there’s “Wallflower,” your first album in English, which was preceded by the singles “Say I’m Sorry” and “M.I.A.” Half a year after its launch, what does this album mean to you? What does it represent?
Afgansyah Reza: It’s a new chapter of my life, I guess. You know, being in my thirties I have a wider and broader perspective about life and I just want to talk about stuff that is real to me that will hopefully help other people as well. And I really want to sing songs that really resonates with me. I’ve been doing pops song for I don’t know how many years and I’ve always known that I have so much more to o er. In this album, I finally have the courage to just do me and I’m just going to be truthful with my music from now on. So, it represents a new chapter of me and honesty and growth as a human being and as an artist.

DAMAN: On a more practical note, what were some of the biggest lessons you learned from working on your first album with label of Empire’s caliber? Especially during a pandemic like what we’re facing now…
Afgansyah Reza: I’ve been stuck in my comfort zone here in Indonesia, just working with people that I’ve known for years. Having to fly to the States, meet new people and just start all over again from the beginning—I think that’s the biggest lessons for me. It really helped me grow and become braver. Whenever I’m in the States I feel like I’m starting over again. I remember I shot a music video like two weeks ago in L.A., and I didn’t have an assistant—I had to carry all my stuff, I have to prepare everything on my cell phone, I had to take an Uber. I love that feeling because it reminds me of the way I started and it gives me so much excitement because right now everything feels mundane. Not that I’m not grateful with what I have right now, but it’s just a different feeling that I love.

DAMAN: In your last interview with DA MAN back in 2019, you told us that you measure success “through the impact that people feel from my art.” Now in 2021, how do you feel have your recent works impacted your fans and music enthusiasts here and all over the world?
Afgansyah Reza: Since I released my first English album, I just hope that it will motivate a lot of people to be more truthful and be more passionate about what they want to do in life. And, you know, reach for the stars! Don’t just sit around and be comfortable here because I feel it could be a trap. So, I really hope that this album represents something for people to be more optimistic about. For me, nothing is impossible at this point in time because everything is global, you have so much access to so many things right now and you can do whatever you want in life as long as you put your heart and mind to it. So, I really hope my music gives that sort of impact, especially for my fans who have grown with me throughout the years. I really hope that they get something out of this album—something good, something inspiring.

DAMAN: All in all, what would you say does it take for a musician to really make it these days? Especially if they have dreams of venturing beyond the Indonesian market…
Afgansyah Reza: Just be yourself. I’m not saying that I’m there yet. I’m not there yet. I just had the opportunity to work with a label from the States and work with producers from there to put out albums. But I don’t think I’m there yet, so I have so many things to learn and it’s still a long journey for me. But what I’m trying to say is, just be yourself; don’t try to “Westernize” yourself. I told my label I’m from Indonesia and in Indonesia, we love ’90s music, we love more melodic stuff and that’s what I want to bring in my music. I love Indonesian pop songs so much, that I want to bring that into my music right now. So, just be yourself and I think character is very important. Don’t copy others, because people can see through it. Be truthful to who you are.

DAMAN: When Robin Thicke first heard your song “Touch Me” he instantly wanted to be part of it, and when B.I first heard your voice, he said how your soulful vibe really made an impression on him. So, we were wondering, if the roles were reversed, what would it take for an up-and-coming artist to impress you and convince you to collaborate with them?
Afgansyah Reza: Oh, that’s a good question. You know, talent cannot lie. Even though sometimes you try to be cool and all, dress up all cool … but raw talent is the most important thing. You cannot deny that. Any up-and-coming artist who wants to do a collaboration with me could just ask, as long as they have important things to say in their music— and their personality and attitude also counts. They got to have positive energy. You know, I just love working with positive people.

DAMAN: By the way, do you have any upcoming projects, new collaborations, etc. that you can share with us?
Afgansyah Reza: Next year I’m going back to the United States to work on my second album. A lot of new music is coming. I really want to do a small tour in the States. That’s been on the agenda as well—hopefully we can make that happen. And I want to keep making Indonesian songs as well because I don’t want to forget about my core fans. I want to keep that balance—I still want to do Indonesian music and, of course, English music as well.

DAMAN: Besides music, what else are you passionate about at the moment?
Afgansyah Reza: So, I have a have a website, it’s called where you can donate to certain causes that I find very important, like education, healthcare and the environment. But I also want to dive into mental health, because it’s something that I’m going through as well. Not many people realize it sooner; sometimes they keep it to themselves until it’s like a ticking bomb and it explodes. And sometimes it’s harder to recover, so I really wanted to shine a light on mental health and just help other people. For instance, by providing therapy and creating awareness about what mental health is all about. I think that’s what I’m most passionate about other than music: to help people.