Donny Suhendra. Agam Hamzah. These are two senior jazz musicians, guitarists to be precised, with masterclass skills. Their touches on the guitar transfer what they feel, the emotion and passion through any composition they play. They both have enriched the Indonesian music scene for quite sometimes, in group forms or as session players. They both are open minded musicians. They play remarkably in every gigs; hypnotizing the audiences with their way of play, also they dare to explore just about any kind of music. That could be seen through their long span of career.
Donny Suhendra started with rock, then switched into jazz when he formed the group called D’Marszyo in 1981. Donny is also known as the guitarist of the all time popular band, Krakatau as one of the first formation. Moreover, Donny has also been active in many groups and gigs with various genres. At this present time, he is still a personnel of some bands such as NERA, the world music, ethnical jazz fusion, along with senior drummer Gilang Ramadhan and the stand out vocalist Ivan Nestorman. He also involved in the chill-out mood band with cross over genres, Syaharani & The Queenfireworks (ESQIEF). Furthermore, Donny is currently active with his own band, Donny Suhendra Project, a jazz fusion band along with the promising young drummer Demas Narawangsa and bassist Kristian Dharma.
Agam Hamzah, on the other hand is also a remarkable guitarist with a complete set of skills. Just like Donny, Agam is also known as a very busy guitarist. Some of his projects are Agam Hamzah Acoustic Connection, and the very recent one is a stunning fusion adventure band, Ligro Trio. on the other hand, Agam and Donny are also guitar teachers for many students.
It was a mesmerizing performance when they collaborated harmoniously at KlabJazz’ Jazz Break Revival XII in BP Bumi Sangkuriang, Bandung. Clearly they really have the chemistry, since they are long time friends, plus Agam was the student of Donny. Agam used to play guitar together on his way to school passing Donny’s house. Then, he got introduced to many form of guitar playing. Imagine this: series of beautiful compositions served in complete sets of skills, full improvisation and mutual understanding in a perfect chemistry. The result was absolutely fantastic. After their charming performance at Jazz Break Revival XII, we got the chance to interview them and talked about many things, including one big news about the ressurection of one legendary jazz group. (warning: spoiler alert!)
It was an absolutely amazing performance you showed tonight. How do you feel playing together in one stage?
Agam: Thank you. It was fantastic. We really looked forward to this. Coming back to Bandung, playing here together.. it brought back many memories. We missed this kind of environment. We were looking forward to have a duo performance like this, and now we had it. I feel really happy to play with my mentor, Donny Suhendra. He’s such an amazing guitarist. Name any guitarists around my age: Tohpati, Dewa Budjana, Kadek Rihardika, all were his students.
I heard you both started as rock guitarists.. could you confirm?
Donny: Well yeah, I started with rock and blues. Once I listened to some great jazz artists such as Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, John McLaughlin..and his Mahavisnu Orchestra too, Miles Davis‘ Bitches Brew.. then I got interested in jazz.
Agam: I’m the contrary. I liked jazz first of all, listening to some great jazz recordings at that time in the early 80’s, those great jazz were mostly produced by Hidayat Records. Then when I met Donny, I learned that there were actually many other forms of music. I was introduced to fusion, then I started to love rock, and still love it until now.
To Donny, I remember your old band in the early 80’s named D’Marszyo. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It was when I was still in Bandung, and played with Bambang Nugroho. Then in 1981 I met Samuel A Budiono, one of the student of Bubi Chen. Then this group was formed. (along with Yuke Sumeru, Dodo AS, Okye Samjun and Dewi Ellyana).
From your performance just now, I can really feel the chemistry between you. Not only skills, techniques, good arrangement, capability, and so on, I think chemistry is really crucial for one’s performance. What do you think about it?
Agam : Yes it’s very true. I have many students. Besides, I play so many times, like in Agam Hamzah Guitar Acoustic for example, but with Donny, I think that’s when I can feel the chemistry the most. I think it’s because we’ve known each other for so long. So, the intensity of meeting is very important. It takes time of course, but yes, it’s very, very important to perform perfectly.
There’s one other thing I believe play a big part. From your performance, I could learn that it’s not the improvisation or fast playing that matter most, but how to make the beautiful melodies that can be heard by the audience’s ears. Any comments about that?
Agam: Absolutely agree. Just like how we make a repertoir. In grand concept, repertoir consists of 2 things, one of them is melodious. It’s very important to think of how to make a beautiful melodious sound.
Agam, I heard once a comment about your tremendous play. The comment said that you’re playing so great, so great that it’s like you’ve sold your soul to the guitar. Any comment about that?
Agam: (laugh) really? well, if I did sell my soul to the guitar, I hope it would be sold out (laugh)
Donny, you are active in many bands with various different style. Can you tell us which one is the most exciting one?
Donny: Actually all are exciting for me. Playing music is all about having fun, so no matter what the genre is, if you’re having fun, then it’s exciting. But, if you really want me to name one, I’d say the first one would be my project. (Donny Suhendra Project).
Because with your project you’re representing who you are for real, isn’t it?
Donny: Exactly. Then, I’d say this collaboration with Agam is really fun as well. It’s been really great to perform together with him.
Any other one?
Well… JavaJazz I guess.
note: JavaJazz, not to be mistaken with Java Jazz Festival, is a group consisted of jazz gods that was formed in the early 90s. Big names were all over this group that placed the freedom of playing with full idealism in the big frame of “fusionista”, creating many colors of music, from Indonesian ethnical to Asian in general: Indra Lesmana (keyboard, synthesizer), the late Embong Raharjo (saxophone), Dewa Budjana (guitar), Donny Suhendra (guitar), Mates (bass), Jeffrey Tahalele (bass), Cendy Luntungan (drums), Gilang Ramadhan (drums), were big names that filled the line ups considerably when the band were still active. Later the group went on hiatus for long time. Well, until… keep on reading. Spoiler alert down here!
Donny: Have you heard that JavaJazz has risen again?
As a matter of fact, yes.. I heard buzzes and rumors about the rise of JavaJazz! So it’s all true then!
Yes, it’s true. Here’s the exclusive news. We are going to launch it in Rolling Stone magazine. We are going to play a concert at the Rolling Stone live venue in their building, along with the launching of the magazine that contains full info that we are back.
Wow! How does it look now?
Donny: Well, the concept is like a chronicle. You know, JavaJazz kept on having member changings through the year. And there have been many changes until now. For example, Embong Raharjo (sax) has died. We had some difficulties to find the replacement for quite some time, to find someone with the same chemistry like how we had it with Embong. But then, as this is going to be a chronicle, we decided to have two guitarists instead of having saxophone. Dewa Budjana replaced me in the group when I was too busy with ADEGAN (a rock fusion band that was formed also in the early 90’s, consisted of Donny Suhendra, Gilang Ramadhan, Mates, later Indra Lesmana also joined in, and the rock vocalist Hari Mukti.) So, there will be me and Dewa Budjana in this new formation.
Amazing! I can’t wait to see the resurrection of JavaJazz! Tell me what about your part in Syaharani & the Queenfireworks (ESQIEF). That one is in the total different style with the one you used to play. How do you feel playing in total different genre like that? And in the world music band NERA, maybe..
Donny: Oh absolutely. playing in ESQIEF is also very enjoyable. NERA is inactive at the moment though.. but it’s also enjoyable. You know, the most important thing is for us to have fun with whatever we play, no matter what style or genre you are in. When you’re having fun with what you’re doing, then it’s enjoyable.
Yeah, noted. Speaking of many various genres you have been doing, is there anything you get as a conclusion?
Donny: Playing music is like making some episodes of a story. It’s like painting the story. There is pencil drawing, oil painting, and so on. Different objects creating different results, but all of them can be beautiful and meaningful. I’d say instruments are really important, it’s like canvas, brushes and paints. You can draw with different type of brushes, different colors on different type of canvas, but as I said, the result can be beautiful. So it goes with playing music. As long as you feel the excitement, no matter what “tools” you use, it can create something good.
Agam: One has to enjoy doing whatever activities they are into. As long as you have fun with it, you can blend together with the other players in nice chemistry, that would be it.
Donny: Like us, we both have our own style, but we can blend in harmoniously creating something entertaining for the audiences.
Agam, I’m impressed with your band, Ligro Trio. It’s like a magic of fusion, very wild. It’s like you interpret freedom in the highest degree of idealism. Where was the name came from?
Agam: Actually, the idea came from Yose (Jose Haryo Suyoto), my mentor in composition. He used to changing the position of notes while he’s making a composition. So, he once wrote “Orgil” (an abbreviation of “Orang Gila” in English:”Crazy Man”). He moved the letters around, then he came out to Ligro, and thought, “hmm.. this would be cool as a band name.” (laugh). So, that’s how we got the name. Then later, my friend found a video in youtube about a hybrid cross between lion and tiger, and in that video they gave Ligro as the name of this cross breeding. (In English, this cross breeding is called “Liger”). And I said, that’s perfect! So, if you say we’re “wild”, then I guess it fits with this lion-tiger thingy (laugh)
One last question, how do you feel to perform in Jazz Break Revival?
Donny: It feels great! We really miss the feel of Bandung. Plus, playing in Jazz Break (that’s what the name before, in the 80’s) at this very same place at Bumi Sangkuriang brings up many memories. I used to play here before. Even Krakatau band was formed at Jazz Break! Do you know that when we played here we were still under the name of Mesopotamia? That was the first form of Krakatau. Then we got the chance to have a gig in Japan, paid by Yamaha. That was a very important momentum, and later we changed the name to Krakatau, the band that went very popular. This is a great event to advance jazz, especially for all of the music lovers in Bandung.
Thank you very much Donny and Agam, wish you all the best!
Interviewed by: Riandy Kurniawan
Special thanks to Edria