Ethno-progressive Jazz Music in Asia?

May 28, 2010
*Special to asia!

What it is. Where to get it. And how to keep on listening.


620 simakDialog's self-described style is “Karawitan jazz,” or jazz inspired by traditional Javanese music. (Photo credit: Suchen S K)


Jazz may be a niche market, especially in Asia where people go nuts about pop and rock music. But with the 8,000 crowd spotted at the recently concluded Miri International Jazz Festival, one would begin to wonder – has jazz really found its way into the hearts of Asians?

Miri Jazz Fest is held every year at ParkCity Everly Hotel since 2006. The festival throws together musical talents across the globe for a two-day musical extravaganza in the city of Miri, the birthplace of Sarawak and Malaysia’s petroleum industry. This year’s immensely talented performers – from Brazil to New Orleans to Thailand – captured the crowd despite heavy rains, with melodies, which are pleasantly accessible to the listeners.

Creating a high energy blend of jazz fusion, instrumental rock and a healthy dose of Sundanese influences is Indonesia’s simakDialog. Composed of founder Riza Arshad on keyboards, Tohpati Ario on lead guitar, bassist Adhitya, and kendangists (Sundanese barrel drum) Endang Ramdan, Erlan Suwardana and Cucu Kurnia, simakDialog brings music that is a crossover between the east and west. Jazz has improvisation at its heart, and there is no better group in the festival that represents this, than simakDialog.

The band has released five albums since coming together in 1993. The last two albums, “Patahan” (Fracture) and “Demi Masa” (For the Sake of Time), were recorded and distributed by American label MoonJune Records.

With music that is sometimes wistful, melancholic and meditative, to an eleven-minute heart-thumping composition called “Kemarau” (which sounds like what one would hear when running through dense rainforest), the band creates some of the most enduring fusions one will ever listen to.

The band’s self-described style is “Karawitan jazz,” or jazz inspired by traditional Javanese music.

They play a unique blend of musical styles: with jazz-rock/fusion in its core, heavily influenced with gamelan music, as well as other Indonesian musical forms, to electronica, psychedelia and various aspects of rock. Their use of ethnic instruments bears regional identity, West Java, or Sundanese being the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia. As a culturally rich and diversified country, Indonesia treasures a vast variety of art and musical forms that have had a global impact and inspired generations of composers and musicians.

We are like two boys at the opposite sides of the river, but we dive in together – that is how we define our music.

“We are like two boys at the opposite sides of the river, but we dive in together – that is how we define our music”, says Tohpati.

Citing Tito Puente, “El Rey” of latin music as one of their musical influences, simakDialog embraces several music traditions and explores the continuity between modern and ancient sounds. Riza Arshad adds, “We’ve adapted our music and use different instruments, but the pleasure, passion and joy are still very much there. We present traditional music in a contemporary format that makes it more accessible to people from all over the world."

There’s risk when straying from familiar terrain but simakDialog’s eclectic fusion of Sundanese music and jazz proves that jazz is not dead and traditional Indonesian music is not hopelessly outmoded.

More than 400 years ago, Sir Francis Drake described Javanese music as “very strange, kind, pleasant and delightful”. If he ever listens to simakDialog’s deceptively simple melodies (with the blues showing up in surprising guise), he would’ve also added “infectious and captivating”.


Listen to simakDialog on MySpace.


Other performers at the festival are Mellow Motif (Thailand), Jeremy Tordjman (Switzerland), New Orleans All-Stars (USA), Ricardo Herz (Brazil), Amina Figarova Sextet (Holland), James Cotton Blues Band (USA), and Michael Shrieve’s Spellbinder (USA).


Carmela Mendoza runs everything "behind the scenes" at asia! She's also a content creator for mobile phone books and applications. She previously worked for education and ICT initiatives in the Philippines.

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