Exclusive Feature: Lala

REDISCOVERING HER GROOVE. As her new album comes out, Lala comes back with a complete transformation. To Gabriela Yosefina, she opens up about the life before and after the rebirth of her image.

Dress and bracelet by Michael Kors

“I choose music,” Lala opens up the conversation. Previously known as Lala Karmela, the 28-year-old Indonesian pop star starts her story exuberantly in contrast to the cloudy weather outside. Rushing to the interview and photo shoot set soon after she finished her class, the dark-haired girl is petite in real life but effortlessly charming. Her crisp voice sounds as sultry as when she’s belting out notes on stage, and now she uses it to converse fluently in both Indonesian and English, discussing everything from her initial encounter with music to the commercial downside of the Indonesian music industry.

For the half Indonesian-half Filipino singer, making music officially began when she was just a shy 14-year-old. “I first saw my mom learn how to play guitar, so I wanted to do the same. Then I continued practicing in my room before my dad taught me my first song. It was Bee Gees’ ‘How Deep is Your Love.’ But he challenged me, saying that I should make my own version,” Lala gushes. Since then, her father has played a substantial role in her music career. “He encouraged me to make my own songs. He said that whenever you find something in your life that you want to treasure, just create a song about it,” the singer-songwriter reminisces. “It was Valentine’s Day and I didn’t have a gift for my then-boyfriend. So I wrote a song for him, titled ‘It’s You’. The song made it into my first album, the one I recorded in the Philippines.”

Dress by Emporio Armani

Her journey in the Philippines’ music industry is all attributed to a video clip with her former band, Inersia. The video, posted on YouTube, sparked the interest of an agent from Warner Music Philippines. However, the offer came too soon. Not before she graduated in Jakarta a year later did Lala say yes to the golden opportunity. The Aries girl then opened an entirely new chapter in her life by starting a professional music career in her mother’s home country. “I was really independent. For instance, I had no car so the only option is to commute with public transportation, unlike when I was in Jakarta. I ended up having fun, though, because I knew that I could live on my own. It felt like an achievement,” claims Lala. Not just for her personal growth, the rising star immediately develops her talents as a musician. “I created an album, did a duet with Christian Bautista and, while waiting for the album to launch, I performed everywhere.”

Just at the height of her music career in the Philippines, Lala then decided it’s time to head back home. “When I went back, I wasn’t fully aware of the music industry in Indonesia. Having met bands like Alexa and Drew, who made their own music, made me want to come back and spread my wings in the land where I was born.” The reality said differently, though, as the vibrant singer felt that her creative scope was limited. “I was signed to a major label and found myself caught up in the middle of a Melayu wave. Everybody was singing ballads and doing song covers, and my label wanted me to do the same.” She mentions that she is not a ballad girl and singing songs that aren’t hers suppresses her. “Because of the compromise I made, I felt stuck. I felt lost. I resented writing songs since it was not about expressing my voice anymore. It was work. I tried writing some Indonesian songs, but it was like they already had a template.”

Dress, ring and bracelet by Michael Kors

The creative depression lasted for about two years until she signed off from that label this year. She then encapsulated her bursting inspiration and free-spirited soul in her third and latest album, “Berkilau” (Sparkling). Decidedly she, too, abandons her surname and wants people to address her simply as Lala. The simpler the better? “My stage name in the Philippines was indeed Lala. But when I was back, they said there was another Lala, so I used my full name. But now that I’m going through a major movement in my life, the name, Lala, is a symbol of the remaking of an image. As for the name Karmela, I want to preserve it for something more serious. I’ll use it when I become a lawyer one day,” she elaborates.

Following her rediscovered musical passion, Lala adds more personal style to her look. “There’s definitely a certain edge to my look,” adds Lala, coating her beautiful lashes with mascara—something she does herself instead of being assisted by the makeup artist on set. “They (her former record label) wanted me to have long hair and a feminine look. But I am not like that. This new look reflects the mature side of me. And through the new image, I want people to see that beauty isn’t just about face and skin. Beauty is a statement you make.”

Dress and necklace by Emporio Armani

When the conversation shifts to talking about an unforgettable gig, she instantly smiles. “This year is pretty fun. I’m very thankful that I got to sing in front of the president—singing a song that he wrote! To me it’s an honor and, quite frankly, something unimaginable,” says the singer. “Outside of Indonesia, I remember when I performed in the Sing Out Asia event in Tokyo, Japan. I sang the song “Prahara Cinta” (Tempest of Love) but all the Japanese audience sang along to the song even though they didn’t know the lyrics. It’s like we were communicating, but not with words. Instead, we were singing the same melody. I like how music united us that night.”

Asked on her 2014 resolution, Lala has a few things in her mind. “I want to get married!” she exclaims. “Well, besides that I plan to focus on my education, hopefully getting a head start with my thesis. As for music, I’ve been in several discussions with my producer about new albums.” Faced with a question about qualities she seeks in a partner, it seems like she knows what to look for. “A guy with substance is so sexy to me. The one I can have a conversation with for hours without thinking when he’s going to kiss me. A partner is someone with whom I can share anything, not just a lover but also a friend and a companion, someone who can bring out the best of me. If he loves music, that’s a bonus!”

Check out the behind-the-scene video:

Photographer Andre Wiredja
Stylist Asti Tiara
Videographer Dimas Anggakara