From Iceland — Merging Worlds With Sandrayati

Merging Worlds With Sandrayati

Published July 2, 2024

Merging Worlds With Sandrayati
Photo by
Joana Fontinha

Sandrayati contemplates identity and homecoming on her debut album Safe Ground

In 2023, songwriter Sandrayati Fay, known simply as Sandrayati, saw the release of her debut full-length album Safe Ground. With guitar and vocals as the primary expressive means, the collection of 10 songs amplifies the slow-motion pace and observant stance of the pandemic when the compositions were written, commenting on transition and the eventual sense of homecoming.

Back from her recent U.K. tour in support of the Safe Ground album, Sandrayati looks relaxed and content in her Vesturbær studio. The artist’s latest work confirms this impression of comforting and smooth motion, emblematic of finding a new home. With the first undulating chords, the opening track “Easy Quiet” conjures up waves on an ocean connecting distant places like Bali and Iceland.

Identity has always been confusing because I don’t belong to one place.

To the Indonesian-born artist of Filipino and American descent, this feeling of homecoming is somewhat off the beaten track. “Identity has always been confusing because I don’t belong to one place,” Sandrayati says. “Even though I was born and raised in Indonesia, it’s not a country that sees me as a citizen because I’m Filipino and American and have these different roots. And now I’m feeling at home in Iceland. That’s totally new. But I think the only place that I feel fully myself is when I’m singing, and I think that’s — in a way — not about identity anymore.”

Although Sandrayati’s music comes from an unmapped inner source, it shares the serene spirit and chiaroscuro harmonies of the Scandinavian scene. Recorded in 2017 at the Setia Darma House of Mask and Puppets in Bali, Sandrayati’s debut EP Bahasa Hati (translates as “language of the heart”) resonates with works by Norwegian songwriters Ane Brun and Susanne Sundfør.

Sandrayati, who wasn’t much familiar with the Nordic scene at that point, just went with the flow of her inner guiding force. “I didn’t actually know many Nordic artists at that point. The EP was recorded in a wooden Joglo at the mask museum in Bali. It’s a huge wooden structure which is traditional to Java. I was curious to record it all live. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just a place I really liked. They have a great coffee shop, too.”

Stuck in Iceland

After debuting with Bahasa Hati, the songwriter went to test the waters in Iceland and discovered its fertile artistic ground. “In 2019, I was visiting Sweden, where my parents are living,” she says, explaining they both work there as climate and Indigenous rights activists. “It seemed like a very close jump to come to Iceland.”

Iceland has taught me how to be alone.

This resulted in connections with the local community. Later on, Sandrayati came to Iceland again. This time for good. “It was shortly before the lockdown, so I got stuck,” she laughs. “I’m not someone who usually has a lot of time alone, as in Asia you are always surrounded by people. Iceland has taught me how to be alone, really alone and not alone. It taught me solitude, in a way. It helped the music a lot, I think. But it’s a very different lifestyle to anything I have ever known before.”

Despite its distinct Icelandic flavour, Safe Ground echoes places and experiences from the artist’s previous life. Featuring contributions from local artists Ólafur Arnalds, Pétur Jónsson and Hafsteinn Þráinsson, the songs introduce unfamiliar worlds and sounds.

On “Segala Baru,” one of the two songs sung in Indonesian, Sandrayati accompanies her vocals on kacapi, a traditional harp from that region. All tones played are pentatonic or close to that. Seemingly distant and incompatible, these worlds merge just beautifully in a harmonious union.

Catch Sandrayati perform at this year’s LungA festival, happening in Seyðisfjörður from July 15-21. Listen to Safe Ground on available streaming platforms.




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