Homegrown & Well Known: UBUD VILLAGE JAZZ FESTIVAL 2013


Ubud, the informal Indonesian art capital, already has two major international events and in a few months the Ubud Village Jazz Festival shall knock that tally up to three.

Last time I was in the hills, a couple of whispering spirits insisted the duo behind the newest event, Yuri Mahatma, the Bali jazz veteran responsible for the Underground Jazz Movement, and Anom Darsana, Bali’s sound engineering guru turned die-hard event organiser, were up to something. It turns out that this ain’t gonna be one of those same old Jazz festivals. In fact, it’s goodbye-metropolitan-hello-Ubud hill tribe perfection… and all that kind of jazz.

What inspired you to organise such a massive event? Why jazz? Why Ubud?
Yuri Mahatma: Despite the fact that I’m a jazz musician, I have learned that jazz represents freedom, something that any artist must possess. It also represents, in a wider sense, democracy. In jazz music, you have to listen and appreciate other musicians’ styles and, within this, play with whom you play, even if you don’t agree with their particular style. I think this is what jazz is all about. It’s timeless and as long as there is a need for self expression, you will hear people play it.

I personally think that people, especially Indonesia’s younger generations, should learn how to appreciate art. Not only jazz, but art in general, there are many art forms out there which are not meant to be used for entertaining and party, but fine arts that will feed their hearts and minds.

Anom Darsana: Why Ubud? I’m surprised you ask! Some people say that Ubud is the Indonesian capital of art and that’s a major factor in why we’re doing this jazz fest there. Besides, Ubud is also representative of the uniqueness of Bali. That’s why we’re quite confident of harmonising this unique jazz fest with our local Balinese wisdom, and not just creating a copy and paste of the been-there-done-that metropolitan kind of festival.

This is the second year of the festival, right? Is your optimism built on having received a positive response last year…
AD: Actually this is gonna be our first festival involving well known international and national jazz artists. You’re right, we did hold an event last year but, last year was meant to “test the water” within the community, even though we used the same name, Ubud Village Jazz Festival. Now we have a good support base for UVJF2013 from within the various communities who were involved last year, especially from the founders of Ubud’s two established festivals, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) and BaliSpirit Festival (BSF). They have given us a lot of advice.

YM: As a newly born festival in Ubud we are here as a complement to what already exists. Above all, as part of the community, we are more than happy if we can build a stronger relationship with these other festivals so that we can also help each other. It is obvious that we are different in content with UWRF, and we do not expect our audiences to dance and party like in BSF’s night event. UVJF is designed to be sophisticated jazz experience, one in which I believe not so many people attend in order to dance and party. Our audience wants to sit back, relax, and enjoy some incredible performances within a perfect setting.

What makes your jazz festival special, different than all the rest of the jazz events? Will there be any musicians performing their own original stuff or are we going to be served up just the same old generic covers by incredible jazz musicians who seem to only want to be singing other people’s songs?
AD: Well, it is special! In order to suss out if a festival is going to be ordinary or exceptional, the best indicator is to check out the performers; the bands, the singers, and the artists who’ll play. Just look at our line up! Not only do we have a selection of Indonesia’s finest jazz musicians, people such as Dwiki Dharmawan (acclaimed as the Indonesian Jazz Ambassador), Simak Dialog, Koko Harsoe, and Ito Kurdhi, we also have some great jazz musicians from Europe: the famous Peter Beets Trio (Holland), Uwe Plath band and Dian Pratiwi (German-based Indonesian jazz singer), and Steve Thornton.

YM: In jazz, we avoid the word “must”. We trust the artists to explore their music and because of this, everything in jazz is original, even if they play covers/standard songs. I’ll explain this a little further…let’s say that the average length of a song is approximately 2 minutes. If a jazz musician gets their teeth into this song, explores the potential of the tune, the song can be extended to 10 minutes—meaning that 8 of these minutes is improvisation, a whole new arrangement, involving great length of creativity and, for me, this represents originality. It doesn’t matter what song they choose to play, cover or not, we can hear something new.

I salute you guys for working so hard to make this event come to life. I know it must super tough to find sponsors, people who believe in you. Any support from the government?
YM & AD: Sponsorship…yes, it is definitely hard, it’s always been the biggest obstacle to event organising. But, as a community based festival, the spirit is more about working together, making the collective dream come true by supporting each other. So yes, our main strength is on our capability to reduce the costs. Besides, it’s a community based festival and, hopefully, support from the community will pretty much ensure a sustainable existence. However, we do still get help from outside and it helps that we are also endorsed by Gianyar regency government, Bali Tourism Board, and the Indonesian Hotel & Restaurant Association (PHRI).

And with that, I’m going to leave you. If you’ve got yourself a jazz soul, go to Ubud Village Jazz Festival on August 9 and 10, 2013. I might see you in the hills.


Homegrown & Well Known is my biweekly column in The Beat (Bali) mag. Basically it’s an interview via e-mail with Bali’s local big shots. This is the 29th edition, was firstly published—a slightly different version—on The Beat (Bali) #337, May 10-23, 2013
Co-Editor: Lauren Shipman
Front page photo of Yuri Mahatma by Guz Wier
Check out Yuri Mahatma’s performance at the 2011 Jazz Rendezvous:

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