Bandung 2017 roundup

Editor’s note: This is the inaugural post in a new category we’re calling Java Journal — a blog series written by Rumput scholars Hannah Standiford (Fulbright student research grantee studying kroncong), Natalie Quick (Darmasiswa scholar studying gamelan), and Edward Breitner (Darmasiswa scholar studying wayang shadow theater).

Here are a few highlights from our 12-day residency in West Java, August 2017:

We arrived in Jakarta after a grueling 25-hour trip by way of Dubai.

We were greeted by staff from Paris van Java Resort Lifestyle Place (PVJ) and officials from the regional department of culture, Dinas Kebudayaan Bandung. We were assigned a huge coterie of handlers, guides, and managers, all working long days to ensure we were safe, comfortable, well fed, entertained, and punctual!

We were then loaded into a van for the last leg of the trip: an hours-long midnight drive to our home in Bandung, Zest Hotel Sukajadi, mere steps away from the performance space at PVJ.

Our first day was spent at Kawah Putih (“white crater”, named for its sulphur deposits), an active volcano surrounded by a nature reserve and wildlife restoration area and expansive tea plantations. Our tour guide, a park ranger involved in wildlife recovery operations, taught us about local history and species of flora and fauna, including samples of edible wild plants.

That night, despite crushing jetlag, several of us accepted an invitation from Palmer Keen, a US expatriate who runs the brilliant Aural Archipelago blog, to attend a party and jam session for a friend of his on the rooftop of an academic building at Institut Teknologi Bandung. He urged us to bring instruments for the jam, which we did, and to our surprise we were ushered on stage immediately on arrival to play a set — a great honor, and great fun despite our missing core members.

Still from video by Palmer Keen.

The next night was a highlight for us: we were invited to a potluck and jam session hosted by true masters of the kroncong craft — Orkes Keroncong Jempol Jenthik (JJOK). We played a few songs in their garage, which they enthusiastically cheered, applauding our modest innovations, singing along at appropriate times, laughing with us over our mistakes. Then they got up to show us how it’s done, truly expanding our appreciation of the range of kroncong innovation, and dropping jaws with their sheer talent. Each band pulled in guests from the other. Though they treated us as peers and honored guests, this was a master-class, and we all took deep mental notes (as well as video documentation). Later in the week we were thrilled and humbled to have them added to the bill for one night of our performance residency at PVJ.

Still riding that bliss wave, we accepted another invitation from Palmer to check out an after-hours jaipong show at a local bar. Jaipong is a funky, sexy, and astonishingly virtuosic genre of percussion-driven Sundanese music, a modernized and amped-up derivation of the more traditional ketuk tilu. While Western pop music increasingly relies on click-tracks and sequenced beats, it’s refreshing to find music that is at once rhythmically free and irresistibly propulsive.  See Palmer’s blog entry on the scene he introduced us to.

Next we commenced 5 consecutive nights of performances as the inaugural headliners of a new rooftop garden and performing arts space at PVJ.

Our first night out we collaborated with Bandung dalang (pupeteer) Asep Berlian, kecapi (traditional Sundanese zither) and suling (flute) player Tata Saturyat, and Sundanese dance troupe Sanggar Tari Nira.

On subsequent nights we were thrilled to share a bill with genre-bending kroncong masters JJOK, then rising kroncong stars Group Keroncong Astra Jinnga, Sundanese bamboo orchestra Galengan Sora Awi, and jaipong troupe Wangsit Enterprise.

After wrapping our final night with a reprise from Tata Saturyat and Asep Berlian we had a free day, which we spent at Tangkubanprahu, our second active volcano trip.

We ended the day, and the tour, with a lovely, serene dinner at Heritage Kitchen & Gallery. Owner Padma Siebert had seen our performance and invited us as her guests.

We ended our residency with borderline weepy hugs all around between those staying and those going, then a final lunch at the airport with our generous hosts, and another brutal plane trip home.

Now…how to get back next year?