Ngayogjazz 2014

After Tuslah’s gig @America, I ‘promised’ them that I’d be at their next one, at Ngayogjazz on the outskirts of Yogya, a city I hadn’t been to for – erm …time flies – twelve years? That was far too long, and so our family set plans and bookings in motion.

fr. Jakarta Post .
Held since 2007, the annual Yogyakarta village-to-village Ngayogjazz festival has been claiming success in familiarizing more people, especially in grass roots communities, with jazz, which is often seen as being high-end.

This year, it was held in Brayut, Pendowoharjo, Sleman regency. After hosting the festival in 2012, Budi Utomo, the manager of Brayut tourism village said the people of Brayut had become curious about jazz. Many had even expressed a passion for the music that they previously were not aware of.

“They also asked me where to get the CDs of the music they heard in the festival,” Budi said.

The simple answer was from one of the stalls set up in the village ‘market’, some from organisations such as Warta Jazz.

I also hoped to meet up with our friends in I Know You Well Miss Clara. As it turned out, Enriko, the bass player is currently immersed in writing a score for a performance project of a friend at ISI (Institute of Art), while Aji, the drummer, is a family man, so we didn’t get to meet.

However, Adi, the keyboard player, came to our hotel for a chat and we hoped to meet up at the festival site, but first he had to teach a student at Dwiki Dharamawan’s music school. Reza Ryan, the guitarist and lead composer, also had a student scheduled, but once he’d finished around three, we picked him up and he proved a useful guide to our taxi driver who dropped us off near the kampung. ‘Near’? is a euphemism for ‘not too far’ and a pleasant stroll through fields of growing rice.

It was still daylight when we arrived, but we didn’t get to see any bands because it was meet and greet time as Reza knew many of the musicians and promoters such as Agus and Aji from Warta Jazz, and there was browsing among the stalls for CDs and T-shirts and coffee to be drunk first.

While we were enjoying our refreshments, seated, the Dewa Budjana band was announced by two TV presenter types who have a propensity to shout at each other and laugh at each other’s jokes. We could hear all this quite well, and because the area from the stage back to us was an impenetrable throng we stayed put and listened to Dewa’s set.

They opened with an impressive lead in from Shadu Rasjidi (video) on bass and flute accompaniment from, I think, Saat Borneo. As Dewa joined in, Reza and I could recognise a familiar track from Surya Namaskar or possibly Joged Kayangan. Dewa’s melodies are catchy, definitely Indonesian and somewhat sentimental, yet for festival audiences, his guitar playing verges on power pop-rock. On The Way Home (video) is one of the saddest melodies I know, and when the familiar strains started I looked forward to the crowd being reduced to a quivering sobbing mass, but alas Dewa’s playing verged on angry and not one tear dripped down my cheek.

This was followed by some well-received free-form playing between drums and keyboard (loudly cheered by the throng) while both Shadu and Dewa stood to one side and watched smiling before joining in for some heavy funk.

At that point, thinking that there was time for just one more number, Reza and I struggled through the dark to the rear of the stage because I had a couple of CDs I’d promised to give Dewa’s wife when we met at Java Jazz earlier this year. We got there just as he was coming down the steps, and he beckoned us to follow. There was a long line of women – both young and their mums, who’d probably been fans of Gigi, Dewa’s rock band – wanting ‘selfies’ with him. I was impressed with his forbearance. We didn’t want our pictures taken, and waited until the acolytes were gently ushered out before having a brief chat.

Tuslah were due to play on another stage, so Reza and set off to fetch ‘Er Indoors and Our Lad. The setting was much calmer with the audience seated on the ground in front of the patio of a traditional Dutch house. On stage were the Solo Jazz Society, a ‘traditional’ piano lead trio.

They played classic tunes from the jazz repertoire, but with ‘dischords’ from Aditya Ong on piano which gave an added spice. His interplay with the bass player (sorry, name unknown) reminded me of some great duo recordings such as Jimmy Rowles and Charlie Haden. Their distinctiveness got Reza singing and whistling along with Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby.

Their closer, John Coltrane’s Countdown seemed to suggest that “if you want heavy, we got it” and they deserved the prolonged applause.

Tuslah arrived almost immediately, Sri ‘Aga’ Hanuraga sporting a new haircut and Riza Arshad with a nose mask below his chin. I asked him if he still felt jet-lagged having only a day or so ago arrived back from eight days of well-received simakDialog gigs in the USA. He said that he was ok but tended to “drift off”.

Their set was familiar to me, yet different , but not just because the set list had changed. This is a dynamic group; in order to ‘get’ their music, one has to listen and observe the interplay between the equal partners. They don’t play to an audience but for themselves, and that is the essential ingredient of jazz. It’s worth repeating what the wife of a friend said after Tuslah’s Jakarta gig in August: “Their music is like eating olives: an acquired taste, but great once you’ve got it.”

From where we sat at the back of the small ‘arena’, we observed several folk who didn’t ‘get it’, but as I informed one departing group of western tourists, they were ‘captured’ on the video recording of the set as they left. “Oh, that camera?”

The scheduled forty-five minutes were soon up and it was time for an interview with the two ‘TV presenters’. This went on for nearly as long as the music: thirty five minutes, but as Ngayogjazz is essentially community-based, one cannot complain. The villagers and we guests now know that Tuslah is a combination of much hard work. With thirty years in the business, and now celebrating twenty years with simakDialog and a live DVD and CD about to be released internationally on MoonJune, Riza is a senior in Indonesia’s jazz scene. Adra, Elfa and Aga have fairly recently completed degrees in jazz at European universities, so they bring a different perspective to their music.

Chatting with Aga afterwards, I asked if they’d had time to rehearse, and he said that they’d had a brief run through of the numbers, but seemed to have forgotten some of them. However, there were no such problems once they’d taken the stage.

For me, there was a particular moment of pleasure when I told him of how my father played stride piano – “Oh, I love stride“, and that a treasured memory is of seeing Errol Garner live nearly – gulp – fifty years ago. “Wow …. my favourite“, and Aga then ‘channelled’ a couple of bars of Errol, left hand striding, and right hand tinkling away. Effusive thanks, Aga.

I’ve been to a few open air festivals: Isle of Wight in 1970 (where I slept through the last live performance of Jimi Hendrix), Malataverne in 1971 (video) and Glastonbury in 1985. Ngayogjazz’s village setting added a welcome dose of domesticity: the estimated 15,000 attendees behaved respectfully, as good guests should.

I look forward to future welcomes.
Reza told us that every Sunday evening he plays at the Mediterranea Restaurant and invited us along. With his bass partner Ignatius Made, the three of us were treated to a ‘private’ gig as they played a set of standards, Reza may have listened closely to the late Jim Hall, and he did play a few Metheny chords, but he has a distinct ‘voice’.

The surprise though was when Luise Najib added her singing to the second set. I’ve since discovered that she made it through to the round of 12 in season 1 (2013) of The Voice Indonesia and she has her own YouTube channel.

What an astonishing, note perfect voice, such power, such control. The trio played for themselves and we were sucked in, entranced.

A brief chat afterwards, and she told me that she had released a single, but I suggested that she and Reza should record an album of standards, an almost certain commercial success. But, she said, “I don’t understand jazz.” I pointed out, she did: she’d sung from the heart, eyes shut and in total empathy with the guitar and bass.

Luise will be at the Rolling Stone Cafe in Jl. Ampera, Jakarta, this coming Sunday (30th). She will be playing with herself, like this.

Journey To (and From) Yogya

A weekend in Yogyakarta to meet friends and to go to the Ngayogjazz festival was just the ticket; it had been too long since we’d been there or even got out of Jakarta as a family.

Thanks to the newfangled interweb thingy and that our local Indomaret is now an agent for Kereta Api Indonesia, the train company, tickets were purchased and we were happily forced to get up at the crack of dawn in order to get to the station on time.

We were thus able to observe police limousine 20-200 making illegal use of the Busway lane as we neared Merdeka Square, a symbol of freedom for the elite.

In order to board a train at Gambir station, the Jakarta terminus for express executive journeys through Java, the downloaded docs and convenience store proof of payment receipt are exchanged at a machine like an ATM for three ‘official’ tickets, (We were also able to have our return tickets printed out too, so that was one queue less we’d have to join.) Next we had to go through ‘passport control’, where our newly acquired official tickets were scanned and our real, not photocopied, IDs presented. Thus the notorious ticket scalpers of yore have been thwarted.

We boarded and plonked ourselves in our allotted comfortable seats, three of the two by two, with ‘Er Indoors neet to a similarly aged ibu and Our Lad next to me. He and I immediately noticed that we could call our train’s ‘Customer Service’. I did wonder why it didn’t say ‘Passenger Service’, but then perhaps buying stuff in English is probably ingrained in the mentality of Indonesian eksecutif class passengers.

The carriage had small window with partitions of the same size which dissected the views.and made it impossible to focus on backyards which whizzed by in a blur. Not only does this considerably diminish the joy of a train journey but it induces a state of hyponotised slumber.

There is alternative viewing for those in the front row of the left side: a 12′ tv screen. On our ride there was a diet of films which only a diehard Bruce Willis fan could enjoy. For children, of which there were none, there was an Indonesian version of Thomas the Tank Engine; I thought that was a strange act of compensation for our inability to get the best out of the reality outside.

Of course, the noise of our rattling and whistling along the tracks meant that we couldn’t hear anything through the speakers above our heads, so the offering of music videos was nonsensical too.

The final offering was a film starring Jean Reno who seemed to be in a restaurant kitchen a lot of the time. The brief snatches I heard were in French, so I’ve since deduced that it was Le Chef.I also deduce that I was probably the only passenger on board who would have been able to understand the film thanks to my GCE in French,

Coming home, we had no complaints about the windows, and we were sufficiently far back to not be aware of the TV offering.

What we did have, however, was a dozen strong group of jilbabed ibus, large in both number and corpulence, who had absolutely no conception of train travel etiquette. For a start, they had great problems in boarding, what with their mounds of oleh-oleh, the traditional souvenirs of snacks for friends, neighbours and family. Those anxious to board whose entry was blocked fretted that the train was about to depart.

We left on time, and for the next four hours the ibus were worse than any bunch of kids I’ve ever been with on a school outing, what with their raucous chit-chat and laughter, and blocking the aisle while they waddled up and down it to share anecdotes and snacks,

Can’t name, can shame…

They’d also brought their own sound system to play Islamic teachings and songs. The stress level rose to such a pitch that when one of them came loudly up to a couple of rows in front of us I snapped. In my best (i.e. very loud) disciplinarian teacher mode, I complained of ‘pusing, pusing‘ (headache) and in my further fluent Indonesian, told the group to sit down, shut the fuck up and stop acting like children.

At the same time, the young lady who had the window seat next to ‘Er Indoors set off to contact ‘Customer Service'; he arrived promptly with a guy whose shirt had the word ‘Security’ on the back. Of course, the ladies argued, it was all my fault because I’d shouted at them. However, for once, the rights of other passengers to have peace and quiet was put across, and we were able to snooze if we wanted (and needed) to.

As we approached Jakarta, a looming sky of doom and gloom descended upon us. Arriving back in Jakartass Towers we discovered which roof leaks we still have and which weren’t repaired shortly before we left.

Same as it ever was …

Image of the Week – 132 (Gunung Sindoro)

© Martin Westlake 2014

I’m the only non-Indonesian living in my street, the sole survivor where once there were many. One of them was Martin Westlake, but although we lived almost opposite each other with our Indonesian families we didn’t socialise, but sometimes met while observing the election process at the booth blocking off our end of the street.

There was a sign of his front gate announcing Jankung Fotografi, an indication that we had, and presumably still have, stork-like physiques. What is not in doubt though is that he has continued as a photographer, and you can see much of his portfolio here.

Image of the Week – 131 (Manta Rays)

Last Saturday in Bali, officials from the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society, seized 103kg of manta gills, a then record total, and arrested 60 year old Suhari who now faces a potential maximum prison sentence of six years and a fine of $125,000.


Then on the following Monday, at Juanda Airport in Surabaya, quarantine officials confiscated an even larger shipment of manta gill plates – a 226kgs stockpile harvested from over 80 individual rays.

The gill plates were being exported to Hong Kong on an AirAsia flight, where they were to be sold in pseudo-medicinal tonics as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, believed (by idiots) to cure a range of ailments from chicken pox to cancer.

(Full story here.)

While President Jokowi sets out his much needed vision of a maritime corridor, which includes a productive fishing industry, he has to not only grapple with the now accepted fact that climate warming is raising sea levels to the detriment of the country’s coastal regions but also that the health of the surrounding ocean is being put at risk by some unscrupulous criminals among the rakyat.
Support the Indonesian Manta Project.

Image of the Week – 130 (Knots)

This week’s image comes from the “aah, when I were a lad …” vault. Once a week, and a week or two a year, I’d don a wolf cub uniform and go dybing and dobbing. Later, having turned 11, as a member of the 1st Blackheath boy scout troop, around Easter I’d go bob-a-jobbing. I’d also go camping and attend jamborees.

In those days I learned how to tie and use those knots and I can still remember the mantra for the reef knot, used for tying two lengths of string or cord or rope or wire or bedsheets together: Left over right and under, right over left and under.

if you want to be as dextrous as me, then read this page which gives instructions for the four knots illustrated plus the figure of eight and the two half hitches.

I wholeheartedly agree with ‘Bear’ Grylls, the survival expert who is UK Chief Scout. He says: “Practical skills are at the heart of scouting. From first aid to cooking a meal, we encourage all young people to learn skills they can use in life. While learning together, girls and boys grow in confidence and self-esteem.

Having these skills helps them prepare for whatever life throws at them, enabling them to become active and responsible citizens who are willing to take a lead.

Looking back, I realise that I learned far more from my extra-curricular activities than I ever did studying for exams.

Ian Nairn’s London

Highgate Cemetery: “Nothing seems real but death at its greyest and clammiest”.
Photograph: Paul Grover/Rex Features

Ian Nairn’s London, originally published in 1966, is being republished today by Penguin Books. I had a copy on my long-lost London bookshelves, and it would make a much appreciated present for my Jakarta  library … hint, hint.

This review says it all: It is a detailed vision of a city, and what a city should be like, that has never been bettered.

And that city is my city, one I got to know through my school days. and and for three separate periods of work. I saw it change, and was part of it having been involved in the housing cooperative and squatting movements of the early to mid seventies.

Jakarta isn’t my city, even though my name is on a still selling book about it . I only have a sense of belonging, a recognisable attachment to the small enclave area I’ve lived in for some 25 years. It seems that every time I venture out from here that a new unimaginative structure has sprouted mushroom-like where once there was a verdant vacant plot of land, or a Jakarta-style house which had no need for air-conditioning.

Yes, change is necessary, but eradicating the soul of a place in order to erect a monument to self-aggrandisement is not. Neither are the collections of massive blocks of little boxes. the rabbit warrens designed by bureaucrats sitting in their little cells in faceless offices.

Half a century ago, Ian Nairn could see the disaster that awaited a city where money was a centrifugal force for those without enough.

I’ve half a mind to buy two copies and give one to Ahok, the Jakarta Governor in all but inauguration. I think he would have liked Ian Nairn.

A film biography.

Tesla Manaf Effendi

I haven’t asked Tesla why his parents gave him that name, but it fits the latest guitarist to have an international release of his music on MoonJune Records.

Was he named after Nikola Tesla, “the greatest geek who ever lived”? A geek is someone who obsesses and Nikola gave the world alternating current electricity, radio, radar, X-rays, hydroelectricity, wireless communications, the modern electric motor …. That his patents were taken by Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi who got immensely rich on his brain work, while Tesla himself died in poverty, is historical fact.

One’s first impression when meeting Tesla Manafis of a young boyish imp, forever jumping around flashing two finger salutes – for victory or Jokowi, I’m not sure  – with a wide captivating grin. Yet that belies a complex character, someone driven to achieve what he sets his mind to. As he openly admits, he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Recently turned 27, Tesla says he has been obsessed with music since he was five. His father’s choice of music was progressive jazz-rock from the likes of John McLaughlin’s Mahavisnu Orchestra, Gentle Giant, Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP) and Soft Machine, complex, richly detailed music.

At nine, he took up the guitar and piano and for the next ten years focussed on classical music. He soon realised that he could interpret the music of others. However the genre’s patterns and rules, lead him in 2007 to begin to explore the world of jazz, a language of self-expression, and the many traditional forms in the nation’s archipelago.

Much as one cannot write unless one reads widely, a jazz musician does not arrive fully formed. The genre has a history here in Indonesia, and there are few jazz guitarists who in the past thirty years would not cite John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny as being major influences.

And so was Tesla: “Metheny inspired me. He influenced me in many ways both in his music and the way he spoke and thought. However, back in 2011, I was frustrated being labelled as ‘Indonesia’s Pat Metheny’. Don’t take this the wrong way; I still love Metheny, and my favorite album is The Way Up. But just because I was using his Ibanez Pat Metheny series guitar, which I’ve now sold, doesn’t mean I played like him.

I have my own sound, and that’s what I’m trying to tell audiences. I am who I am, now. A person who plays his own music.”

Back in 2011, he released It’s All Yours, which featured Mahagotra Ganesha, a Balinese art unit of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), This self-produced and distributed album proved to be his most successful. Gamelan meets Pat Metheny is a simplistic description given the many twists and turns, the melodies supplied by a ‘regular’ group of guitar, drums, bass and soprano sax sliding across the gamelan providing rhythmic power. Tesla says that the music tells the story about humanity’s connection with nature.

That is important to him. Having been raised in Bekasi, the city on the eastern border of Jakarta, he moved seven years ago to the Dago mountain area of Bandung. He says that “living here makes me aware of the beauty of nature; the way it talks is the most inspiring of God’s messages.”

It’s All Yours has been re-released this year on the Demajors label. It will also be half of his upcoming international release on the MoonJune label. Much of the work he put into creating the soundscape of that project came from his study of such classical composers as Debussy, Bela Bartok and Krzysztof Penderecki. He has now taken that process a step further with A Man’s Relationship With His Fragile Area, the other half of the album.

It affected me a lot; especially the details. Precision and symmetry are a very important beginning to my own music. I often analyse the notes, rhythms, and the drama of each song. I like to create music which will take people into various kinds of emotions, playing with their hearts and minds at the same time. The same goes with my players. Their personalities, the way they play, the way they communicate and the way they speak … bringing the best out of them will have a good effect on my music.”

At a recent showcase of the album in the Rolling Stone Café in Jakarta’s enclave of the wealthy, Kemang, I noted the following about The Sweetest Horn (video) from the album: it opened with a whistleable marching band nursery melody played on descant recorder with a drum beat, joined by skittering drums, then guitar and clarinet playing as children do, until they combined to build an echo of an express train which gradually comes towards a halt: a guitar lead pastoral theme takes over, but with underlying menace from the bass.

This is music which repays relistening; each track, a neo-classical experiment, may confuse at first, but as it gradually comes into focus sense is made.

Honestly,” says Tesla, “I do not know where my music will bring me to. I just keep creating, keep playing, keep inspiring my listeners. It may be a cliche, but I just love what I do and I will stand for it till the day I die.”

A man driven by his obsession, a geek maybe, yet not only at one with himself and his muse, but also at one with nature. You can see for yourself if you keep an eye out for the butterflies which fluttered by in the recording of this video (at 5:15).

It was a gift from God, he told me.
Tesla’s SoundCloud
First published in the Indonesia Expat magazine.

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