SimakDialog Concert at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta: The Report



21 December was believed by many people as the doomsday. That was based on the Mayan calendar. But as later it was denied and said to be just the end of 13 bak’tuns or the cycle of Mayan calendar system, we now know that the prediction is totally wrong. The earth still exists and we are still breathing in it. We never believed it, nor simakDialog and Gedung Kesenian Jakarta. They had prepared this concert to launch exactly on that day without a doubt even for a second. Who’s simakDialog and what’s so special about it? For Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (GKJ), this ensemble seems important as they have presented the ensemble several times before. If  the people of GKJ is proud of this band, we should be proud of it too, since this long-time-running team is very distinctive in concept and based on the creative brains that never stop evolving. Many things can be told, we are going to spread them out along with this report article.

19 years of action and still running. Not many bands can endure that long, but for the leader Riza Arshad and the whole simakDialog team, it means more possibility and chance in bringing their musical creativity as well as digging deeper in creating their crafts. There are many reasons for us to say that simakDialog should be listed in the Indonesia’s jazz history, not only by looking at their masterclass playing and loads of achievements, but also to the way they invent something different through continuous research. They have been intensely studied, examined and analyzed the long play system, involving traditional instruments like kendang and metal toys for years. Talk about the role of kendang, Riza Arshad decided to leave drums, replacing it to kendang players. As a result, the sound of simakDialog is built into something more exoticly mystical, that said without leaving the form of ‘fine art’, the way Riza Arshad described about jazz to us two years ago.


SimakDialog used kendang for the first time in their 2002 released album, Trance/Mission, played by Jalu G Praditina. From there they chose to build the concept with kendang inside. Since kendang player Endang Ramdan joined in for the preparation to peform in Nepal in 2003; drums has been out from simakDialog about a year by then; the intensity rose higher. The arrival of Erlan Suwardana as the ‘contra’ kendang for Endang and Cucu Kurnia on metal toys has given more tighter rhythm pattern, more complete and added the unique color of simakDialog’s sound. Their album “Patahan” caught the attention of USA based label MoonJune Records who decided to sign them in. After many critical acclaims from international medias on this album, they continued the success with “Demi Masa”. It was in 2009. Three years’ passed, they are facing another challenge in creating the concept for the 6th album. This time Riza Arshad decided to make less complicated music, harmony/structural-wise speaking than some numbers on Patahan or Demi Masa. “For instance, I used more ‘common’  harmony approach almost in each composition in order to make listener pay more attention on the band’ rhythm section, and hope that they would experience with this ‘new approach’ concept and begin to get familiar to our music that based on traditional Sundanese terms.” he said. What he means is that for us to focus on the role of kendang as the ‘time keeper’ like the common role of drums, just like what Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussein have done in introducing the Indian instrumentation in Western music.


While waiting for the album, simakDialog held a concert near the end of 2012, taking place at the historical Gedung Kesenian Jakarta.  As usual, they came with complete team, featuring virtuous keyboardist/composer Riza Arshad, all-round guitarist Tohpati, bassist Adhitya Pratama and three musicians who master the traditional instruments, Endang Ramdan, Erlan Suwardana and Cucu Kurnia on kendangs and metal toys. Not too many crowds, most probably caused by the Jakarta street jam at that time which said to be one of the worst. Nonetheless those who came showed their high interest in simakDialog’s unique and distinct musicality. They were ready to watch and hear the unexpected.

As we predicted earlier, here simakDialog gave first bites of their new songs which will be included in their upcoming album, “6th Story“. That was shown right from the start. Right after they stepped in, the ensemble played “Stepping In”, followed by “Lain Parantina” Both songs were written in 2010 by Riza Arshad and soon will be available in the new album. The result of their continuous efforts in tuning the role of traditional kendang players into jazz were all paid off. Not easy and took long, long years to establish, but they brilliantly did it.


The song from the album ‘Baur’ which then retouched for ‘Patahan’ entitled “One Has To Be” became the next presentation from them. If in Baur they still used drums for this song, in Patahan the kendang beat has replaced it in providing rhythm. This time with more blended result, the shimmering, beautiful melodies of this song should now stand as one their masterpiece.

Up to that song, the audience should already be able to notice that kendang can actually replace the drum function in perfection while also creating the different nuance at the same time. But simakDialog was far from over. They carried on with playing the song written in 2011 entitled “For Once and Never” and “What Would I Say”, both will be listed in the new album. The kendang beat opened up the next song that the fans have probably known very well, taken from ‘Patahan’, “Worth Seeing.” Here the audience could experience simakDialog’s ability to tell a musical story by changing its pace and path several times to create an interesting story line. Tohpati got his space to run his fingers freely above the fretboard. The combination of bass and two kendangs plus the metal toys sound blended as one solid unit which added more magic into it.

For the next track, simakDialog took Riza Arshad’s composition from the album ‘Trance/Mission’, written in 2001 entitled “All in a Day”. Just to inform you, the album ‘Trance/Mission’ mostly spoke about how they felt of being in the moment of transition, which was reflected into original meaning of the title, ‘Transition Mission’. The last song that sealed the concert was again a new song, “Five Six” where they poured the rest of their energies creating a perfect ending.


The unique ‘Sundanese drums system’ created by the kendang players really hitted the point. It opened up our eyes that there are many possibilities can be created in jazz, or in music in general by the creative brains backed by the wide knowledge about music, the mastering of instruments and passion. The rhyhtm pattern which could be unusual for the common contemporary music listeners now can be easily accessed, thanks to this rare cross ethno-jazz progressive ensemble. More and more masterpieces are thrown, hence we have more alternative in listening to variety of music. Jazz can always be the perfect media to pour out creativity, no matter how impossible you might think.

SimakDialog has shown that there are still many doors to open, as well as proving that kendang indeed can replace the role of drums inside a jazz ensemble to deliver another dimension of sound. What’s great to know that they are not done yet. Believe us, they still have many things to share, making up more inventions to surprise us all as time goes. What a perfect jazz concert to close the year of 2012 for Gedung Kesenian Jakarta in style, thanks for that. 2 decades for them soon over, they will enter the third decade of career in solid style. We wish simakDialog the best for preparing the new album and for having more years of excellence. Maybe more international gigs after Berlin and Nepal would be perfect, so more people around the world could listen to the distinct sound they bring. We do need the kind of bands like simakDialog to keep introducing our rich traditional cultures to the world, and since they are doing it, we should be proud that it’s presented in worldclass act. Hope to see you again soon, keep wowing us with more surprises!

See more pictures:

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Written by: Riandy Kurniawan
Photos: Mia Damayanti (courtesy of simakDialog) and GKJ Documentation