Next to a beautiful pool, accompanied by a relaxing breeze, on a Saturday afternoon, RekON met some new friendly friends. These RekON’s three new friends come from different nationalities and decided to make Indonesia their second home. They are Rio, Ramy and Kevin, who joined to form a group called SAGA in early 2014. Rio comes from Japan, Ramy is from Korea, while Kevin is from China. Although their nationalities and cultures are different, they join forces in music. Without the support from any company, just relying on their friendship, they pursue their music career on the global level, no longer on a regional or national level. Armed with a lot of questions about this up-and-coming music unit, we sat down to chat with SAGA.
“This is not my first debut.” Rio began. In 2005, he had joined a group with the same name, SAGA, under Avex, Japan’s leading entertainment company. At that time, all the members were Japanese, but they did all the activities in America. To realize his dream of uniting the world through music, they began by bridging western and eastern music. It was quite successful, but Rio still was not satisfied. He felt that the freedom of his soul as a musician was confined by the way the business was run. He finally decided to end the group.
Wandering alone in the world of music for few years didn’t make the dream disappear. Instead, it grew even bigger and caused anxiety. Seeing how the world was getting more and more connected despite the geopolitical boundaries, Rio was inspired to once again form a group that is not constrained by countries and business rules. To reassure himself, Rio asked for advice from senior musicians. Unexpectedly, his seniors really supported this idea. He then decided to form a group of his dreams.
Rio stayed for 2 years in Beijing, and during that stay a friend introduced him to Kevin. After conversing, both of them realized that they shared similar thoughts and vision, especially in terms of music. Agreeing to join Rio in this project, Kevin officially became part of the group. “I want to make music and sing better. I want to be like U2 that can gather a lot of listeners from different places in one stage. Just imagine the good things I can do with such power. I want SAGA to be like that,” said Kevin. But, Rio felt that there’s something still missing from his dream team. While looking for the next group member, the half-formed group continued their journey.
Needing a name that can represent the group, they decided to keep using the name SAGA. “The name is in line with our goals. Saga in English means story or journey, while in Japanese, it implies identity. Names can reflect the owner. This group is a story of their journey in realizing their dreams, uniting the world through music, the results from the search of their life goals as human beings.” They hope SAGA will also be part of their listeners’ journey in finding their identity as human beings.
They kept looking for the right musicians to complete the formation. They tried everything. They did auditioning in China, where Rio and Kevin were staying at the time, and then in Korea. But the effort went fruitless for quite a long time. The funny thing is, they actually met the last member through social media. Having got a recommendation from a friend, Rio contacted Ramy through her social networking account. Observing from the thoughts and visions she displayed in her account, Rio immediately felt comfortable and assured – not to mention that Ramy was a beauty! After exchanging multiple messages, Ramy became interested and agreed to join SAGA. “I see Rio’s seriousness and sincerity in those messages. I also visualized myself with SAGA and I can achieve my dream to make people happy with my voice,” told Ramy. They managed to score an offer to make soundtrack for a Chinese drama.
With Ramy in the line-up, SAGA was now complete and preparing their official debut. As a start, they decided to debut in Japan, South Korea, China and Indonesia. But then they will continue to spread their wings and want to visit as many places as possible in Indonesia. A big question came up in RekON’s mind, “Why Indonesia?” The answer is very simple, “because many people were recommending it and my instinct said that Indonesia was the right place.”
Tired of Beijing’s cold climate, Rio wanted to live in a warm place. After asking here and there, a lot of their friends suggested them go to Indonesia. Rio believes that when there are many people ‘have told you to’ go to some places, it means we should go to those places. With the help of colleagues and friends, SAGA got a role as a brand ambassador for a cellular phone, Mextrone. They are the third ambassador after Cherrybelle and Noah. Through the opportunity, they also got introduced to Cherrybelle’s songs. They want to collaborate with local musicians wherever they go. Therefore, after listening to Cherrybelle’s songs, Rio remixed on of their songs Pura Pura Cinta as their first collaboration in Indonesia. They also performed the song on TV along with Cherrybelle as an introduction of SAGA to Indonesian public.
However, the true marker of the start of their activities in Indonesia was their show in Ennichisai event on 24-25 May 2014 in Blok M – which would be held not long after we had this interview. “I hope there will be a lot of people coming and watch our performances. With this event, SAGA will begin our activities in Indonesia,” hoped Ramy. In Ennichisai, SAGA not only got their own time to perform, but were also asked to create the theme song for the event. Doing it whole-heartedly, they created a track with five languages: Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, English and Indonesian. “Initially we only made it in four languages. But when we gave it to the event’s staff, they asked us to add Indonesian as well.” This challenge, of course, did not deter them. After consulting their Indonesian friends, they were able to create a very unique song.
Affter Ennichisai, SAGA will prepare an album for their listeners. The album will be promoted in Japan, Korea and China during the summer. They will leave Indonesia for a while but they will return again because they enjoy making music here. They even have made a small studio in Jakarta. “I like the atmosphere here. If you see the blue sky, you can instantly felt relaxed, “said Ramy.”The air here is also much cleaner than in Beijing,” added Kevin. These conditions allow them to get a lot of inspirations.
Inspirational places are important in making music, especially with Rio’s style in making music. “I always imagine how the feel of the song would be like when we perform it on stage. Imagining a festive and fun atmosphere, I try to make music that fits the atmosphere. When the atmosphere gets more exciting, I imagine Ramy’s and Kevin’s voices getting into the atmosphere. With the atmosphere, I tend to create high notes and it makes Ramy and Kevin exhausted singing the songs I write. They feel dying… Hahahahaha…” He joked.
Although most of the songs are penned by Rio, Ramy and Kevin also make some songs which you can listen on their Soundcloud. “Ramy and Kevin are good lyricists, so, I trust the lyrics-making to them. We usually discuss about which parts fits the music, especially for the global version. We choose the most natural lyrics for the song, so, it is possible that there are several languages in one song. We think that the translated version is not always sound natural, so, we prefer this way.” said Rio to RekON.
“Later in November, we will be touring Europe.” added Rio regarding SAGA’s activities this year. For a newly-formed group, it would be such a bold step to tour Europe, but there’s a reason behind it. A few years ago, Rio visited Europe for the first time. He was really surprised because there were a lot of people there who loved Japanese culture. “We, Asians, always see European countries as having more advanced fashion, music and culture. It turns out that they also welcome Asian cultures with open hands.” Since then, Rio promised himself to bring his next group to tour Europe, not only bringing Japanese music but also music from other parts of Asia. He’ll fulfill that promise this November.
RekON knew that even though they’d already been in Jakarta for two months (when RekON did this interview) they still hadn’t had the chance to go to many places. Even Kevin hadn’t been anywhere. “Since Kevin came, we have only done practice, recording, rehearsal and nothing else.” However, Rio had been to the hot spring in Ciater once and went to Ancol with Ramy. Maybe on other occasions, they would be able to bring along Kevin with them.
SAGA shared another secret with RekON. Rio can speak English, Japanese and Mandarin. Ramy is of course fluent in Korean and now he is learning Japanese and Mandarin. Kevin speaks Mandarin and little English. They communicate with English mixed with some Japanese and Mandarin; Rio is in charge as the mediator of the group. RekON wonders what it would be like when Ramy and Kevin have a conversation. “They are supposed to speak in Mandarin, but Ramy prefers to speak in Japanese and Kevin speaks in English. It’s kind of useless. Hahahahahaha…” Despite this small difficulty, they still feel the strong bond among them.
The long and fun conversation had to come to an end. Our overall impression was that SAGA were friendly and humble friends with a big dream to unite the entire world through their songs. You may call them ambitious or naive, but we need people like them, people with big dreams – that will turn into big achievements.
Special thanks to SAGA and Erie Morino for the interview opportunity. We had a great time!