Kunto Aji is the kind of musician that soothes our ears as much as he soothes our mind. Through his latest work, Mantra Mantra, the 32-year-old reminded us to let go, hug our worries away, and take a break in this overwhelming thing we called life. Basing the album from his own personal issues, Aji, as he’s often called, defined the process of making the record as “therapeutic”, and was taken aback by the fact that his form of therapy also served as a remedy for all of our spirits. We caught up with Aji to discuss about opening up, being a medium, and the singing competition that started it all.
Text by Lala Claudia. Photographs by Ila Schaffer.
How do you feel after experiencing the success of Mantra Mantra?
I’m out of words. Though, I don’t call it ‘success’ because the word implies that I’m comparing it to my previous work. But, this album has really opened a lot of things for me as an artist and to see firsthand what music does to people’s lives. Being able to connect in a spiritual level with my listeners might be the closest meaning to ‘success’ there is, which I value more than anything, really.
What kind of state were you in when you made the album?
I was dealing with my own personal problems. I tried to be as honest as I could, and was pushing myself to face whatever issues I’m having at the time. And that was how Mantra Mantra came about. I still can’t wrap my mind whenever people shared the things they learned after hearing the album. The reception was beyond my expectations.
For the song ‘Rehat’, you’ve asked people to submit short videos and compiled them as a video clip for the single. What inspired you to do that?
After knowing the song became a cathartic track for someone with PTSD and Depression, I got this enormous energy and realized how a song that came from my own problem has the ability to help other people too. So, somehow I felt responsible to make a visual element that’s representative. I just wanted something that feels real when people are watching it.
What do you think of the finished video clip?
Initially I thought we’re going to use the people’s footage for about 30% of the video, and the rest we’ll shoot ourselves. But it ended up being 95% of the whole video and the rest was the bit we shot at the end. We had 1246 video entries up until the deadline, and we can’t believe how good it turned out. One of my favorite scenes was where the doors of a packed train were closing and opening up, it’s just moments like that can’t be replicated. And i felt because of these moments, the power of the song just multiplied by a whole lot.
What goes through your mind when you made ‘Rehat’?
I just got through the lowest point of my life, and it’s a way for me to communicate to myself. A constant reminder that you can’t control everything in life. It’s about self-awareness, mindfulness, how we humans should look at emotions we experienced like a river, and that we can take a break anytime and should not beat ourselves up.
How does this album changed you?
The process of making it itself was life-changing, before this I always had the creative control on everything but for Mantra Mantra I worked with four producers [Ankadiov Subran, Petra Sihombing, Anugrah Swastadi, and Bam Mastro], and to these people I opened the doors to my private realm. I did this in order to make myself healthier I guess, to not be too closed up.
And has opening up been rewarding so far?
Of course! The album was the result of opening up and now I know that I’m meant to be a medium. One of the reasons why I call my stage a therapy was because I experienced this trance whenever I performed, the overwhelming energy I felt just passed through me and amplified everywhere. I found my life’s purpose through this and every moments and obstacles that I’ve passed in life, big or small, just made sense and it got me to where I am now.
Just wondering, how would you think the Kunto Aji we first saw from a singing competition show reacts when seeing Kunto Aji in the present?
[Laughs] He’d be ecstatic! This has been my dream from early on, though, I’m a pretty realistic person, because back then, coming from Yogyakarta I knew it would be hard to break to the industry as a musician. And it really did took 11 years to be where I’m at right now. I was an accounting student with an entrepreneurial goal who was also an aspiring artist with his own ideals, I’m just grateful of how these two sides collaborated and shaped who I’ve become.
So, what’s next from you?
I’m preparing something so Mantra Mantra does not only end as a musical relief but also something that catalyzes the conversation regarding mental health. I’m contacting my friends from these communities so we can do something about it, doing things beyond raising awareness. A lot of people still have some hesitation to talk about this issue, there’s a lot of stigma put into it, it shouldn’t be that way. I want to be that bridge that brings people to speak up and help their stories of struggles be heard.
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