Two years ago, blues guitarist Muhammad “Gugun” Gunawan’s band, Gugun and The Bluesbug, was off the Indonesian music scene’s radar. Local jazz festival organizers deemed the band too insignificant to give it its own stage.
ump to 2010, the blues trio, now called Gugun Blues Shelter, drew significant crowds at the 2010 Java Jazz Festival that ended Sunday, with two shows of their own in the three-day festival.
Their expanding loyal fan base, who knew their songs by heart, begged the band members — Gugun, bass player John “Jono” Armstrong and drummer Aditya “Bowie” Wibowo — to play their favorite songs.
Asked about growing from an obscure band to finally being recognized as a phenomenal blues band, Gugun said: “That’s what struggling is all about”.
The shoulder-length tousled-hair guitarist was sitting behind the stage Saturday after giving an energetic performance.
“We keep trying and focusing on this type of music — and sticking to it. A lot of blues bands make one album, find that not many people are interested in that type of music and then change their style,” he said.
“I started in 1994, performing in blues festival, clubs, making albums and sticking to this type of music. Finally people are listening,” the 33-year-old said.
“It’s feasible for a blues band to make an album and to continue to exist in the music scene in Indonesia. You have to be focused and consistent,” he said.
The key, Gugun said, is to keep the gigs goings.
“You can’t just release an album and then not play your music, you have to perform,” he said.
Gugun Blues Shelter is doing just that. Aside from performing in local and international festivals as well as touring in the UK, they play in blues clubs, cafes, universities, art centers and also malls.
Gugun, who is said to remind blues aficionados of legend Stevie Ray Vaughan — when it comes to guitar playing, started Gugun and The Bluesbug as a solo project.
In 2004, he released debut album Get The Bug with Jono from the UK and Iskandar on drums. He recorded his second album Turn It On with Arditya on the bass and Agung on drums.
While the local scene hadn’t recognized Gugun’s genius guitar playing yet, the band received more attention outside Indonesia, especially when touring repeatedly in the UK.
In 2009, Gugun and his musicians were the only Asian band — out of a total of 30 — to perform at the Skegness Rock and Blues festival.
In 2008, Gugun teamed up with Bowie, a 25-year-old drummer prodigy whom Gugun dubbed as “the most wanted drummer in Indonesia”. Bowie has played with jazz singer Syaharani, jazz guitarist Tohpati and singer Alena.
In 2009, Gugun reunited with Jono, 30, and changed the name of the band to Gugun and the Blues Shelter.
Gugun said that since the Blues Shelter, the band was no longer his solo project, but real teamwork. “I really hope this [line up] will last.”
Jono, in fluent Indonesian, said he had met Gugun in 2003, jamming with him at BB’s blues bar in Menteng, Central Jakarta. He returned to the UK in 2006 to continue his studies.
After a little while, he decided to return to Indonesia in 2009. “I don’t like it in England and I really miss playing with the band,” he said.
“While I was in the UK, Gugun came three times and played there. And the audience reception was always very good. I see there’s a future for the band,” he said. “And for that I have to be in Indonesia for band practice and for it to be able to develop,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bowie said he had chosen to join Gugun because he felt he had found a family.
“I feel really comfortable with Gugun and Jono. Not only musically but also personally. The band is the family I have always dreamed of,” he said.
Gugun Blues Shelter has independently released a new self-titled album, which is a replacement of the planned Set My Soul on Fire album that failed to be released due to conflict with the band’s label.
Gugun said the new album was darker than previous Bluesbug’s albums. The new album is a means for the band to unload their emotional baggage from their fight with their label.
“It’s about the hurt and regret,” Gugun said.
The album also contains political songs criticizing officials appearing on large billboards in public spaces.
Bowie added the album had a gloomy song about the time they were recording in the UK. “It was minus 10 degrees there!” he said.
The band recorded the album in two months. Gugun described it as more spontaneous, rich in all instruments: Guitar, bass and drums.
They are scheduled to go on a summer tour in the UK this year, to perform at the Timbre Rock and Roots festival in Singapore late this month, which is making Gugun and his band members excited and nervous at the same time.
“The line up for the festival includes Buddy Guy, Gipsy King, George Holland, and Buena Vista. A lot are Grammy award winners. We’re quiet nervous but we’ll give it our best shot,” he said.
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Mon, March 08 2010