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Tuesday, January 09, 2007
  Music To My Ears
....... and hopefully yours.

For much of my research for the update of Culture Shock-Jakarta I have asked for opinions and anecdotes from readers and internet friends. There have been some fascinating responses and I'd love to receive more musings. Everyone should receive an individual reply but you know how much worse the internet is at present here, so if you don't, please nudge me.

One of the questions I posed to my fellow expats was What do you miss most from 'home'? Sample replies include Picnic Horse Races (eh?), football - the real stuff (soccer?), driving faster than 60kph, my family and, of course, the cricket!!!

Probably what I miss most is the wide range of good live music to be found in hundreds of venues throughout London, from the neighbourhood pub to grand concert halls. As regular readers will know, I have eclectic tastes in music, much of it shared with the original author and now my co-author, Derek Bacon.

As part of the rewrite on Jakarta's cultural scene, I've conducted an email interview with Leonardo Pavkovic, CEO of MoonJune Records in NYC - record producer, tour promoter, fan, and frequent visitor to Indonesia. We both share a passion for music of the so-called Canterbury Scene which started some 40 years ago and is still going strong with groups such as Soft Machine, Caravan, Hatfield and the North.

J.
Leonardo, for a number of years you have been organising tours of Asia for the groups and musicians involved with MoonJune. What is it that's putting off promoters like you from booking acts to play in Indonesia? Given that Jakarta and Bali are surely convenient stopovers, why has it been so difficult to arrange gigs here?
L. I guess the major problem was that the Indonesian economy wasn't doing well after the crash in the late nineties. This meant that subsidies were unavailable. For quality foreign music, for sure there are promoters, but then they have to rely on sponsors and sponsors only want commercial music. The same is true for jazz, and it is interesting that in the few jazz festivals in Indonesia there is virtually no jazz. Sadly 'muzak-fuzak' and smooth 'jazzy' pop is considered to be jazz. Dave Koz, Fourplay - is that jazz? Anyway, I have found that in Indonesia there is a solid and healthy, albeit niche, interest in quality music: avant-garde, rock, jazz etc.

Another factor is that there is total misinformation about Indonesia after the bombing incidents in Jakarta and Bali in recent years Somehow it is wrongly thought that Indonesia is not a very safe place to be and to put on shows. This is rubbish. Indonesia has one of the friendliest and sweetest populations on Earth. I feel more secure in Jakarta than in downtown Washington DC or some areas of Detroit. Indonesia, as a Muslim country, albeit a very moderate Muslim country, is suffering the consequences of the confusion in the world and the current worldwide political situation. Unfortunately, insurance companies often cancel already booked shows for 'security reasons'. Apparently things have been getting better lately and I hope it can continue.

J. Is there a limited interest in the music you promote?
L. It is still a niche market, for sure, but Jakarta is certainly better than many other Asian countries, with the exception of Japan, Korea and India. Indonesian fans have to go to Singapore to see gigs. This I experienced during the Allan Holdsworth show when a few dozen Indonesians came.

J. Is it the economy? If all expenses ~ food, accommodation, recreational time etc. ~ were comped, would any groups be interested in coming? Say to JakJazz?
L. Yes and no. It's relative, but a better economy, stronger rupiah and more interest from sponsors and NGOs and government organisations could change the fashion, and it all depends on the promoters. If they have the desire to see things happen, things will happen.

J. A number of the musicians associated with the 'Canterbury Scene' have an obvious affinity with Indonesian music. I'm thinking, for example, of Andy Summers, Colin Bass (Camel) with his Jugula All Stars, and the late Neil Ardley.
L. Bali is very much loved by artists, and Javanese culture also has followers among intellectuals.

J. Are there any Indonesian groups who you feel have an affinity with the 'Canterbury Scene'?
L. Maybe not, even though the 'Canterbury Scene' is known in Indonesia among fans of great music.

J. You have said that "Indonesia has a great tradition". Are you referring to the many different strands of regional music or in once being on the world's gig circuit?
L. Indonesia has a certain nice tradition in listening to and appreciating jazz, classic rock, fusion and jazz-rock, and avant-garde music, I believe, since the early seventies. Quality music is better known than in most other countries in Asia. In terms of gigs, through the eighties and well into the nineties, things were very promising in Indonesia. However, the Asian economic crash, the recent bombings and the weak economy have compromised that tendency.

J. Which Indonesian bands do you think will still be listened to when the next edition of Culture Shock - Jakarta is written, say in 5 years time? And are there any Indonesian bands you feel could have a career outside Indonesia?
L. That's difficult to say. I count on a few very talented bands, like Simak Dialog and Anane, but I'm also closely watching Discus, Nerv, Tomorrow People Ensemble. (Some reviews are here.) There is, of course, Indra Lesmana. Simak Dialog's early albums are 'great'. Just OK, but great musicianship. Then, the third album, the previous one, is very good, but just very good. Anyway, the last album, Patahan, that came out last year and which I am launching now, is VERY VERY VERY GOOD!

I have noticed that Indonesian jazz and prog musicians tend to have smooth jazz affinities, maybe because of the huge smooth jazz impact in SE Asia, maybe they believe it is a safe way to do the music. But I do wish that Indonesian musicians would play more challenging and free, or liberating, music instead of compromising their talents and expressing themselves in so-called Fuzak, Jazzac or uninspired pop-rock.

There is an amazing guitarist, Dewa Budjana , who has just made a great record featuring Dave Carpenter and Peter Erskine (drummer with Weather Report); the music was played and performed brilliantly, with great compositions, but the sound is a bit too 'American'. Too polite. I wish he could do more 'unpolite' music, but he has a great career with Gigi and makes money,

Riza Arshad of Simak Dialog is definitely the greatest musician I have discovered in Indonesia and I know the best of him is still to come. He's an amazing pianist with a great touch and ECM sensibility. I am talking to him to liberate himself and challenge his artistic ego with evolutionary and free music spirit, without being afraid to experiment more, which he will do, and to express himself musically and say what he wants to say.

I'm releasing the new albums of Simak Dialog and Aname on my label, MoonJune Records, and I would like to continue discovering and releasing Indonesian artists and give them the necessary encouragement.

J. Thanks very much, Leonardo, and I look forward to your next visit, hopefully with a band.
L. Me too.

Footnote:
Paul Blair wrote a fascinating insight into Jazz in the Big Mango ten years ago. Paul suggested that it could take two decades for things to get better. Judging from Leonardo's thoughts, he was spot on.
 

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