If you run a Google search on CafÃ© Oto in London, you will see this description: 'Daytime cafÃ©, 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 CafÃ© Oto. With their primal and ritualistic music, a place like CafÃ© 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 'Heroin'), 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 'Bala' (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 'Demi 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.