Jazz was born in the early 20th century in America. It’s true. But today, jazz has become more than a central element of American culture or music, it now belongs to the world. This genre spread around the world after being originated in New Orleans, assimilating with different social musical cultures wherever it’s landed, which interestingly gave birth to many distinctive styles. You can really differ the African jazz with Indian for example and so on. And we are still talking regionally.
Indonesia has more than 300 ethnic groups who have their own culture, tradition, art and music. If jazz lands on these ethnic groups, imagine how many unique jazz breed would appear only from Indonesia. There are the widely known Pentatonic scale, then Diatonic, and many other scales, modes or sound that are not yet exposed or even still undiscovered. On the other hand, we have to think of how to preserve the traditional music and introduce them to the world, if we don’t want to see them extinct. And jazz can be useful for that. It’s important to learn how to play jazz the right way, how to swing, bop and so on, but have we thought about using jazz as the universal language to introduce the richness of our arts and cultures to the world?
Through generation we have seen bands living and breathing in this particular area. Some embarked quite a journey which not only established their career in higher ground but also opened up such dimension we might never think existed. Today, there are some supergroups who are still keeping their existance, but also the younger players who could offer something new, innovatively in this field. One of the sensational group is found 7 years ago in Bandung, the West Java Syndicate.
This combo consists of 5 mad-men with enough power to overcome the odds: founder/band leader Zahar Mustilaq on drums, Yopi D Nafis on keyboard, Dede SP on bass, Randy Gevenk on variety of traditional Sundanese and Chinese woodwinds/humming and karinding (traditional instrument made of bamboo and midribs of palm trees) and the youngest of them all, Ipin Zbet on kendangs/tatabeuhan. After quite a long process, the thugs launch their album titled “Bubuka” (in English: “The Opening”) following their EP also released independently a few years earlier, “Album Leutik” (in English: “Small Album”). The album launching served quite grand through a live performance on Saturday, 19 August 2017 at Eiger Store, Bandung.
Before we get down to this album launching ceremony, let us see the story behind the making of this album. The idea and preparation began around 3 years ago. At that time, they already had some materials to go into the album. Some were taken from the EP, some were made after that. Luckily they got supported by Andry Mandera, the owner of Studio 8 which is known for its high quality of recording and processing that makes them a favorite place for national artists to do their recordings. Having Andry is a big advantage, because the modern and traditional instruments that they are using have different frequencies. It’s certainly tricky, therefore they need someone who understands about this matter to bring out the best quality of sound for the album. Andry Mandera and his Studio 8 is not just a place where they were working at but also became an integrated team of this movement. The ceremonial feast was held in this studio too on 27 July 2017. They let us hear the whole album and let us know the story behind each song.
Speaking of musical concept, this 5-piece combo is one of a kind. First of all, they found a perfect chemistry between kendang and drum, producing simultaneously cohesive beat as if it comes from one soul. It’s not easy because both drum and kendang have their own style and pattern, but Zahar and Ipin know how to fuse it perfectly. “The key is, you got to know and understand both worlds”, says Zahar. It’s certainly inspiring to see how Zahar plays the drum unorthodoxly, synchronizing himself with the kendang pattern without totally leaving the principal of modern drum playing.
Then, Yopi Nafis on piano brings the beautiful melody in natural mixture between jazz, classical and traditional. Dede SP serves provocative bass playing with rockin’ approach. Not only great in doing his role, his appearance and attraction often catch people’s attention. Last but not least, Randy Gevenk has a substantial part in making their sound mystical. This young man is a wiz of traditional woodwinds. He plays Sundanese trumpet, flute and karinding, also a master of some traditional Chinese woodwinds, which he picks up while studying there on scholarship. The using of many woodwinds creates a landscapic multi-dimensional sound for their music. And when he uses his vocal to do a high pitch humming, he adds even more mystical nuance.
Speaking of performance, these mobs do it like a bunch of kids playing in the park. They make it full with laughters. They throw joke even chit chating with one another. That transfers joyful energy to everyone who watch them, which will make everyone enjoy the performance even better.
The “Bubuka” album consists of 8 songs, including one prelude to the romantic ballad written by YD Nafis, “Tembang Katresna”. While the album showcases their forte in presenting the mystical Sundanese musical realm in progressive multi-dimensional soundscape through different moods – from grand, majestic, playful to high-octane action packed, there’s a song tributing Riza Arshad too titled “Like Brother Like Teacher”, showing how they look up to the late key-wiz who also was commited in digging this side of music for more than 25 years with his Simakdialog.
The album launching was made official with a live performance taking place at Eiger Store, Bandung on Saturday, 19 August 2017. Other than Andry Mandera of Studio 8, also attending Galih Sedayu, the founder of Air Foto Network and Ruang Kolaborasa. Acting as the opening was another amazing modern-traditional ensemble Palanta Line Art. If West Java Syndicate serves the Sundanese musical realm, Palanta is focusing on the West Sumatra (Minangkabau) music. They keep the traditional principal and feature of it, but in much wider and modern scope.
Look at what they gave as the first song: Chick Corea’s “Spain”! Never before we heard anyone play this song in diatonic scale, with Minangkabau taste/style by using an acrobatic talempong (Minangkabau’s instrument: a set of small kettle gongs) playing. But yes, they quickly grabbed the attention which made them bagged a loud applause from the crowds.
The founder of Palanta Line Art, Maspon Herizal personally led the much younger team with his mind-blowing variety of woodwinds presentation, using tanduak (kind of ancient flute made from bamboo and the real buffalo horn) and the thick bamboo flute Sampelong. His voice humming created haunting atmosphere without making the song felt scary. As we said much younger team, the rest of the band consisted of all very young musicians: Arts Fiaris (guitar), Regi Permadi (drum), Shendy Susanto (bass), Qorry Restu Qodirullah (keyboard) and Kiky Septian (talempong). This ‘junior’ team surprised us with their performance. What they dig is far from easy, yet they are doing it very, very well.
If jazz with pentatonic might probably already be familiar to you, do listen to this group’s way of showing how magical the sound is when jazz and diatonic traditional music collide. That’s what this sensational Palanta Line Art did on the next two songs, “Djanger Bali” and Maspon’s epic masterpiece “Andalas Raya”.
After a blazing opening, the main event came in. West Java Syndicate took over the stage and began with the majestic and title track, “Bubuka”. This song directly gave a clear portrait of what this band and what their music is all about. The bamboo flute and karinding sound from Gevenk was simply irresistible. And of course, his high-pitched humming built even more dramatic spirit. “Child’s Play” let us feel how playful they could go, just like a bunch of kids having lots of fun in a park. The commander Zahar were attractive behind the drum with his funny acts.
The next song was the glittery, bright “City of Light”. This song was made by YD Nafis and Randy Gevenk instantly at the studio during the recording. Then they played the song written by Nafis when he proposed his wife back then, “Tembang Katresna” (“Love Song”). The sweet, sentimental prelude came beautifully from him, and then the rest of the dudes joined in and built this song to reach its peak without losing the romantic grip even for a moment. The song tributing the late Riza Arshad, “Like Brother Like Teacher” followed right after.
Ipin then surprised us with his ability to do beatbox while hitting the kendang in full force for “Kendang Madness”. This young man did it superbly before they all having a blast on the most happening track, the high-octane action packed “Gending Rame Ku Kendang”, written by Zahar Mustilaq. This song became the playground where all the energy left inside them let loose. Dede SP did a stunning rockin’ solo bass and the tarumpet sound from Gevenk made a fantastic climax. After the show, they all took a photo session and meet and greet session. They also placed their signatures on the CDs bought by some of the audience.
A very interesting album with inspiring concept has finally launched in a simple but cool way. “Bubuka” brings the Sundanese music appears modern, showing that there are still many ways to present the traditional music to fit today’s generation, and to make it understandable to the international listeners. What’s great is that they make it with lots of fun, eye and ear catchy, easy to understand even by the most common listeners. All streams naturally from them. The other thing that grabs our attention is how they bring out music like having a dialogue on stage which also involves the audience.
West Java Syndicate is unique. They are creative, skillful and different. They should get more chance to be heard wide, out loud. An album like “Bubuka” should be able to open up that chance, and for you who love music, you should spend some time to listen to them. We congratulate West Java Syndicate for the album, we wish you the best of luck with it. May this become the new dawn to take a higher step in your career. The next challenge is how to top this album in your next work. It won’t be easy, but we have no doubt you will find the way to do so. A band like this is important not only because they are going to add more variety and color to the music industry but al.so to preserve the traditional (Sundanese) music and to spread the knowledge about it to diverse audience around the globe.
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Reporter and photographer: Riandy Kurniawan