Dwiki Dharmawan: An ambassador of music

Courtesy of Dwiki Dharmawan
Courtesy of Dwiki Dharmawan

Dwiki Dharmawan gave the cue to five men with string instruments. “From the top!” he said and brilliant staccato jazz rhythms ensued.

The 44-year-old internally acclaimed pianist was in a studio at the renowned music school he runs in South Jakarta rehearsing for a concert at the Salihara Cultural Space on Thursday.

Four members of the band came from the Jogya String Quartet, led by cellist Dimawan Krseno Aji, while the man on acoustic bass was Donny Sunjoyo.

Dwiki usually performs with big bands or an orchestra when playing with his world music group, Krakatau, which is famous for combining traditional Indonesian music and jazz.

This time around, he said he opted for a simpler format to soak in the detail and movements of all the musicians he jammed with.

“When I listen to minimalistic music, the details stand out more — and the interpretation of every player can be felt more,” Dwiki said.

Inspired after seeing jazz great Chick Corea performing in a quartet, Dwiki decided to team up with the Jogya String Quartet and Donny.

The collaboration merged two different styles, Dwiki said: Donny and Dwiki have jazz backgrounds, while the string quartet is a classical music ensemble.

“I want to encourage [the band] to improvise,” he said. “Playing music is not like reading a book.”

Dwiki, Donny and the string quartet plan to tour Asia in 2011. Afterwards Dwiki said he would to take his musical experiment to Europe alone and try the format with local musicians.

His passion for exploring and mixing traditional ethnic music and contemporary jazz has made him one of Indonesia’s music virtuosos.

Dwiki has performed in more than 30 countries, effectively becoming an ambassador of Indonesian music.

It’s a moniker he proudly accepted; as a child he wanted to be a diplomat. “Then I discovered music, so I wanted to be a diplomat who is good in music. But then I decided to be a musician and let my music do my diplomacy,” he said.

Dwiki’s music speaks of Indonesia. Krakatau, renowned for fusing ethnic and contemporary music, has released eight albums since 1987. The group last released Rhythm of Reformation in 2006. Dwiki’s solo album, Nuansa (Nuance), was released in 2002 with the support of a host of international musicians.

Sax player Andy Suzuki, Yellowjackets bass player Jimmy Haslip, oud player Kamal Mussalam, percussionist Steve Thornton and more than 100 other musicians joined Dwiki’s World Peace Orchestra (WPO) in 2008.

Local talents guitarist Dewa Budjana, drummer Sandy Winarta and singer Dira J. Sugandi rounded off the musicians in the WPO.

The idea for an international orchestra came to Dwiki after he played in Jakarta’s Java Jazz festival. “I saw a lot of international musicians coming and they kept to themselves. There was no synergy afterwards,” he said.

“The project aims not only to promote Indonesia and multiculturalism, but [also] peace,” he said. WPO is a fusion of East and West. “There’s Arabic, European, and Indonesian styles of music,” he said.

The WPO inspired Dwiki to work on another project drawn from his experiences travelling in the Middle East. When visiting the region, Dwiki said, he thought combining jazz and Middle Eastern music would be wonderful.

Then he met Kamal Mussalam in 2009. Kamal played the oud, a distant relative of the lute used in Middle Eastern and North African music.

“Communication in music usually takes place in jam sessions,” Dwiki said. However, Kamal and Dwiki did communicate through music. The pair are now collaborating on a project called Eastmania with legendary jazz drummer Billy Cobham.

As if all that was not enough, Dwiki said he planned to return to Sulawesi for his Celebes Fantasy project, which traces its origins to a visit he made to the island in 2010 for a festival.

Intrigued by Sulawesi’s traditional music, Dwiki teamed up with a local music group, Phinisi, and plans to release Celebes Fantasy in 2011.

Dwiki’s love of Indonesia is evident from his exploration of the country’s music. His projects have always explored traditional Indonesian music, albeit in a contemporary way. “Krakatau brings Indonesia’s traditions to the global sphere by ‘contaminating’ — for example — the gamelan tradition with jazz,” he said.

His musical mission has taken a more serious turn over recent years, Dwiki said. “At first I felt happy playing music and happy that I could make other people happy with my music. But as time goes by I want to find meaning in life by way of creating music for the country and the people.”

Dwiki was introduced to music at an early age. His mother was a singer and introduced him to singing and music. He started studying the classical piano at the age of six and the jazz piano, under the late Elfa Secioria, when he was 13. In 1985, he formed Krakatau with Pra Budi Dharma, Donny Suhendra and Budhy Haryono.

In 1995 he married singer Ita Purnamasari.

As his purpose in creating music has shifted to a more nationalistic side, he said that goals such as fortune, fame, or even mere personal happiness did not matter.

A lot can be learned from music, Dwiki said.

“I really like multiculturalism in music. People respect each other, show tolerance towards each other and appreciate one another, he said.

“Why can’t everyone be like this?”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Mon, April 04 2011

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