Snow on the Sahara, by Anggun

Previously, on The Codex of Poesy:

So, my corporeal roommate Cecilia let me have her old phone when she got a new one, and I’ve been able to do a lot more on it than I could on my outdated laptop browser…including…catching a Spotify promotion of three months with a premium account for the equivalent of 20 Stateside cents. That’s got to be subsidized music piracy. I should signal boost musicians that I enjoyed listening to on Spotify. But exposure isn’t a tenderable currency, so this wouldn’t even be a nudge for the world to stop starving the artists.

This entry is for an album that gave me liminal questing spirit feels, then.

And so’s this one.


This is full-on pop music nostalgia to me. It’s so 90s. The music has so much synth. The music videos had computer graphics back when computer graphics weren’t quite there yet. Even with the songs being about Spanish islands and African deserts, though, I’ve got to say that Snow on the Sahara is the most unapologetically Indonesian. (Of Anggun’s international releases, that is.) (Although even this one has a literal apology to Indonesia in “Rose in the Wind”.) Chrysalis had some of that experimental sound, though the only song I really liked on the Chrysalis album was “Chrysalis”. Open Heart melted into a morass of genericness, though I think I liked more than a few songs, the only one I can remember to name right now is “Little Things”.

Amateur ethnomusicology time! First, amateur comparative religions time. I’m remembering that time I sat in on one of Cecilia’s anthropology classes, and an attendee there mentioned that the deep South of the Philippines being “more Asian than we (Northerners) are” because the people there were predominantly Islam as opposed to an Abrahamic faith introduced by white people at gunpoint four hundred years ago. I sort of flinched at that, because surely there are as many ways to be authentically Asian as there are Asian people on earth?

Having grown up in Indonesia, though, part of me understood what the speaker was getting at. The “traditional Philippine music” taught to me was closer to Spanish boleros, and while the dance is uncommon, flamenco music can feel right at home. In music classes in Indonesia, though, I was taught about the gongs. Technically, the Philippines has gong music somewhere, too, but the main difference I must say seems to be…Indonesian culture isn’t ashamed of it. Nor should it be, because learning about the gongs (and the metallophones, woodwinds, bowed strings, all part of a complete gamelan orchestra) was wicked cool. I learned the names of the metallophones, the difference in playing styles between Bali and Java, and superstitions associated with the instruments: the largest gong could control the weather, or customary offerings of fruits and flowers to the instruments.

And I say ‘superstitions’ because, well, there’s pride for a largely intangible heritage, and there’s the fact that it can’t keep up with modern life. The tuning of a slentem is so incompatible with the octaves of Western music! As everyone in the whole world who knows any sort of music worth listening to would then only think of music in terms of octaves, surely the best fate of this musical tradition is preservation…in what’s practically an ice block of strictly classical-traditional performances. There’s just no way to change anything appealing to modern, international appeal without doing it all so wrong that nobody would like it.

(Wait, what was I reviewing again?)

1. Snow on the Sahara

L’OPHELIA. I had a thought here about how to codify any personal approach to something else, in a globalized world, like my favorite Enya song is “Storms in Africa”, and is that wrong because she’s not African and music about Africa by non-Africans is more successful on a global scale than music about Africa by African musicians? She shouldn’t have artistic expression limited to singing about hobbits and elves just because she’s a Celtic singer, though. In Anggun’s case, was this the breakout hit because it seemed soooOOOOOoooOOOoo exotic while really just playing to Me Love You Long Time stereotypes and The Sahara Is Such A Horrible Place Of Course Because Africa? The Sahara isn’t substantially sidereal, though, it’s a geographic feature that physically exists, why couldn’t Southeast Asians make songs about something on the same plane and planet. Did anybody mistakenly think that Anggun was African, just for singing about Africa? Whatever. The producer’s synth includes a bird caw that sounds like a monkey wrench, and I like it. While it’s great to get people talking and thinking about these issues, I’ve found that it’s suspiciously easier to drag people for taking a risk in creative expression than playing it ‘safe’ by the standards of a hegemonic social power, so then defeats the point.

2. Over Their Walls

Another bit of a shock perhaps when I moved to Indonesia was the capital city street party culture. The Philippines has that, too, but parties in Jakarta seemed to have a brightness or shrillness about it…just like the hook of this song. It’s not something I’d put on a playlist to plug into my ears. This song needs open air. For that, I’ll call Dierne feels.

3. Breath of an Angel

Verzsou Triad feels with this one. I usually imagine the North-South in terms of negative space, and this song is fairly minimalist. The Bahasa spoken translates to: “In all tongues, all colors, I can read and hear each word that you write. The whistle of the icy wind breaks the heat of the sun. Deep in my heart, an angelic voice.”

4. A Rose in the Wind

“What to do with this love that I’m in? I have given you all of my soul. Flying all my life like a rose in the wind, tell me, why am I always alone?”


5. My Sensual Mind

Lv.19 CLAERIC. Apparently there’s a way to portray sexuality without subjecting the character or talent to objectification, and I don’t know if it’s the song itself or that I think Anggun just owns it as a performer, but I think I think in circles.

6. Valparaiso

This one’s a song about a valley paradise by the sea. I say Daaahliiiiiaaaaaaa…

7. Selamanya

Song title translates to, “eternity”. Almost a capella, and almost reminiscent of the broadcast prayers in the cadence, which I’m actually fairly sure were in Arabic rather than Bahasa—but, here’s the echo, if I can say I even have an ear for that sort of thing. The minimalist arrangement, again, reminds me of the North-South. It’s been a long while since I heard or spoke Bahasa, so while “Breath of an Angel” gave my brain a jolt of, ‘wait, we don’t know that word anymore, why is a meaning forming?’ with this song, I’m mostly at a loss. Something about hoping to pull the morning, closing eyes against the moonlight, you left me and I am so miserable that stuff in the sky should do weird stuff…Ha, it actually has the words Utara and Selatan in the song! (North and South, respectively.)

8. By the Moon

Personally not getting much from here but a prom ballad, which is fine.

9. Dream of Me


(Alynah’s Ears, how many of those does he have?)

10. Secret of the Sea

“I see you floating on the ocean, somewhere under the sun, your golden skin and cypress and blue.” The simplicity and moodiness of this song would lend itself to any of my (sigh) many, many oceanid acquaintances…but that first line with the solar/fiery aspect get me leaning it towards Laethelia and a bit of Corliss.

11. Life on Mars

Speaking of which, me hearties wanted to call dibs on this one—that’s Captain Foxglove, Pirate Queen Marigold, and their respective crew members. Sailors fighting in the dance hall! Anggun covers a song by David Bowie mayherestinpeace, about how an imaginative toddler feels—according to Bowie—dissatisfied with life or the real world because of everything shown on TV. It sounded more to me like the imaginative toddler was bored with TV because play-pretend is more vivid and fun. I take this to be a song about liminal practices in general, too, how there’s apparently a way kids can get into it that’s supposed to be so dangerous because kids can’t ever know enough to occult properly (although kids apparently do something liminal naturally), and apparently a way grown-ups get into the same sphere that isn’t very effective because it isn’t instinctive.

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