Tuslah – Again

If you’ve lived in Jakarta for a few years or visited often, you’ll understand why things are never quite as they appear.

As far as history will relate, Thursday August 21st 2014 was a very special day in Jakarta. It was the day that the narcissistic Lt.Gen.(ret. – forcibly) Prabowo Subianto lost his ‘case’ in the Constitutional Court alleging systemic electoral fraud which had given Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo the country’s presidency by a margin of some eight million votes (c.6%).

Coincidentally, it was exactly 16 years ago that Prabowo was dismissed from the army for “insubordination”, which many of us consider a minor offence compared to the allegations of his involvement in human rights abuses in Papua, East Timor and Jakarta in May ’98.

For the past two or three weeks, Prabowo and his corrupt crony politicians have demonstrated that they would not go quietly, promising mayhem in the streets by ‘disappointed’ supporters (who they couldn’t control) and further mayhem in Parliament where according to the parliamentary elections held in April the “permanent” Red and White coalition has a majority of seats.

Come the day, and the police, with army backup, mobilised some 27,000 troops, backed up with water cannon and tear gas, cordoned off the area in central Jakarta which houses the Court and many government departments. Facing them were paramilitary thugs, and those of the masses prepared to take to the streets for a packed lunch and a crisp banknote.

All this was carried live on TV and as we waited for the court’s announcement (which was 100% against Prabowo), it was natural that there was widespread paranoia throughout the city.

So was the Tuslah gig going to go ahead? After all, Goethe Haus, the venue, is well within the rampaging reach of an ugly mob.

I’d arranged to meet up with a few folk. One of them works for an American NGO and with his colleagues was advised to go home early.

‘Er Indoors, who spent much of the day watching events unfold, wasn’t too keen on letting Our Lad and I make trip up to town, but, hey, I’d already seen Tuslah at JavaJazz and I just had to see them again, as I think my review makes clear. Don’t worry, luv, I said, we’ll go up by train and thereby bypass any mayhem.

2pm. Water cannon and tear gas mayhem

We waited for nigh on an hour for our train, and arrived at Ya ‘Usual after our Australian friend with American bosses. He’d taken an ojek (motorcycle taxi) and got there in record time: the streets were empty … in Jakarta’s rush hour?  And so was Ya ‘Usual, the emptiest I’ve seen in it the more than a dozen years that I’ve been frequenting the place.

We strolled around the corner to Goethe Haus, met a couple more friends, sat in a row of seats and waited beyond the expected start time. Out came the MC and Riza Arshad who informed the reasonably sized audience that the group hadn’t done a sound check. When they’d arrived at Goethe Haus, the gates were shut, the regular German classes had been cancelled, and the presumption had been that the gig would be too.

Although they’d managed to get their gear on stage, it looked much like my office, with essential but extraneous bags and stuff not tidied away. Riza suggested to us that they could come back the following week – erm, yes, we thought – or they could play three numbers to get their sound right, and then have a break, and then play some more. That met with our approval.

And so to the first number which I think was called No Trains, written by Adra Karim who was playing his Hammond organ with its open back towards us so we could see its innards: wires, valves (?) and pedals.

Riza lead on the synth as a hard bop groove emerged and I tried to submerge myself into the music. First though, I had to brusquely castigate the four lasses in front of us who had immediately opened their pads and phones in order to let all in the hall and the sundry online know that they were among us.

I accepted a muttered “sorry’ and began to scribble notes as thoughts floated by. In deciphering them now, I realise that I can’t say what numbers were played because each one had passages which demanded my complete concentration.

Elfa Zulham on drums was in a world of his own, never flashy, head cocked to his right, eyes shut, rarely watching the others, yet in total synch with all that was happening elsewhere on the stage.

Sri Hanugara demonstrated once again that he can conjure magic from an acoustic piano, whether it’s thumping a beat, placing something (I know not what) on the strings so that the sound of a harpsichord drifts out, or dancing a truly astonishing Sundanese melody and bringing forth the trance-like passage of gamelan, his thin arms proving all powerful.

(Watch this video performance of Suwe Ora Jamu for an example of Aga’s playing.)

Adra Karim behind his Hammond demonstrated that there is untapped potential in the instrument. At times he was the absent bass player, at others he wheezed and spluttered, and at no time did he echo any of the many Hammond players who have gone before, be they ‘stars’ like Jimmy Smith, or British beat and blues players in the 60s.

Then there was Riza on the synth, his solos fluid, rising above and through the rhythmic underpinning of all. And when he could, he’d watch and obviously enjoy the others playing, because that’s where Tuslah are best: in the playground, on the swings, roundabouts and seesaws.

Three keyboards and a set of drums: each player going their own way, four differences, sometimes all at once, then perhaps Aga and Adra bouncing off each other, and at other moments tegether as one before going their separate ways again. At times I didn’t know who to watch or listen to, and what I’m attempting to describe here shouldn’t make sense, but it did. One of my notes says that “I want to hear that piece, Minor Importance by Riza, again but from a different angle.”

Tuslah’s music as I’ve attempted to describe it, may sound like organised chaos. Jazzuality says that they “combine the element of classic, jazz, blues, funk and rock …. through original compositions and new arrangements.”

Sorry guys, but I don’t see that Tuslah’s music can be categorised. Perhaps the wife of my Australian friend said it best after the show: “It’s like eating olives: an acquired taste, but great once you’ve got it.”

The use of a synth and Hammond organ harks back to the 60′s and 70′s, yet this music is obviously of the now, and I dare venture to say that it’s of the future. There can be no group which makes music like this.

(Tuslah’s first gig was at Jakarta’s Red & White Lounge in November 2013. Although the video quality is quite poor, you’ll get some idea of what I can only inadequately put in words from watching Proklamasi Part 1 and Part 2.)

When the group took their ‘pre-agreed’ break for a ‘soundcheck’, the MC bounced back on stage and had another conversation with the group, and asked about the group’s name. Tuslah is derived from two Dutch words, toetsen (keys) and slagwerk (drums). To laughter, Adra commented that otherwise they would have been called the Riza Arshad Quartet. Well, Riza may have been the architect of the group, but is happy to give free rein to his cohorts, to see where they’re going.

I later asked Adra if they had telepathic communication to combine so completely while retaining their very individual voices.

We’re really good friends,” he said.

On that note, I should end, but I still want more. Tuslah’s first album is being edited, and I really hope that it gets an international release because this is one Indonesian group which has the potential to captivate audiences at festivals the world over. Furthermore, they deserve a live DVD because their internal dynamics demand to be seen as well as listened to.
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Sorry, but comments aren’t functional here.
However, they are on my FB page.

Video of the Week – 1 (Sparrows Will Sing)

A child breaks the ice and peers into the hidden depths
To try to untangle the whole of this unholy mess
Well I have no doubt they will figure it out one day

The ever wonderful Marianne Faithfull returns with her twentieth studio album, Give My Love to London.

The images reinforce the lyrics, hence I offer a replacement of my regular static Image of the Week.

Today is Indonesia’s Independence Day. We’ve lost our flag and it was too late to buy another one. But no matter, the day should not only celebrate the past, an event which took place 69 years ago.

Marianne, 67, sings about decadence, what we are witnessing all around us today, yet has hope, as I do, that humanity will stir and find the joy expressed in the simple things – much as young children do.

Image(s) of the Week – 118 (Feeling Small)

SlinkachuRelics, 2009


Isaac CordalSummer in London, 2010

Cement Eclipses is a critical definition of our behaviour as a social mass. The art work intends to catch the attention on our devalued relation with the nature through a critical look to the collateral effects of our evolution. With the master touch of a stage director, Isaac Cordal places the figures in locations that quickly open doors to other worlds. The scenes zoom in the routine tasks of the contemporary human being.
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This is the best time of the year to enjoy Jakarta. Millions have returned to their home towns in the annual mudik in order to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan with their loved ones.

For the other fifty weeks, pedestrians in Jakarta are made to feel insignificant in the face of the many impediments which block our safe passage: from holes to fall down or trip us up, to piles of rubbish, warungs providing your everyday needs, parked vehicles, and motorcyclists trying to out-manoeuvre the traffic jams.

If only we had time to enjoy our surroundings, to have our eyes and minds alert to the esoteric …

And that is why from the safety of my home computer the work of the two artists featured here appeal to me.

Image of the Week – 117 (Species Attenborough)

A long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi) in the highland forests of New Guinea.
Photograph: D. Parer & E. Parer-Cook/Corbis

This critically endangered long-beaked echidna is one of only four species, and was discovered by explorer and zoologist Tim Flannery in the Cyclops Mountains of New Guinea in 1998.
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My interest in ‘nature’ was first nurtured by TV programmes broadcast in black and white (and shades in between) when I was a child. The young David Attenborough had a series of programmes entitled Zoo Quest, one of which was “for a Dragon“.

Now it seems that barely a week goes by without yet another documentary featuring Komodo dragons pops up on National Geographic Wild. Our attitudes towards zoos have altered and rather than voyeurism, many prioritise research and breeding programmes for conservation reasons as their raison d’être.*

That Sir David continues to inspire some 50 years later – he is now 83 – is remarkable, and having species bearing his name is well-deserved.

fr. Wikipedia

Sir David Attenborough was named as the most trusted celebrity in Britain in a 2006 Reader’s Digest poll, and the following year he won The Culture Show’s Living Icon Award. He was also named among the 100 Greatest Britons in a 2002 BBC poll and is one of the top ten “Heroes of Our Time” according to New Statesman magazine.

He has the distinction of having a number of newly discovered species and fossils being named in his honour. In 1993 after discovering that the Mesozoic reptile Plesiosaurus conybeari had not, in fact, been a true plesiosaur, the palaeontologist Robert Bakker renamed the species Attenborosaurus conybeari. A fossilised armoured fish discovered at the Gogo Formation in Western Australia in 2008 was given the name Materpiscis attenboroughi, after Attenborough had filmed at the site and highlighted its scientific importance in Life on Earth. The Materpiscis fossil is believed to be the earliest organism capable of internal fertilisation.

He has also lent his name to a species of Ecuadorian flowering tree (Blakea attenboroughi), one of the world’s largest-pitchered carnivorous plants (Nepenthes attenboroughii), a Madagascan ghost shrimp, the millimetre-long Attenborough’s goblin spider.

The Zaglossus attenboroughi is surely the cutest though.
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*Not everyone demonstrates simple awareness of, let alone empathy with, other species.

A young giraffe has died from head injuries sustained while being transported, blindfolded, in an open truck along a South African highway

Slow Music

A couple of articles in the Guardian about the supposed demise of vinyl as a transportable medium for recorded music got me musing. What follows is an expanded version of what I commented on one of those articles.

Vinyl collections are heavy, take up valuable storage space and are definitely not suitable for regular moves, whether across town, country or continent. So I’ve ‘lost’ two collections entrusted to others I’ve now lost touch with.

I never had a CD collection ‘back home’ because that was a new format when I set off on my worldly travels back in ’85. However, I had bought one CD as a leaving present for one of those now lost friends: the Dukes of Stratosphear’s 25 O’Clock

When I arrived in Jakarta I’d brought with me a few cassettes of favourite albums and radio shows which I felt would ‘do’ for the short time I expected to stay here. Once settled in Jakartass Towers 1 however, I started to replace much of my lost but not forgotten music with cassettes and CDs, while exploring the immense variety of Indonesian music on offer.

More recently, and particularly because a couple of years ago in Jakartass Towers 2 I got broadband installed, I have managed to replaced much more of the ‘lost’ but remembered music with CDs and downloads.

However, I do miss long-player albums for one thing alone: not the scratches and warped vinyl, but the sleeves.

The size of LPs gave opportunities to artists, some of whom were a reason for buying albums in the first place: Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis (Pink Floyd), Roger Dean (Yes +), and Peter Cross, the designer of Anthony Phillips albums.

(Actually, I have only ever bought the first two Yes albums which didn’t have sleeves by Roger Dean, but I’m sure you get the picture.)

Sleeves with widgets such as the Stones’ Sticky Fingers (one of many designed by Andy Warhol) and the first Soft Machine album, and gatefolds, particularly the first Hatfield and the North album, added to the pride of ownership.

So did inserts, such as a Pete Frame family tree.

For a very large size, right click here, copy link and open in a new tab.

Certain record labels consistently capitalise on the power of a good sleeve: ECM springs readily to mind. Then there were the added pleasures: reading the sleeve notes and then later, when browsing record stores, spotting the names of producers and engineers on the reverse side and perhaps discovering another artist worth following.

The advent of CDs in the mid-eighties put a stop to much of that, and also another recreational pursuit which generally enhanced the listening experience … rolling Rizlas with substances from war zones. (Never mind though; by then, we all had frisbees.)

One particular theme comes across among the comments on the Guardian article I mention above: that playlists have become predominant. Apparently it’s all to do with iPods, Spotify and other paysites determining what you ought to be listening to based on what you have listened to.

Man cannot live on snacks alone; such a diet is not healthy.

Albums, whether recorded in a studio or on a concert stage, have generally been cooked up beforehand and thus through their forethought have a cohesion, a flow which creates an ambiance to fit a mood or an occasion.

When I’m working, such as I am now seeking a conclusion to this blog post, I need to dampen, if not nullify, the sporadic intrusions of life outside my private space. Hence my title.
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As I post this online, I’m listening to a Terje Rypdal gig* from his Skyward Tour, recorded at the Kreativhaus in Münster, Germany, on March 10th 1999.

I downloaded it from one of these blogs which offer unreleased concert recordings and. discontinued, otherwise unobtainable, albums:
Jazzsi
Live Jazz Lounge
- Musica degradata

Jazz Boot Experiment
Jazz Pianists Expedition

*As a taster, a mere morsel, listen to this track from another gig in the Skyward Tour.

Changing Mindsets 2 (One True God)

The central dilemma of history is that the dynamic that promotes economic prosperity arises largely from the conviction that the material world alone constitutes true `reality’.
- Blurb for Holding Up a Mirror: How Civilizations Decline by Anne Glyn-Jones

‘The Philosophical Basis of Human Rights in Indonesia’ is the heading of this page on the website of the Indonesian Embassy in London.

The Indonesian Government has consistently endeavored to adhere to the humanitarian precepts and basic human rights and freedoms embodied in its national philosophy, Pancasila, its 1945 Constitution, and its national laws and regulations. Indeed these precepts, rights and freedoms, as embodied in the constitutional and legal system, derive from age-old traditions, customs and the philosophy of life of the Indonesian people.

One of the ‘Five Pillars’ of Pancasila is that everyone should believe in “the one and only God”. And that has caused problems because various sects think that they are the only true believers and show little respect, even resorting to violence, to prove to themselves that only they will ‘inherit the earth’ once they have departed for the hereafter.

President-elect Jokowi, a devout Javanese Muslim, has stated that he wants to retain the Ministry of Religious Affairs, whereas my contention is that its retention will do little to change the nation’s mindset.

His call for a change in the people’s mindset is the raison d’être for this series of posts. However, although I do agree that improvement in areas like health and education is crucial in achieving that, I do not believe that building “a foundation to make people more productive and competitive in the economy” is the correct aim.

(“Productive”, meaning to raise incomes in order to purchase what is produced from finite resources, and “competitive”, meaning in world markets.)

The economic development in my opinion is first, to build the human resource, through education…What kind of education? We should do mental revolution.”
(I can’t decide if that is the way Jokowi speaks or if it’s a Google translation!)

I believe that what we are witnessing in the western world and in the so-called ‘developing world’ is the breakdown of civilisation, much of it rooted in global capitalism, which has created a divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, who being disenfranchised turn to religion, to ‘God’s will’, as an excuse-cum-palliative for their predicament.

The most cursory of internet searches unearths the following interactive site which offers a historical overview of how and why civilisations collapse.

The history of humankind has been marked by patterns of growth and decline. Some declines have been gradual, occurring over centuries. Others have been rapid, occurring over the course of a few years. War, drought, natural disaster, disease, overpopulation, economic disruption: any of these or a combination of these events can bring about the collapse of a civilization. Internal causes (such as political struggles or overfarming) can combine with external causes (such as war or natural disaster) to bring about a collapse.

Natural disasters are generally caused by the movements of Planet Earth’s tectonic plates which lead to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and landslips. These naturally occurring events, few of which are predictable in their timing, often lead to massive loss of human lives. However, these should be termed ‘man-made disasters’.

The widespread death toll from the 2004 Aceh tsunami was exacerbated by environmental destruction such as the removal of mangrove forests and other coastal defences in order to build tourism projects. The death tolls from earthquakes are unacceptably high because of the shoddy (and often corrupt) construction of buildings in known earthquake zones. Landslides are preventable by not removing the tree cover: their roots prevent rootlessness.

The planet can only support a limited human population. Its constant expansion has lead to the rapid reduction in finite natural resources: minerals, fertile land (concreted or paved over for industrial and other infrastructure ‘developments’) and, especially, potable water.

Humanity as a whole, and not just in Indonesia, needs a different mindset if it is to survive, and a vital key to that is ecopsychology.

The basic idea is that while the human mind is shaped by the modern social world, it can be readily inspired and comforted by the wider natural world, because that is the arena in which it originally evolved. One has to include the relationship of humans to other species and ecosystems. These relations have a deep evolutionary history; reach a natural affinity within the structure of their brains and they have deep psychic significance in the present time, in spite of urbanization. Humans are dependent on healthy nature not only for their physical sustenance, but for mental health, too. The destruction of ecosystems means that something in humans also dies.

(The way things are going, that last sentence should read: The destruction of ecosystems means that humans also die.)

So, yes, I do believe that all peoples should respect and obey the laws of the One and Only God.

And her name is Gaia, aka Mother Nature.

Image of The Week – 116 (Jokowi)

Indonesia’s president-elect Joko ”Jokowi” Widodo sits on a bench at Waduk Pluit in Jakarta while waiting for the announcement of the results from the Elections Commission last Wednesday.
Credit: Reuters/Beawiharta

He knew, we knew and we soon rejoiced while his opponent, General-who-was-fired Prabowo Subianto, acted like a spoiled child who’d lost his rattle.

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