The Jakarta Post
In its 15th year, the Jakarta International BNI Java Jazz Festival (JJF) returned with a diverse lineup that seemed to encompass almost the entire spectrum of music.
Jazz heavyweight frequent JJF performers such as Bob James, Yance Manusama and Tohpati shared stages with American soul trio Moonchild, British electronic pop singer Sinead Harnett, or the "TrapHouseJazz" musician Masego. Naysayers may object that the festival has abandoned its namesake genre -- a longstanding criticism -- but variety seemed to work well to attract a diverse audience, ranging from children to the elderly.
Held at Jakarta International Expo Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, the annual event saw tens of thousands of visitors daily from March 1 to 3. As one of the largest jazz festivals in the world, JJF offered 11 stages with 100 artists performing.
Eighties rock band Toto headlined the festival, along with co-headliners Indian-American singer-songwriter Raveena and American Gabriella “Gabi” Wilson, also known as H.E.R.; considered to be two of the most promising acts in R&B.
Bright newcomer Ardhito Pramono was among the festival’s first performers, easily charming the audience with his big voice and catchy, jazzy songs. Pop rock singer-songwriter Kunto Aji also drew a large audience with a heartfelt performance of songs from his critically acclaimed Mantra Mantra album released last year.
Performing hits from American composer George and Ira Gershwin, Lea Simanjuntak teamed up with Addie MS and the Twilite Orchestra and renowned musician Bob James. The Gershwin songs were the right vessel to deliver the many sides of Lea’s singing ability, from ferocious to coy to delicate.
Later in the evening, H.E.R. put on a captivating performance with her soulful voice, at times bringing Lauryn Hill to mind. Recently winning two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance, the singer’s most popular song in the country was instantly recognized, as with the first notes of “Best Part”, thousands of smartphones flew up in the air to record the moment.
On the second night, Raveena performed amidst sunflower petals strewn across the floor and wrapped around her microphone stand. Her airy, creamy voice blended nicely with her distinct, subtle R&B music.
Over the years, JJF has regularly presented special collaborations, tributes and projects. Among the notable ones this year were a tribute to Indonesian musician Dian PP who passed away last year; a BNI Project that featured Ron King Horn Section with Andien, Aqi Singgih, Radhini, Rendy Pandugo and Teddy Adhitya, singing songs by past JJF performers such as Jamie Cullum and James Brown; as well as guitarist Dewa Budjana featuring Indian bass player Mohini Dey and multitalented artist Soimah.
As one of the largest jazz festivals in the world, JJF made a significant effort to keep its visitors entertained and contented. It was impossible to walk through the venue without music seeping into your ears. Food trucks and booths were abundant, selfie spots were ample, while activities that included karaoke as well as a silent disco in a rattan installation were popular with the visitors.
Collaborating with the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the festival also campaigned for waste reduction with the slogan “Less Waste More Jazz”. A number of garbage bins required visitors to sort their waste, and though the campaign included giving out products to visitors such as stainless-steel straws and reusable shopping bags, plastic bags were still used as food carriers.
On the festival’s final day, American singer Gretchen Parlato was magical with her signature half-beat clapping while scatting softly, producing a soothing, irregular rhythmic concept.
The much-awaited performance of Toto, sadly, was closed to members of the press. According to the organizer’s press release, 16 songs were performed during the set. Apparently, hysteria ensued during “Georgy Porgy” and “Africa”, during which the audience sang along to every word and clapped their hands wholeheartedly.
Prior to Toto performing, heavy rain fell twice on the venue, quite fitting considering the lyrics of "Africa": "I bless the rains down in Africa". At JJF that night, the blessed rain marked the final day of an all-round entertaining festival, constantly determined in bringing big-league names as well as contemporary ones.
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