Counting Down to the Jakarta International Blues Festival
Between the 10th and the 19th of October, 2010, Indonesia will witness an explosion of blues that will literally touch the music community nation-wide. The focal point is the 3rd annual Jakarta International Blues Festival on 15-16 October. But the blues rumblings stretch well beyond that.
First, a little background. To the surprise of many who live outside of the country, Indonesia boasts a particularly vibrant live music scene. Jazz has been thriving for quite some time, and the country has hosted some major jazz festivals in recent years, attracting performers from all over the region and the world. But blues also has its local die-hard supporters too, who point out that blues is the root of much of modern-day music, no matter the form.
A group of blues lovers and friends — including Frans Sunito, Edwin Hudioro, Oding Nasution, Bambang Wurianto, Tamy Daud and Keen Nasituion – got together and formed the Indonesia Blues Association, known locally as INA Blues. And naturally they also decided in 2008 to mount a blues festival and followed it last year with an even bigger one.
To me, as an outsider, what is most astonishing is the scale of this year’s festival. Not content to feature a handful of local bands for a night of blues in a local bar and to call it a “blues festival,” the organizers are pulling into Jakarta an impressive list of foreign performers, along with a host of Indonesian bands. This year there will be four stages, featuring over 40 bands, eight of them from outside of the country.
It is not inaccurate to say that the festival actually began more that two months ago. In a widely promoted nation-wide search for new bands, the festival has staged a series of band auditions and competitions across the country, with the winning five bands earning a spot on next weekend’s program in the capital city, Jakarta.
Festival organizers have taken an inclusive approach to the blues, including in the spectrum the various genres that are derived directly from the blues. Traditional blues purists might grumble, but this tactic seems to be paying off, now attracting large numbers of young bands and fans. Oding Nasution, representing the organizer INA Blues as a judge in the final night of competition, told the online magazine Jazzuality:
“At the first Festival three years ago, the audiences mostly consisted of adults, but the second one, we were happy to see the majority were actually came from youngsters.”
Jazzuality columnist Riandy K, who covered the final judging event in Bandung last month, concluded his article with a telling observation:
“Overall, the outline of the competition is making us notice that how to get the blues is not always playing it in a conservative way. Though there are musicians that still keep the authenticity roots of blues, but the youngers with their spirits dare to blend & fuse blues with its ‘children’. They add a tip touch of ska, hip-hop, bluegrass, anything. it’s the passion to the blues itself that matters.”
Underscoring the popularity of blues in Indonesia, on Sunday, the 10th of October, the school Pasar Seni Institut Technologi in Bandung jump starts the week by staging its own blues night, organized by teacher John Mart and featuring bands such as Luke and Hobos Blues Band, Tabrak Lari Blues and Ogoy Zy Hours Blues. Bandung is a particular hotspot of blues in Indonesia, even boasting blues programming on the local station Mara Radio.
Of course, the major event will be on Friday and Saturday, 15-16 October, at Istora Senayan in Jakarta. The foreign acts are:
- Bluebird & Skoko [USA/Bali]
- Gary Clark Jr. [USA]
- Kim Mok Kyung [Korea}
- Kevin Borich [Australia]
- Soulmate [India]
- Matt Schofield [UK]
- Ana Popovic [Neatherlands/Yugoslavia]
- Kara Grainger [USA/Australia]
Among the Indonesian bands are:
- Rama Satria & The Electric Mojos with Lance Lopez
- Noor Bersaudara
- Donny Suhendra
- SnR Band
- Inablues All Star
- Tjahyo Wisanggeni
- The Sigit
- Andre Harihandoyo & Sonic People
- Oppie Andaresta & Friends
- Endah & Rhesa
- Adrian Adioetomo
- Abdee Slank & Friends
- Gugun Blues Shelter
Extending the reach of the festival even further, INA Blues has organized a satellite event featuring some of the same bands, to be held in Kuta Bali on Tuesday, the 19th.
This festival is reaching a scale where blues lovers from around the region will be flying in to Indonesia for the event. For example, D. C. Rapier, organizer of next month’s Taiwan Blues Bash, will be there to further his networking with other blues artists and promoters. And I myself will be there to cover the event for Blues Asia Network. I look forward particularly to see the award ceremony honoring the Best Young Band and the Best Young Blues Player — what a great idea to stimulate interest in the blues.
There is another aspect of the Jakarta Blues Festival that I personally find intriguing: the firm embrace of the blues by the Indonesian jazz community. Here’s how the Indonesian online jazz magazine Jazzuality puts it:
“If we talk about jazz, blues must be a part of our conversation. They have been blending together through ages, We can’t separate jazz from blues, and vice versa. Blues has grown widely and spread all over the world, including our beloved country Indonesia.”
This seems to be a trend in Asia and the Pacific: established jazz festivals are adding blues to their programming, just as blues events are reaching out to jazz. As one example, the Miri International Jazz Festival last May featured as one of its main acts the blues legend James Cotton.
In my view, it is healthy to see modern musicians of all stripes acknowledge the blues as their ultimate source of inspiration, even as they themselves explore new paths. At the same time, we must especially applaud those musicians around the region who explore and experiment more closely with the traditional forms, performing Chicago, Delta, urban and country blues classics. They are the ones keeping the original flame alive.
It is also healthy to see growing networking among musicians and promoters across the region. I would like to tip my hat to D. C. Rapier, who planted the networking seed in my brain almost a year ago — and also to online magazine Jazzuality, whose inspiration is directly responsible for the online magazine approach that Blues Asia Network has taken and which is setting the standard for cross-border news coverage and the mutual recognition of jazz and blues lovers of their commonality.
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