Exclusive Interview with Shadow Puppets Quartet and Harvey Malaihollo

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ShadowPuppetsQuartet-HarveyMalaihollo-Jazzuality

Here is a question. How important is it to ‘resurrect’ the gems found in our own treasure? The fact is that there are so many great, monumental pieces from the past, made by legendary names who opened up the opportunity for us to enjoy what we are playing today that not so many people remember anymore today. Some songs are still played, some are forgotten, buried under the sands of time. Some may think that’s the way life goes, but actually, if you bring it back to the surface in today’s time, these songs can still make it for the beauty they possess inside. Plus, we believe that these legends deserve our respect, at least remembering them and their works properly.

Based on that thought, we are excited when we hear about an interesting collaboration from different generations, between the passionate and skillful youngsters inside the jazz band Shadow Puppets Quartet and the legendary singer with amazing voice, Harvey Malaihollo.

Harvey Malaihollo is known as “Macan Festival” or Festival Tiger, due to his reign over many festivals worldwide throughout the 80’s. One of them is when he won the Best Performance in World Popular Song Festival 1982 in Budokan, Tokyo over the likes of Celine Dion and Bryan Adams. Not many knows, lately he thought of leaving a legacy by singing the masterpieces from the past. “I want to make something while I still here, something that can give benefit for today and future generation. Letting them know that there are actually timeless beauty back then in the 50’s or 60’s.” he says.

shadowpuppets-harveymalaihollo-jazzuality-tpStanding on the other corner are real life couple, Robert Mulyarahardja and Irsa Destiwi who apparently share the same idea. As the Shadow Puppets Quartet, they have been playing classic Indonesian songs wherever they landed for at least the past 2 years. What’s important to know, they are not just playing these songs but they made them fit into the whole new modern jazz re-arrangement.

Perhaps it’s a match made in heaven. Shadow Puppets Quartet and Harvey Malaihollo are destined to meet and collaborate for a good cause. That resulting an album titled “Indonesian Songbook”, consists of 10 gems from our own music treasure during the 50’s and 60’s. It’s an album with an important mission, but even if you’re not interested in knowing the legends and their works, this album is still really, really nice to listen to, especially for jazz lovers.

We got the chance to meet and interview them during their visit to Bandung for TP Bandung Jazz Festival. Taking place at Cafe Halaman under a full moon, we engaged in a fun after-dinner chit chat.

First of all, congratulations for the album. This album seems to have important mission by presenting valuable treasures from our own shelf, we would love to know where the idea came from, especially since it comes from young musicians like you guys.
Robert: Thanks! Valuable treasure, that’s actually the right words to start with. Well, we are used to play jazz standards, American songs. So we thought, why don’t we bring Indonesian songs instead, the treasures that actually belong to us. When we planned to bring that concept to our concert at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta in 2012 and digged the songs, we were like: “wow.. there are so many songs, and they really fit to our style. From that moment on, we include these songs wherever we play at.

Then, you got Harvey Malaihollo on your side. Can you share to us how it happened?
Robert: After we were doing it for one year or two, the next obvious step is making an album. At that time we realized that these songs actually have beautiful lyrics. If we keep playing them instrumentally, we won’t be able to send the full message. So we need to collaborate with a singer who understands these evergreens and our music too. We got to find someone who has he same mission like us. When we talked about it to our friend Michael Aditya, he offered Harvey Malaihollo and then got in contact with him soon after.

Harvey: A couple of years ago I went on tour to 5 cities together with young musicians for Urban Jazz Crossover (in 2012). I spent months being together with them. I feel really sorry that many of them don’t know the names from the past anymore, names like Sam Saimun, Mochtar Embut.. or even Imail Marzuki. Maybe they heard the name but only know a few songs.. or Iskandar, the father of Diah Iskandar. I am fortunate to have the chance to know the founding fathers of our music.. for example like Jack Lesmana. But I don’t blame these youngsters though, because it’s a fact that we have lack of source, library where we can know and learn about them. So in my heart, I really wanted to bring back the treasure from the past. God actually heard my prayers.. we met and shared the same idea.

Interview-ShadowPuppets-HarveyMalaihollo (2)How’s the process after that?
Harvey: The process was quite fast. I finally knew them and their music, I let them collecting the songs, making the compositions, we met only once to find the right key for each songs and then everything went natural. We discussed, then went directly into the studio. Coincidentally, the recording process was also like the old days. live recordings. We spent about 6-7 hours in the studio for the music and then added my vocal a couple of days later. And that’s all.

For me personally, that was a touching moment, I could actually go back to my memory lane. Also, I feel thankful that I could have my wish fulfilled. I hope the informative and educative sides of this album can be accepted by the public.

You’ve done quite many collaborations in the past.. like with your grandfather Bram Titaley in the early 70’s, with Ireng Maulana in “Merah Biru” vol 1-3 in the 80’s, then with Elfa Secioria, Bhaskara 86 and Karimata. All of these names were just as big as you at that time. But now here you are, collaborating with talented young musicians from different generation..
Well, I have collaborated with Yovie Widianto, Andi Rianto. But yes, I rarely collaborated with youngsters. But that’s because of the generation differences, they tend to feel ‘scared’ to me. But with Robert and Irsa I feel ‘clicked’, the chemistry was there. And that makes my work easier. We fit to each other, and now I’m even addicted.

How familiar are you with jazz?  
Harvey: I grew up with this kind of (jazz) music. But throughout my career, I have never had the opportunity to have an album like this. I really enjoy it, and hope there will be more to come.

After listening to some songs from the album, I must say that you’ve done a remarkable job in rearranging these treasures. For example, “Puspa Melati Juwita” by Iskandar. We know Iskandar loved to compose for full orchesra. You kept it, but placed it into a big band style. It’s pure traditional yet modern. Who are the arranger for the album?
Robert and Irsa: Thanks. We work on it both. We share, 5 songs each.

What also interesting is that you avoided popular timeless songs for this album. You decided to take ‘forgotten’ songs instead. What’s your reason behind that?
Robert: Yes, from the beginning we wanted to avoid the obvious ones, because many people have done or remade it. We chose the ‘forgotten’ but really beautiful ones. And there are actually so many songs like that during that era. Speaking of the era, we limited the choice by taking only songs from 50’s to 60’s.

Interview-ShadowPuppets-HarveyMalaihollo (4)Alright. So the keyword for this Indonesian Songbook album is year 50’s to 60’s. Any specific reason for taking the songs from that era?
Robert: We want to make this project step by step. And we thought the songs from that era has strong jazz influence. If we mix the songs from another era, the style would be so different.

Like what Harvey said earlier, we have lack of resources. It must be hard to find the songs to choose from right? Did you get it from Harvey?
Harvey: No, actually I only knew 3 songs from their choices. I didn’t know the rest. Robert and Irsa knew better than me (laughs).

Irsa: We got them from the internet, from a blog owned by someone named Dimas. He has as list of songs from the past that he dedicates to his grandfather.
Robert: The other source is http://iramanusantara.org, owned by music collector David Tarigan. He has so many old Indonesian songs from the 50’s.

Since these songs are old, do you have difficulties to get the license or copyright?
Robert: It was difficult. But luckily we got the copyright for these 10 songs. Some were already under KCI (Karya Cipta Indonesia: one of the organisations involved in protecting copyright in Indonesia), so it’s easy. For Iskandar’s song, we got the copyright directly from his wife as his heir.

Harvey: In my opinion, even if the copyrights are difficult to find, we shouldn’t stop just because of that. We have to stick to our mission, to ressurect these beautiful songs back to the surface and introduce them to today’s generation.

It’s a pure jazz album, then it contains old songs. Since it’s against the mainstream or trend, do you have any worry for the album in reaching out the music fans from young generation?
Irsa: We don’t think about that. Our goal is to make something meaningful that will remind us of the great composers/songwriters and their beautiful works decades ago. I wish to hear like, “wow.. actually there are songs like this years ago..”

Harvey, I used to listen to these songs from the likes of Sam Saimun, Alfian, Bing Slamet and so on. Now with your vocal, these songs are refreshed. The beauty of each song are very well kept but served in new outfit.
Amen. I believe this is not a coincidence but according to God’s plan. We met, we’re connected and worked in smooth process. That doesn’t mean that we had no obstacles or difficulties here and there, but no serious problem at all. I feel thankful to meet and work with these guys.

And I do hope that the project won’t stop here but continues on. There are so, so many beautiful songs from the past that we have to know and respect.
Harvey: (laughs). Yes we hope so. There are so many songs that would be too bad if we let it forgotten. I believe one thing: God finishes what He starts.

Interview-ShadowPuppets-HarveyMalaihollo (1)Outside the names found in this album, there are still many great song writers/composers that we can bring back in, like Adjie Bandi, Gatot Sunjoto, Jack Lesmana, Nick Mamahit, Cornel Simanjuntak and so on..
Harvey: Yes. Also Iskandar, he made so many beautiful songs back then. I knew it from my dear friend Andi Meriem Matalatta, Iskandar’s favorite singer whom he called “Mutiara dari Selatan (the Pearl from the South)”. From her I knew many very, very beautiful songs he wrote, and many of these songs have mainstream jazz elements inside.

Irsa: Speaking of Iskandar’s song in this album, we included the original track as the intro.

Nice!
Robert: Yes, we want people to know that at that era, Indonesian composer could already make so advance composition for full orchestra.

Harvey, throughout your career which is spanning for around 4 decades, what do you think of the jazz development over the years?
Harvey: I’m thankful that I have the chance to go through some eras in music. So I know how struggling it was back then… the efforts of musicians like Jack Lesmana when he fought for jazz in this country, from the moment when he held a show at the Teater Terbuka Taman Ismail Marzuki (the open air auditorium) with only 15 people watching, all the way until he managed to make Sunday Jazz at the Borobudur Hotel and of course, the famous “Nada dan Improvisasi” showcase in TVRI. I lived and experienced it all. Today, jazz festivals and events are everywhere. You name a city, they have it. For me, that’s a remarkable progress of our jazz development.

Looking at Robert and Irsa as Shadow Puppets in representing the young generation of jazz, what do you think of them? Proud?
Harvey: Of course! Especially these two. The first time they asked me to be a guest star was at the Java Jazz Festival, singing Cole Porter. Everybody knows Louis Armstrong, but not so many recognize the songs of Porter I think. The songs are difficult, but they did great playing them. I believe there are many young musicians who have love, ability and passion towards jazz genre, I’m proud of them too.

Interview-ShadowPuppets-HarveyMalaihollo (3)Is there any burden to cover these treasures, knowing that they once brought alive by great singers of that era?
Harvey: As a matter of fact I did talk a bit to them about it. Don’t lose the historical background. Maybe that’s why Irsa included a part of the original in one song (” Puspa Melati Juwita”) so people would still get the original color of the song at that time. Plus, if we look at the songs from 50’s to 60’s, they have jazz elements, so we don’t want to change too much. Each song will still have the connection with the originals, the beauty of the songs are preserved. Furthermore, I carefully sang each song, I don’t want to destroy the beauty by playing on them too much.

In order to socialize this album and sending the message according to your mission, will you make any special concert?
Harvey: The closest one after our gig at TP Jazz Festival is Jazz Goes to Campus 2015. We do hope more festivals hear what we are doing, because I think this concept will be perfect for such event.

Robert: We are planning to make a special concert in January 2016, but it’s still in process. The concert at the Galeri Indonesia Kaya was kind of small showcase, so hopefully next year we can make something more full on, all out.

Do you guys plan to continue the project… volume 2, 3 and so on, covering the golden hits from other eras?
Irsa: We actually talked about it earlier today! We want to keep moving! (laughs)

Harvey: Yeah! We are currently having the euphoria. I’m addicted of making this kind of album.. so I told them, why don’t we make proceed with the next album? (laughs)? We actually want to make more, then a special edition, then a vinyl etc. God willing!

Speaking of the other era, if you continue the project, will there be Harvey’s songs from the 80’s, when he reigned many festivals in the world by becoming the winner everywhere?
Robert: Why not? That would be great.

Harvey: Well, we have to talk first about it, because the arrangement for festival is kind of tricky. I’ve tried to make it more easy listening, but it kind of lose its catch. So we have to think carefully, will the essence still there? That’s important to think about.

Interview-ShadowPuppets-HarveyMalaihollo (6)Okay, congratulations for the album. We wish you the best for it, may this album successfully (re)introduce the legendary composers/song writers and their beautiful, artistic pieces to today’s society.
Amen, thank you!

Interviewed by Riandy Kurniawan and Debby Siahaan
Photographer: Mia Damayanti Sjahir

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