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Jakarta Post

AlbumReviews: '€˜Menjadi'€™ by Senyawa

  • Stanley Widianto

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Fri, September 11, 2015   /  04:13 pm
AlbumReviews: '€˜Menjadi'€™ by Senyawa

If you run a Google search on Café Oto in London, you will see this description: '€œDaytime café, night-time performances, with live avant-garde music from free jazz to psych rock'€.

Around this time, Senyawa '€” a Yogyakarta-based duo consisting of Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi '€”are preparing for a show at Café Oto. With their primal and ritualistic music, a place like Café Oto would make a great host for Senyawa.

These guys make experimental music whose reference points go beyond years or even places. Sure, the template (or lack thereof) of Senyawa'€™s music is textbook traditional music; complete with a bamboo-based instrument called the bambuwukir invented by Suryadi. It screeches like an electric violin (heard during the most menacing moment of The Velvet Underground'€™s '€œHeroin'€), but it can also sound tender and rootsy.

Experimental music in the hands of these guys comes without a promise of fame. That is subjective, as Senyawa has played shows in cities like Copenhagen and Melbourne. Moreover, Shabara himself has said in an interview that he'€™s not surprised that it'€™s easier for him to find audiences overseas. It'€™s understandable when you hear Menjadi (To Become), their second studio-LP released by Morphine Records in March.

To understand the full extent of Senyawa'€™s astonishing music, look no further than their YouTube videos. Their performances are guttural and menacing, twitching their bodies in all directions possible and sometimes going off-key for the most obvious reason ever: they feel like doing that. You won'€™t hear a lot of this with the removal of their stage acts from this record, but the music still sounds challenging all the same.

It'€™s not easy music for sure, like the opening track '€œBala'€ (Garbage), where black metal tendencies courtesy of Suryadi'€™s bambuwukir meets Shabara'€™s unintelligible chantings. One minute Shabara whispers in your ears, and the next he screams in them. Menjadi makes for uneasy listening experience, but it doesn'€™t alienate.

One reason why Menjadi doesn'€™t scare off listeners is because of Senyawa'€™s ear for sonic diversity. As previously said, there are no direct reference points of Senyawa'€™s music (or other Rully Shabara-associated bands like Zoo, Seroja, Wirok). That'€™s why when you play the manically-percussive Gaib (Magic) and Hadirlah Suci (Come, Holiness), you won'€™t say they remind you of anyone else other than them.

Menjadi is some heavy music. It'€™s not concerned with brevity, but the seven minutes Senyawa takes to make a point, it does so in a wildly engaging manner. Particularly Shabara'€™s vocals. He'€™s not exactly singing, as Shabara elastically uses his voice as an instrument from throat-chanting, muffled screams, theatrical whispers and countless other stuff. It'€™s hard to single out a song that exemplifies this, as each song from Menjadi features the many distinct voices of Rully Shabara.

It'€™s not until the last track '€œDemi Tuhan Yang Maha Suci'€ (For the Love of God Almighty) that Senyawa'€™s tireless music becomes a wonder of its own. Although sharing no clear similarities sonically, Senyawa reminds me a lot of Swans, the American no-wave household band fronted by rock god Michael Gira.

In both theory and practice, Senyawa'€™s music explores all the possibilities of sound without the sticky self-indulgence. Menjadi certifies Senyawa as one of the most exciting acts to ever come out from under the covers in Indonesia. And for the love of God Almighty, I can'€™t wait for more.


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