By Jason Noghani
To say 2020 started off with a bang would be the ultimate cliché, although nonetheless it seems fitting to say this for various reasons at the start of the new decade, after the previous decade of cacophonous chaos! 2020 has formidably begun with floods in Jakarta, wildfires ravaging across Australia, unresolved political tensions in most countries aggravating both sides of the political spectrum, and the unfortunate events which have seen four decades of unnerving tensions between the United States and Iran increase to worrying states of uncertainty. It therefore seemed fitting, that at Sacred Rhythm: Reborn Unison January 11th 2020, on the first full moon of the decade, that our brothers and sisters from the United States and Iran could join Indonesia on stage for what was an unforgettable night of awe-inspiring music.
Before we continue, I feel it is important to reflect on the pre-event which occurred at Demajors radio HQ in Southern Jakarta on December 27th 2019; a fitting postlude to the decade bygone and a tasty appetiser for what has recently been experienced. On a day with continuous downpours and some technological setbacks, we were undeterred by our enthusiasm to dance in the rain, actively engage in the music presented to us, and literally turn the whole street into a party even though the dedicated audience was relatively modest in size. This wonderful turn of events was certainly an impulse of what was yet to come!
Fast forward to January 11th, and the first noticeable aspect of the day was the ambiguity of when it actually began. Just as the audience slowly started to appear, there was already drumming activities occurring outside of the concert space, which gave rise to the notion that the whole event was a gargantuan musical experience in itself – an undivided whole of a journey! Shortly after, a dedicated team of sound engineers, visual projectionists and myself oversaw a procession of musical pieces as a forerunner for what was yet to come, whilst the audience gradually entered the performance space – two works of Gado Gado EnSambal, both old and new (the latter paying homage to India to ensure that our brothers and sisters across the world who could not make it were there in spirit), Sabbath Bride by Jody Diamond, and finally ending with Paksi Ngelayang by the legendary I Nyoman “Komang” Astita, who was also in attendance having contributed to the ongoing Rhythm Salad clinics throughout the week. Following this technologically-motivated procession, Iranian-British composer and turntablist Shiva Feshareki (of whom LTTW has interviewed last year) welcomed everyone to the event, having unfortunately been unable to attend, yet nonetheless could attest to being there in spirit through her recorded message. As soon as she had spoken, Andi Supardi and Kinang Putra abruptly began with a stunning performance of their Betawi music and dance to welcome the audience who had by now all arrived – having previously wowed audiences at the pre-event on December 27th, this brief prelude was yet another tasty appetiser before their main performance.
Following on from this, a video from Sacred Bridge founder Stephen Hill was played to the audience, expressing his woes at being unable to attend, yet providing a captivating and inspiring message which unanimously touched the hearts of all who had attended – he too was certainly there in spirit! This was followed by Sacred Bridge’s chairman Ginastera “Boo-boo” Sianturi welcoming everyone and setting a suitable tone for the event. Almost the spitting image of his late father, it is undeniable that he is the natural heir of Serrano “Rano” Sianturi’s legacy – and Rano certainly would have been proud of him! Awards were also presented to the facilitators and guests at the event for their ongoing contributions to Sacred Bridge, so we would personally like to congratulate and thank Amy Knoles, Komang Astita and Marzuki Hasan for their achievements and dedicated work, as without it, Sacred Bridge would not have benefitted as much as it has done – we truly thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!
After this poignant introduction, Shiva Feshareki (again through prerecorded message) introduced her work Venus-Zohreh to the audience, which was officially when the main event had commenced, and the official Indonesian premiere of one of Shiva’s latest compositions. A work for string quartet lasting just shy of six minutes, Venus-Zohreh nonetheless embodies a power far larger than the forces which create and encapsulate it. The boldness of the work is found in the rich sonorities produced in the open strings and the starkly simple form is nothing more than a crescendo; initially murmuring like a distant morning sun and eventually soring like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. It was an astonishing way to commence festivities, and it was unanimously felt that the awe-struck audience loved it!
Whether it was part of a broader musical infrastructure or a comical tongue in cheek jester, Andi Supardi and Kinang Putra immediately commenced with their performance right after Venus-Zohreh. I say tongue in cheek as a term of endearment, as the performers intertwined musical invention and humour with the utmost mastery, and did not disappoint with what they had teased us with earlier that evening and on December 27th. The music is a rich tapestry of influences – Gamelan, Indonesian folk traditions, Jazz, Latin, and other strands of musical influences which seeped through the musical textures. Outside of Indonesia, Betawi music is relatively unknown in contrast to the globally renowned Gamelan, and this is certainly music which deserves wider recognition for its beauty, intricacy and imagination! There was laughter, there was dancing, and above all there was an audience seductively captivated by the musical brilliance which embraced them.
Following on from this performance was a spellbinding performance from Marzuki Hasan and Canang 7 from Aceh, who just like Andi Supardi and his consort, also performed at the pre-event on December 27th as a little teaser for SRRU. Furthermore, it should also be noted that Canang 7 played an important role in the Rhythm Salad Clinics earlier that week, having engaged with and inspired the participants into the mystical and compelling practices of Sufi music, and this was also their second Sacred Rhythm event having previously performed at Celebrate Life on April 26th 2019. It would be fair to say that these previous renditions were merely scratching the surface of what was performed that day, as the evocations that were created continued for almost twice as long, thereby deepening the sacred space which enchanted and transcended the audience. In direct contrast to what was previously heard, the audience remained motionless, entranced, and in a fixated state of deep listening as the sacred tones and patterns resonated within and outside of the audience and auditorium, bridging past and future through the dynamic wisdom of the masterful Sufi art practices.
Following on from Marzuki Hasan and Canang 7 was the last of the main performances, consisting of American electroacoustic percussionist Amy Knoles, Iranian musician Houman Pourmehdi, and Caribbean-French singer Joel Virgil-Vierset. What was created I cannot describe with vivid acuity, as their set reflected the pathos of the whole event, in that it was one continuous whole interjected with various occurrences of other musical influences – most evidently Persian traditional music. Furthermore, the triangulation of the three main performances was also reflected in the fact that this musical monument was created by a trio, who in themselves perfectly reflected the triangulation of art, science and spirituality through their alchemical vibrations. The industrial experimental gyrations of Amy’s electronic percussion and Joel’s eerily beautiful vocal embellishments provided an austere, mysterious and supernatural backdrop for the untarnished, immaculate renditions of Persian traditional songs, which demonstrated the phenomenal prowess of Houman’s abilities on the tambour, daf (drum), ney (flute) and voice. There was also a sombre undertone to this performance, as the lyrical content of Houman’s choices of material symbolically reflected the ongoing tumult in Iran, which could not have been more appropriate for the time and context of the performance. It provided a multitude of complex emotions as is typical of the very finest of Iranian music – reflecting the ongoing despair and suffering of the Iranian people, yet also providing glimmers of hope, and reflecting the persistent beauty of the human spirit.
This unforgettable performance immediately set the tone for the final live performance, bridged together by a drone that interconnected the previous act and this one; namely the fruits of the ongoing Rhythm Salad Clinic that week. The participants at the Rhythm Salad Clinic, many of whom had never met before, had started from scratch on the Monday and by Saturday had created not one, but two brand new pieces especially for this event. Amy, Houman and Komang overlooked and facilitated the workshops to aid in these musical creations; the first of which immediately took off from the preceding performance, which was a powerful rendition of a Persian Sufi song, which like the previous performance, appropriately fitted the context of the time it was performed. Houman also combined forces with fellow Iranian tambour player Pouyan Khosravi, which naturally added to the powerful aura of the performance, and the supporting musicians were equally engaged and captivated by the seductive Persian mysticism. The lyrical content of the song was a Rumi poem construed with a maqam (musical mode), which described the story of the Sufi mystic Mansur Al-Hallaj, who was executed for exclaiming “Ana ‘l-Haqq” (“I am God” or “I am the Truth”), and Rumi laments in the love he feels, overwhelmed at the fact that it is merely a fraction of what Al-Hallaj must have felt to have made such a proclamation. Symbolically, this could not have been more appropriate given that the Iranian people are currently fighting and tragically dying for the truth – it was a truly magical performance, that was felt by both performers and audience alike! The next piece to follow was a quirky concoction of Balinese Gamelan and Kecak (monkey chant) interjected with spasmodic IDM explosions; courtesy of Komang’s exquisite mastery of his Balinese heritage and Amy’s unceasingly eclectic technological wizardry respectively. These contrasting forces created an unpredictable, dynamic and exciting music, that was hard to categorise yet seductive and tantalising for the ears. It formed a perfect couple with the soothing solemnity of the Persian Sufi song, and made one wonder what could be achieved over a longer duration, given that two truly magical gems had been conceived in under a week!
Once the performances had ended, Syafwin “Abim” Bajumi of Syaelendra Studio provided an invigorating set of house music, having filled in for Leno Rei who unfortunately could not make it due to succumbing to an illness (our thoughts are with him and we wish him a speedy recovery!). The rest of the evening consisted of drinks, food, conversation and laughter from performers and audience alike, and under the captivating radiance of the full moon, there was joy to be felt all around. It was hard to say when the party ended exactly – not literally, as the venue had to shut eventually, but the sense of euphoria continued in the days that followed, although unsurprisingly, the hangover has been felt from the potency of the event – hence the post-SRRU blues!
In light of these times, we have an exciting yet potentially difficult decade ahead of us as we dig deeper into the 21st Century, and confront all that is ahead of us and is demanded of us. Blissful ignorance is increasingly becoming less of an option, as we have to face up to the jarring realities surrounding us, but we should do so with love and light whilst never forgetting what Rano, the founder of Sacred Bridge, told us in his final days – to do so whilst Celebrating Life! As could be discerned from this wondrous occasion, it is safe to assume with cautious optimism that the 2020s will reap blossoming fruits for Sacred Rhythm, and that as of yet we are merely scratching the surface for what is yet to come. So, I will end it here, by reminding all of you, to watch this space!
Author: Jason Noghani
Jason Noghani is Listen to the World’s UK-based contributor. He is a composer, musician, cognitive psychologist, writer, illustrator, thinker, psychonaut and devout agnostic.