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About 9 years ago, when British acid jazz band Incognito performed in Bandung, the 21-year-old Dira stood in the front row, dancing and singing along with the band.
"I knew all of their songs so I sang along with the show," she recalls. "Then I was asked to sing on stage with the band. I sang *Still a friend of mine' and after that they asked me to go backstage after the show."
The next year, Dira was asked to sing with the band on their Indonesian tour of Bandung, Surabaya, Jakarta and Medan.
Incognito leader Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick told Asha Brodie from JazzReview.com "Dira turned up at one of our shows in Indonesia . in her early teens. She told me of her dream to one day sing with Incognito. When I listened to her demo, I realized that this kid was serious. So I told her to get her studies finished and work on her vocals and establish herself in her local music market as a performer."
Dira kept in touch with the band and when the band visited again in 2005, for the Java Jazz Festival, they invited Dira to sing with them in Bali and Singapore.
Since then Dira, now approaching her 30th birthday, has performed live with other acts, including the YellowJackets, Incognito, Keith Martin, and recently with Jason Mraz during the 2009 Java Jazz Festival.
"*She* has developed into a very strong live performer who is not afraid of a challenge," Bluey said of her occasional duets with the big names.
Dira did as advised and in 2006 finished her studies in classical music at Pelita Harapan University. The same year she flew to London on a self-funded trip to start recording her debut album at Angel Studios in central London with Bluey's help.
The album, with 12 songs, is a stylish and refreshing blend of R&B mixed with acid jazz, soulful house and bossa flavors, part of which was also recorded in Jakarta. The songs are sung in English, with two cuts Indonesian including "Kami Cinta Indonesia" (We love Indonesia) written by the late Harry Roesli.
Bluey brought Incognito collaborators Matt Cooper, Richard Bull, Simon Cotsworth and Ski Oakenful into the project, along with Dira's favorite male vocalist, Omar from the UK, to do a duet with her.
Although relatively new to the music scene, Dira dreams of going international, and points out that if Indonesian artists want to sell themselves to the world, they have to bring something special and "never compare *themselves* to Christina Aguilera or Beyonce".
"Who doesn't want to be like them? But just be realistic and don't offer something that the world already has."
Although aware of the possibilities if she pursues her music career overseas, Dira, who won the Indonesian Young Jazz Talent Award at the 2009 Java Jazz Festival, says she would prefer "to be still in Indonesia but known to the world".
"I have to be open to any possibilities and it might be a lot easier for me to move to England to become British singer, the way Anggun *C. Sasmi* became a singer in France. I'm not saying that Mbak Anggun didn't have to go through a lot of challenges before she succeeded," she hastens to add.
For all her faith in the power of will, Dira believes it is nothing without technique and talent to back it up. She still believes that the decision she made in 1997, when she graduated from Bandung's Taruna Bakti high school, to study classical music was the right move for her career.
"I had to choose to study classical music because that's all they have. But I've since found out that having skills in classical music is very helpful, especially for my vocal technique and ability to read music."
To bring more Indonesian flavor to Dira's album, Bluey also wrote a special song about Bali "Won't You Come with Me"; they plan to make the video clip for the song in Bali, she says.
Dira, who also collaborates with Dwiki Darmawan, Tollak Olstead and Andi Suzuki on the World Peace Orchestra project, says her album is in its final mixing stage, with mastering to be done in London after finishing recording in Jakarta.
Yet she confesses that despite her hard work, techniques, awards and performances with international acts, no Indonesian labels have offered her a recording contract. Taking up the challenge as always, Dira is optimistic that her debut album will make its way to the international stage.
"People who work with me have told me that although a lot of people will see me as a little Asian girl who knows nothing, I have to prove myself as a woman who has her own opinion and knows what I want," she says.
She says some independent labels familiar with Incognito in Japan and the UK have shown an interest in promoting the album, but she and her producer are waiting to see what happens with the major labels.
"We decided to produce my album first," she says. "Bluey believes we have pretty good material to secure a deal with a major label."
If not, she says, she will make her way without them. After all, where there's skill and a will, there's a way.
Soul Menace for Dira’s tracks