Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor Jessica Irawan spins tunes out of the darkest experience of her life.
By Annabelle Low
March 15 was a special day for Indonesian singer-songwriter Jessica Irawan. Together with a crowd of over 100 fans and well-wishers at Indochine’s Forbidden City at Clarke Quay, she celebrated the launch of her debut album, Stepping Out.
Irawan, 28, is a piano teacher at the School Of Music Clef by day, and a musician by night—some may recognize her from her gigs at local nightlife spots such as 1-Altitude, Beer Market, St. James Power Station and 1-TwentySix.
To witness her energy and vivaciousness now, one would never have suspected that Irawan almost lost her life 12 years ago. At the age of 16, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissues. But often, the best things come out of the darkest periods in one’s life. It was through the ordeal that Irawan discovered her passion for songwriting. In 2009, Irawan joined a band and started performing at various venues while studying at the LaSalle College of the Arts.
It is notoriously difficult to find support in the local music industry. But Irawan is fearless. Not only did she produce, write and perform all the songs on her album, she also created her own music videos, website and merchandise, as well as arrange for the night’s launch to be broadcasted live online. Irawan is not one to wait for things to happen—she makes things happen.
“I’ve already almost lost my life once, so why not live it to the best?” laughs Irawan. “Life’s too short to sit around waiting.” “Life Is Too Short” just so happens to be the title of one of the songs on the 10-track album, which is filled with positive songs that expound the joys of living a full life.
During her launch event, Irawan performed three sets, giving fans a taste of her smooth, girly vocals as she sang “Impossible” and “I’m Still Feeling You”, both from her album. She also covered Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”, Nicki Minaj’s “Superbass”, Adele’s “Someone Like You”, and the late Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”.
Among the crowd were also local artists Shili and Adi, who agreed that the simplicity of her songs was one of the strengths of her music. “Her music is catchy and uplifting. She goes for just-difficult-enough chords, which showcases her vocal ability without detracting from the songs.”
Vocal coach Daniel Singh, 32, who taught Irawan for eight months, said of her: “Jessica is really someone who puts her entire heart into things. She’s a hard worker. This album really represents her stepping out, and I’m really excited that she is now seeing the fruit of all her hard work.”
A member of City Harvest Church, Irawan served as a keyboardist in the praise and worship band in 2005, and was crowned winner of a songwriting competition during the Emerge youth conference in 2007. For a short period, she was part of CHC’s Indonesian band 3PM, during which she co-wrote the song “My All” with guitarist Amos Tadete, who had this to say about Irawan: “Being an artist requires character, and I’ve really seen her grow and mature since I first started working with her.”
“Eventually I’d like to go on an Indonesian tour, produce for new artists, play on festivals and the radio,” says the gregarious Irawan. “But above all that, I want to be an inspiration to others.”
Stepping Out retails at S$19.90 from HMV.