By Jason Noghani
2020 has been a strange year for celebrations. Never in our lifetime, has there been a time when the Holy festivities of the year could have been more poignant. Rather than using these times as a means of collectively celebrating such festivities, we were forced to look into ourselves in a cold, puritanical light, in unnaturally isolated conditions, separated from loved ones, or from the places of worship or congregation that would ceremoniously mark the end of a transition and the start of a new one.
If that were not enough, the previous twenty years or so have witnessed an entropic decline in human relationships, as the rapid proliferation of technology has imprisoned us by admission of our own opulent unconsciousness – immediacy and pleasure surpassing nurturement and happiness. And now, here we are: the new normal, the beginning of a chapter where even the basic ingredients of life such as breathing and laughter are potentially coming under scrutiny. Many of us have never felt lonelier, and many others are barely wondering how they can even cope.
The silver lining in all this, however, is that this enforced period of reflection has meant many of us have begun contemplating what needs to change, and how we can make a difference to actualise it. As a musician, I humbly feel I can only speak from the perspective of a musician in expressing this argument on a humanistic level, which pertains to the humanistic aspect of both music making and the musical outcome of these endeavours.
Technological advancement has meant that resources are becoming increasingly limited, due to practicalities and economic limitations, which has also meant that bands have now downsized to no more than three musicians, with duos becoming ever more commonplace, and bands of four or more musicians becoming increasingly rare. There are also more solo artists now than ever before, which has been perpetuated by technological resources enabling musicians to compose, produce, record, promote, market and distribute their own music; not just for DJ’s and composers of electronic music, but for performers too.
Even though this is ultimately a brilliant thing, as it has maximised creative freedoms, it nonetheless is a daunting prospect in a world of social distancing, to be living in a world increasingly made up of solo artists. As a composer by training, I am all for solo projects, and think it is fundamentally necessary for one’s creative liberties, but without collaboration, like friendships, it really makes you wonder if there is any point, as we can only go so far by our own admission without the wisdom, insight and clarity of others!
Gado Gado Ensambal – A Little Bit About Us
“Approaching the third decade of the 21st century, diversity is challenged as if it were avoidable. Humans are destined to be different by the law of nature, thus diversity is inevitable. Gado Gado Ensambal embraces diversity. The name Gado gado itself is derived from an Indonesian traditional dish; it is a rich mix of vegetables with peanut sauce served as the dressing. So, Gado Gado Ensambal is a cultural salad bowl in which the diverse ingredients – in this case the individual performers – are the collective fabric of the new and unique form of creation.
Gado Gado Ensambal was formed in London in 2015; it was initiated by Boo-Boo Sianturi, Jason Noghani, Miryanneka Alwi, and Anwar Baadilla. Since then, the ensemble has gained support from the following talented and inspiring artists: Jonathan Wiseman, Yukiko Kinoshita, I Nyoman (Komang) Astita, Pavel Ralev, Kiril Boshikyov, Pouyan & Rosa Khosravi, Teo Minaroy, Irvan Harjakusumah, Tri Yuniarto, Bintang Perkasa, Tomo Gotou, Mark Day, Ian Sullivan, Nadia Wadas, Tom Nolan, Katarina Kostrevc, Colin Alexander, and Shiva Feshareki. Without their support, Gado-Gado would not have gone this far!” – Boo-Boo Sianturi
Gado Gado Ensambal emerged almost by accident, with four friends meeting every Friday evening to drink a few beers and make music without being entirely sure of what we were doing, although shortly after its inception, it became clear that the notion of collaborative endeavours and making unique music was at the core of our interests. The harmonisation of both intentions corresponds to the mutual exchange of ideas, mutual enrichment, and above all, the consolidation and trust of friendship.
In the years following 2015, as Gado Gado grew, we also adapted around it, although it was more akin to teething rather than an effortless assimilation, whereby friendships, dedication, mutual interests, ambitions and intentions were all tested along the way, with the intention of arriving at a mutual alignment, to realise a shared collective vision built upon free individual expression.
The hardest challenge, I found, was realigning my personal interests to shared interests. Having not played in a band since adolescence, I was not used to not being in control in one way or another (as you are sort of taught to behave in compositional pedagogy), which meant at times I was uncomfortably at odds with the way things were unfolding. The determination to persist, however, even in the moments of jarring doubt, and the love for my brothers and sisters involved in the project, is what enabled me to persevere amidst these peculiar moments of self-questioning, doubt and existential quandaries.
So, in a nutshell, Gado Gado Ensambal, like a well lived life, continues to evolve positively, although this is never a linear path, as like life, there are peaks and troughs, that either make us or break us – but like any well lived life, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!
This musical diversity of Gado Gado Ensambal could perhaps best be described as a tripartite, psychedelic amalgamation of roots (traditional), popular and experimental musical influences, which are embodied most clearly in our upcoming EP Cosmic Trilogy. It also reflects the three core members of the Ensambal: Gado Boo (Boo-Boo Sianturi), Jon Kuah (Jonathan Wiseman), and J-Sambal (myself), three best friends, who are three very distinct personalities, both in music and in daily life – A Traditionalist, a Rationalist, and an Anarchist, who are at the core of TRAdisi (Tradisi is our respective record label that houses Gado Gado Ensambal, and other artists of roots music origin. Its purpose is to conserve, educate and transcend the fundamental necessities of roots musical and cultural heritage past, present and future)!*
These elements are all apparent in the EP, with each of us overlooking and producing one of the three parts of the trilogy. Work on Cosmic Trilogy began around 2016, and despite being close to completion, it is unarguable that the past four years have been a journey, whereby challenges, growth and renewal have emerged from the experience. Even though music was the primary focus, without the inspiration, encouragement and obstacles inherent within friendship, it would have been impossible to have even conceived of the idea, let alone realised anything at all. Alongside the three of us, the project would not have been possible without the help of our friends; most particularly in the track and video for Cosmic Vibrations I (the first track on the record), which was made in response to the distances imposed upon everyone during the global lockdown.
Gado-Gado Ensambal – Cosmic Vibration (1st movement) live at Erasmus Huis, Jakarta
Gado-Gado Ensambal – Cosmic Gamelan (Live at Sacred Rhythm Reborn Unison: Celebrate Life) | In collaboration with I Nyoman Astita, Made Agus Wardana and Namarina Youth Dance
Whilst the finishing touches are being put onto what was initially planned to be our debut (which I can guarantee will be a delectable feast!), the immediate response to the alarming events of this year meant that a new project is currently underworks – namely, the Circle of Trust EP.
*It is also worth noting that the triangulation of science, art and conscience (spirituality) were also in the back of our minds upon conceiving the album.
Circle of Trust
“Extracting one of the core elements of basic human values: Trust. Sharing across differences, establishing value through capitalising on co-creation across cultures, and the obtainable treasures of mutual understanding and truthful knowledge, which are holistic necessities across the arts, science, and conscience.
In alignment with the ‘Polyphonic Co-Creation’ originally proposed in the musical framework of Stomu Yamash’ta; Listen to the Stone – Searching for Spiritual Harmony in Polyphonic Coexistence (Kyoto Manifesto 1, Chapter 8). Different Themes are brought together into an overall creative ‘harmony’.” – Boo-Boo Sianturi
Gado-Gado Ensambal – Circle of Trust (1st Movement)
I have been spending the past four months in Cambodia, where I have largely spent the lockdown on the remote island Koh Rong Sanloem, most particularly in the village M’Pay Bay (which means “twenty-three” in Khmer), having initially only come for a three-week holiday before lockdown meant deciding to stay put (if you ever came to this unparalleled paradise you would understand why!). Therefore, when Boo-Boo proposed the new musical project, all I had at my disposal were my laptop, my phone and a $10 set of headphones, having initially arrived in Cambodia with a week’s worth of belongings.
The limitation of resources meant that I felt creatively liberated and undistracted, and before we knew it, Boo-Boo and I (with a little help from our friends!) had completed the first movement of what is planned to be four movements of this new EP. Another thing that spurred this creative burst was growing to increasingly appreciate being able to make music with Gado Gado, which at times I took for granted or was at odds with, but I suppose like many of us in these times, we grow to value what we previously had much unlimited access to.
Another interesting fact worth mentioning, is that in the 1st movement of Circle of Trust, the sounds of drawing and writing with charcoal can be heard throughout. Of the text that is written, a quote from Albert Camus is used, which is what Bintang Perkasa (the artist) chose as a source when I asked him to find text related to trust. Had he not chosen such a specific text, I am uncertain as to whether or not I would have written this article, nor explicitly considered the connection between friendship and trust.
“Do not walk behind me, I may not lead.
Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Just walk beside me, and be my friend.”
From there, Circle of Trust has continued to evolve, and friends who we have collaborated with and are yet to collaborate with, have all signalled interest in their involvement for the remaining two movements (the third movement has also just been finished, again, with a little help from our friends!). This could not have come at a better time, as without the help and support being offered, it would not have been possible to have even come this far, and in saying that, we have barely made it past the halfway mark!
Therefore, whereas Cosmic Trilogy is a musical manifesto of Gado Gado, Circle of Trust is Gado Gado’s humanistic manifesto.
Through collaboration, friendship, mutual interests, freedom of expression, inspiration and love, we are currently making something that was previously inconceivable, and is turning out to be a testament to our friendships with one another. In our small, humble way, even though we are on different corners of the earth, we are ensuring that human connections and friendships can survive this age of adversity, by establishing a circle of trust, to ensure that we have each other’s backs and are there for each other no matter what. And that as long as we look out for each other and treat each other with respect, we are free to do as we please!
This also brings to another aspect of friendship; namely, thinking of others. Even though individualism has been virtuous in liberating and maximising human potential, it has nonetheless brought separateness and narcissism as its unsavoury by-products, which fundamentally speaking, deters the true virtue and responsibility of individual freedom. Therefore, to ensure we are individually mindful, we should think of others. Even though this is a common tenet expounded upon across societies globally, in artistic practices this is not always the case, as egos have commonly resulted in band break-ups, and acrimonious relationships that become toxic to creativity. Personally, I feel being mindful in daily life is easier than being musically mindful, as despite not being easy, does not usually result in the emotional irrationality that can arise when becoming attached to certain sounds or ideas. However, the advantage with music, unlike daily life, is that it is abstract, with innumerable dimensions, which means that mindfulness can be continually practised depending on the context of the situation.
Nowadays, with exception to a few artists and DJ’s, very few artists realise everything entirely themselves. At the very least, audio engineering personnel may be at hand for final mixes, although in many instances, instrumentalists and other personnel are usually required to contribute. Fundamentally speaking, session musicians will be happy to be told what to do if they are reasonably paid, but in the context where all musicians are creatively contributing, boundaries and etiquette have to be observed, just as they are in friendships. If this is the case, then the creative process will undoubtedly be smooth, whereas if disequilibrium arises, this could disrupt the harmony within the group.
One of the most famous examples where this arises is with Pink Floyd, due to Roger Waters’ heavy-handed approach to ensuring he could realise his vision at the expense of the other musicians’ ideas. Even though Pink Floyd have made some exceptional albums, their history as a band was terse at the best of times, which would have made the experience unenjoyable in many instances. As with anything, it would make one wonder why bother if a sense of joy cannot be obtained from making music, something of which is cherished and heightened when shared with others in the name of friendship. This of course does not mean great music cannot be made during times of adversity; The Beatles’ white album is arguably their greatest album, and it was made at a time when the Fab Four were on the verge of breaking up. But one thing that does occur in these instances, is the eventual breakdown of the band, which in itself can be a tragic thing, even if it is meant to be. Even though nothing is meant to last forever, we should at least be working to ensure that everything ends on a good note, particularly as there is never an appropriate moment to ever say goodbye! Even though The Beatles and Pink Floyd eventually made amends later on, you still can never be so sure when someone will go (John Lennon!), so at least when they do, you will not be filled with regret but with joy of the memories you shared together.
Gado-Gado Ensambal – Gondang si Pala-Pala (Live at St. Mary’s Kidlington, Oxfordshire)
It currently seems as if humanity has currently reached a crossroads, whereby we can continue as we have done at our own peril, or we can change our ways to stave the severity of impending catastrophe. This principle also applies to friendships. Rather than succumbing to aimless, nihilistic pleasures, of which we have all been contaminated at one point or another in today’s world, we should be focusing on the fundamental values of friendship, to preserve what could be taken away if we neglect our connections in these times of isolation. We also have to bear in mind, that some of us find it easier to reach out than others, which makes it all the more important to reach out, because what is the worst thing that can happen if you show someone you love them?
I encourage anyone at a loss to do the same now – reach out to another if you can. Make art with others, share ideas, share interests, and above all, enjoy what you are doing! Keep yourselves sane during this time of constrained human interaction, and use this time to establish intrinsic value in your friendships, and reach deeper levels of connection, and higher levels of experience. Establish a circle of trust! For art, like friendship, can only exist with love.
And on that note, on behalf of Gado Gado Ensambal, we would like to wish you all a very Happy Friendship Day!