Muhammad Ibnu Rafi: Can't
stop beating

Muhammad Ibnu Rafi: JP/R. BERTO WEDHATAMA
Muhammad Ibnu Rafi: JP/R. BERTO WEDHATAMA

Pa rum pum pum pum...

Sounds of a drum beating warm the atmosphere of a house in Menteng Dalam on a rainy afternoon. Sitting on a bench facing a drum is 12-year-old Muhammad Ibnu, the drumming prodigy.

His expression remains relaxed as he skillfully swings the drum sticks between his fingers for a second or two before hitting the drum.

"I love playing drums because it's fun. Perhaps it's meant to be for me. So far, it's been a fulfilling hobby," he says.

Born on Dec. 3, 1996, Rafi's passion for playing drums began when he was only 6 years old. He would stare at drum sets in any music store whenever his parents, Bambang Wasono Basoeki Rachmat and Indah Wasono, took him to malls. His parents did not grant his wish at first, considering that Rafi was at the age where nothing would hold his attention for long.

But because Rafi persisted, his parents finally relented and bought him a Rolling drum set for his seventh birthday. After hearing Rafi playing the drums consistently, his parents decided to get a private drum teacher. The teacher taught Rafi to beat the drum to various music genres, such as jazz and slow rock, and the boy improved his technique in just three months.

When the teacher later left for the US, Rafi enrolled at the Jakarta Drum School in South Jakarta, where he began to play songs. The first song Rafi mastered was Slank's "I Miss You but I Hate You" and Dewa's "Separuh Nafas" (Half Breath).

"At first, I liked rock music. But then, as I meet other musicians, I evolved. My father is also a jazz lover and he had a collection of jazz music, which I often listen to," he says.

"There is no difference between rock and jazz, because the final goal is to play the music," he adds.

The youngest of four siblings, Rafi held his first performance at the age of 8 at the New York Caf* at Taman Ria Senayan. Since then, he has performed nationally and internationally, collaborating with various musicians. He played along with acclaimed kendang player Iwan Wiradz in Belgium last year, collaborated with the Mang Udjo Angklung house and played in the Three Generations Concert with Gilang Ramadhan and Benny Mustafa.

He also performed in jazz events, such as the 2006 Java Jazz and Jak Jazz festivals. His performance at Java Jazz earned him a place in the Indonesian record books (MURI) as the youngest drummer ever to perform at the event. He was 9 years old at the time.

It was during one of the jazz events that drummer Harvey Mason saw his quality performance and decided that Rafi should make an album. In December 2006, Rafi flew to Los Angeles to tape his first international album, titled Can't Stop the Beat, taken from his unstoppable drumming habit. The album featured famous jazz musicians such as Bob James (piano), Nathan East (bass), Paul Russo (saxophone), Paul Jackson Jr. (guitar) and Vann Johnson (vocals).

The album consists of 10 songs, with eight written by Mason and two Indonesian songs: "Bengawan Solo" (by Gesang) and "Burung Camar" (by Aryono Huboyo Jati and Iwan Abdulrahman). Half of the album sales profit goes to underprivileged children through Unicef.

Behind Rafi's talent and success, the support of his family helped open the opportunity. It was Rafi's father who taped his performance on VCD and gave it to Singapore-based music promoter Jimmy Wee, who later passed it on to Harvey Mason.

Rafi's extended family provided him with enough facilities. After learning that Rafi had a passion for drums, his uncle Budi Prakoso gave him a Pearl All Birch Shell Maple Custom, Double Bass Drum 24 inch drum set. While it was a secondhand drum, the drum set was a rare type and a collectible item.

One of his aunts also bought him a metallic gold Yamaha State Custom series drum set. Rafi was very excited to get the drum, as it was similar to that owned by Gilang Ramadhan.

The drum set pumped up Rafi's spirit to exercise intensively, annoying the family and the neighbors. His father finally made a small fully acoustic studio, complete with a mixing room. The studio helps Rafi concentrate on practicing and getting ready for his performances.

"The most memorable performance was in Singapore last year, with my new band, the Young Indonesian Prodigies. It was different because I just got the feeling," he says.

Rafi and his band will again charm audiences at this year's Java Jazz festival. People will be able to catch a performance by the Young Indonesian Prodigies on March 7, 2008, at 6.30 p.m. at the Jakarta Convention Center's Pre-Function Hall.

"Java Jazz has a fun concept this year. They will allow my band, the Prodigies to play at the event. The Prodigies will feature Albert Fakdawer, an actor in Denias Senandung di Atas Awan. We usually play jazz, but there will be a touch of R & B from Albert and rock from Krisna, a young guitarist from Bali. So we'll have more varied music," Rafi says.

The show will surely be a refreshing comeback for Rafi after a two-year absence from the event. His first acquaintance with the jazz event began in 2005, when he came to the Java Jazz festival and was mesmerized to see the energy in the performances.

After Java Jazz, he will perform again at Singapore's Mosaic Music Festival, held between March 13 and 22. Besides performing at the event, Rafi will also attend a Master class program, a drum clinic designed to foster a deeper discussion and instruction of playing technique and performance skills.

These master classes are for semi-professional and professional musicians. Each session will comprise 10 candidates pre-selected through the application process. The session will be coached by drummer David Weckl.

Having almost spent half his life playing drums, Rafi says he is interested to learn other musical instruments.

"I like the ones that can be pressed, such as a bass guitar. I've tried to learn saxophone, but I gave it up quickly because my lips got sore. Perhaps I will try again in the near future."

Although he has local and international idols, Rafi said his drum playing was never influenced by anyone.

"My performance is not influenced by anybody. I want to be myself. I have several idols, though, such as Dave Weckl and Aaron Spears, and Rayendra Sunito from Parkdrive. My signature drumming style? Let people decide for themselves," he says, smiling.

Muhammad Ibnu Rafi

Place/Date of Birth: Jakarta, Dec. 3, 1996

Education: 6th grade, Yasporbi elementary school

Parents: Bambang Wasono Basoeki Rachmat and Indah Wasono

Sisters: Askarina Daniswari, Ardani Sesotyasari and Anatria Praptiasih

Album: Can't Stop the Beat (2007)

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