Growing up in rural Indonesia, musician Zay Nova says he spent most of his time working on the family farm. He had no idea a love for country music would follow him later in life — because he didn’t even know what country music was.
“I was born in a small village with no electricity at all. We spent most of the time on the farm with no radio or TV. Electricity came to our village … around the 1990s,” Nova, now living in St. John’s, told CBC Radio’s Weekend AM.
He said he had always been drawn to music, wanting to become a songwriter in genres like pop or a traditional Indonesian genre called dangdut. That all changed, however, when he was introduced to the music of Canadian country star Shania Twain.
“I didn’t know western country music when I grew up,” he said. “My friend lent me a cassette at the time … and I heard something. I thought, ‘Wow! this is beautiful music!’ But I didn’t know that was country.”
Fascinated by the genre, Nova began to teach himself to sing and play on his brother’s guitar, also learning parts of English through Twain’s lyrics. He said learning the language through music also helped develop a country twang in his singing voice.
“When English isn’t your first language, you pick up whatever [and] imitate what they’re doing word by word.”
He said he began writing country music, sometimes up to three songs a week, but Indonesia isn’t much of a hotbed for country music. He came to Canada in 2016, spending time in Toronto and Vancouver before ultimately settling in St. John’s a year later.
Based on a true story
Nova recently released his first music video since coming to Canada for his new song, Locked In All Night Long.
He said the song came from an unlikely true story, when a member of his extended family was locked into a bar after closing time after falling asleep in the washroom.
“He pointed at the bar and was like, ‘I was locked in that bar!'” Nova said, laughing. “He kept talking about the story, and I started to make a beat in the car. So this song was written in the car based on his story.”
He said the story ended with a broken window, which was used to get out of the bar.
“He was afraid the police would chase him, so he just disappeared that night.”
The story also inspired the music video, which was filmed at the Black Sheep bar in downtown St. John’s.
“People loved it, especially here in Newfoundland. Some of them just found the story was funny, and some folks in Indonesia found it a really beautiful song,” he said.
Nova said he hopes to continue to develop as a country musician in the province as he prepares to release a new album titled Head Above the Water. He called it “the album I’ve been waiting for all my life.”
“It’s my love for the music. When I write, when I sing, it’s like a release of all bad things,” he said. “It brings back the energy … something that makes me stronger.
“I need to learn to keep my head above the water and I need to learn how to swim.”