“Hello, my imaginary friend. You came with such a sweet voice in my head,” a sentimental song by a male singer that plays on Spotify through my AirPods. The voice is smooth, soothing, and the melodious arrangement resembles that of famous folk-pop artists like Don Mclean, Passenger, and some of the early works of Ed Sheeran. The song is called, ‘With Time,’ and for good reasons, it plays on loops like a broken record on my phone and repeating itself in my head, leaving me the so-called, last song syndrome.
“Please stop playing that!” Arya, the person behind the song With Time, blurts out shyly during our cover shoot before withdrawing a sheepish reserved laugh. At this point in our shoot, the 22-year-old Indonesian singer-songwriter shares how he sometimes cringes whenever he listens back and plays his pieces.
“I don’t know. Usually, I just keep on writing and creating melodies, but when I check them or listens back to them after a while, I cringe.” It isn’t my first time to meet a person who has so much talent, yet so humble. Sometimes I wonder if this generation uses humility as a defense mechanism from criticisms; however, in Arya’s case, it feels genuine.
How and when did you first get into music?
“I learned how to play the guitar from my dad when I was in primary six,” he recalls. “As I was playing the guitar, we tend to sing along to the tune and things like that, until I realized that my voice’s nature is good sounding.”
Arya Yunata was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. He and his older brother moved to Singapore to study since his Primary 2. During his formative years, he started honing his skills by watching other artists, observing, and understanding singing techniques.
“From there, I realised that there’s actually a lot more to singing than meets the eye. It’s not like what a lot of people think,” he continues. “It’s actually quite hard. I started practicing more seriously as I grow older.”
In June this year, he finally finished his International Business degree at the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM). He is currently on his first step in climbing the corporate ladder. Although he started living quite independently away from his family at a very young age, Arya’s guilelessness is still evident. Aside from his boyish good looks, you can sense the cheerfulness and youthful vibe whenever he is present.
On the streets busking:
If you’re living in Singapore but haven’t seen Arya performing in front of ION or Wisma Atria in Orchard, you’re not going out enough. I have seen him personally a couple of times and stopped every time, listening, and capturing a video of him for social media’s sake. A cursory glance on his Instagram archives gives you his previous performances, busking not just on the busiest streets of Singapore, but also overseas, particularly on the English soil where he spent a couple of months as a student exchange.
“I didn’t feel anxious during my first busking experience, as I am already used to performing in front of a crowd in bars,” shares Arya regarding his first busking stint. “Sometimes, if my mom watches me, I’ll make her blush by announcing, ‘oh, by the way, that’s my mom over there!'” he recalls gleefully.
Arya has long stopped performing in bars, as he finds busking more rewarding. “People go to the bar not to listen to the songs, but to drink and talk to someone they are with – like you are just part of the ambiance, of the overall offering of the bar,” he explains. “On the streets, people stop because they want to listen and appreciate you. Sometimes, they sit and stay while you perform,”
When I ask which country he thinks gives more attention to buskers, he says, “Both. But people in Singapore are more generous in terms of money, while the westerns are more open to giving compliments.”
While Arya is very aware of his talent, he still manages to be sincere and grounded. I ask him again, trying to understand better. “Do you busk out of passion?”
“I busk for money and, yes, for passion,” he responds quickly. A pretty impressive and truthful answer from someone whose age falls on the generation where digital presence is more important than the offline authenticity.
“Before I went to the UK for the exchange, I asked myself, ‘why not busk there so I can earn my allowance?” he recalls. “So I did my research, and luckily, they don’t require buskers to get a permit. I did it pretty easily.”
Arya clearly possesses the looks and the charisma enough for the crowd passing by to gush at the sight of him. In fact, receiving random messages, including indecent proposals, is not new to Yunata. For someone who performs on the streets with social media handles flashing on the digital screen, being immune to this kind of attention is the key. He takes no offense at “being asked,” as messages don’t involve any “physical contact.” It’s up to him whether he would answer, or he can always choose to ignore. “For whatever reasons, I get more attention from the same gender, but not much from the opposite sex!” he says, then bursting into a peal of ringing laughter.
His latest single, With Time
Arya’s single, With Time, has been released in April this year and garnered over 50,000 streams as of this writing, averagely 10,000 streams per month. In Spotify, streams are counted when a song is streamed for over 30 seconds – a relatively good number for a newcomer in the streaming arena.
“Actually, I was only expecting around 20,000 streams,” he explains rather nonchalantly.
I ask him why: “Because it’s my first release, so I wasn’t very confident.”
I don’t immediately respond, and then he follows up.
“And the song was also written pretty quickly, so I thought it wasn’t really well thought through,” he said.
I ask again, unsatisfied with his answer. “But given it surpasses your expectation, and the song is obviously received pretty well, do you still believe in that same thought you had when you released it?”
“I mean, it’s my first song. So I guess like other musicians who release their first song, we surely have some doubts,” he responds immediately. “One way or another, we feel the uncertainties, and I’m no different than the rest of them. So, of course, I have my doubts, and I still have my doubts now.”
Arya tells me that the song was conceived unexpectedly. It was around four in the morning and he still couldn’t sleep. He grabbed his guitar and started strumming, and like those defining moments in our lives where good things just flow in, the lyrics and the melodies formed effortlessly.
“It never happened to me before; it only took me thirty minutes to one hour to write the whole thing,” he recalls. “During that point in time, it felt so easy. I completed the song just like that.”
Surprisingly, With Time was written not in the composer’s perspective, but rather from other people’s point of view. The song is about people going through a situation where they meet someone and thought they share something special, but gone separate ways in the end. I try to dig more and ask if he puts some of his exes as part of that “other” people’s perspective.
“I was just thinking of people who are in that kind of situation. Okay, right, which is also inspired by my ex at that time.” He grins and answers while putting an emphasis on the word inspired.
“You are very nice then, writing a song inspired by what your ex might have been feeling during the breakup…”
“I’d like to think of myself as quite empathetic,” he rebuts. “No matter how bad the situation (relationship) is, I’d like to think from the other person’s viewpoint as well, like how they take breakups.”
While Arya is presently navigating his way into the corporate environment, music remains the top priority. In fact, he’s currently finishing a song and is hopeful of releasing it before the end of the year.
With the increasing number of avenues for exposing talents such as Arya’s, it is undoubtedly possible for the young singer-songwriter to make it through the path of his chosen industry. His exceptional ability to convey melodies plus a solid game plan will not only make his journey less jarring, but will also make a finer way to build his name for everyone to know.
“Okay, that’s a wrap, we’re good, it’s time to eat and drink,” I say.
“Alright!” he responds, follows by a broad, beaming smile.