Indonesian harmonica player Gilang Pandeka talks about his meeting with the blues and the love of fate

"Dangdut was Indonesian Blues. It talks about daily life, about dreams, hopes, nightmares and fears."

Gilang Pandeka: Amor Fati Blues

Gilang Pandeka is a harmonica player from Jakarta, Indonesia. He never had any interest in playing music before met The Blues. Even though his family playing music in their spare time as a hobby. But on 19th November 2009, Blues came after him. Gilang went to some independent movie festival, in Jakarta, where the video maker created a video clip for some unknown or non-mainstream musician. There's one song, that gave chill on his spine, it's called "Blues Iblis" (The Devil Blues) played by Adrian Adioetomo with guitar. The lyrics, the rhythm, the sound of guitar and Adrian voices keep running on his head.

He told it to his friend, Naquib. And answer him that Adrian was influenced by Mississippi Delta Style Blues and then he lends Adrian CD's along with Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson mixtape. His journey in Blues just began. He tried to play guitar, but never progress, then tried to play bass and came up with the same result. After hearing Sonny Boy Williamson number, "I'm A Lonely Man", and a lot of another harp player, like Little Walter, Big Walter and James Cotton, and asked himself "Gee, why don't you just playin some harp instead?" then bought a harp. He progress near nothing, playing it so lousy, then met this man, Aduy at Breaktime, a Blues Community in Jakarta in 2011, he willing fully and patiently teach him how to play harp and the blues, he himself a blues guitarist and harp player. Breaktime changed his musical abilities, senses, attitude, knowledge and experiences. Breaktime always had free jam session, where some "green" musician can taste how to play the blues in front of people and the atmosphere so friendly. There's no seniority and they ain't no heckler or swagger that make you feel like a low down dog. Gilang Pandeka says: “There are a lot of people who willingly teach or share their musical ability, off course in playin Blues. Became a part of Breaktime feels like riding along a train, a blues bound train. But it's not all about musical ability, sometimes they were talking about Blues as sociological studies, sometimes reviewing blues within context of relation between man, culture and mode of production, heavy stuffs ain't it? But mostly, we shared some simple things, simple chats, with a lot of laughs and smiles.” He began his first gig at 2012, playing along with Devara and Friends. Up until this day, he was just an underdog in terms of skills, popularity and experience in Indonesia scene. He’s not a full time musician and not quite often played in major gigs or on major festival. Now Gilang playing with The Smokin Duo and Fried Chicken Boys, hopefully in next year to release their first album.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

There’s something you can’t fix and beyond your control, so just sing it. To me blues mean "amor fati" (a Latin phrase loosely translating to "love of fate" or "love of one's fate"), teach me to love both bright sides as well as my dark sides of my life.

How do you describe Gilang Pandeka sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

If music was a conversation, then my Blues like a grumbler with some groan and moan here and there. But I’m not a fast talker and a sweet skillful one. Tried to be rough and tough, thick as mud but never fully kick your ass.

"I am not a retro mania, actually. If there’s something I admire from music of the past, especially back to single track, 78 rpm recording forced the artist to do it short and take it live."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

When I came to this Blues Community in Jakarta and within its circle, called Breaktime.

Hari Pochang, a very talented blues harp player from Bandung, gave me a good advice. “Talk when you want to talk, blow when you want to blow, in the end you’ll find your own way, to play as yourself”.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams and festivals which you’d like to share with us?

Back in 2012, Breaktime got an invitation to perform at community stage in Just Jazz Festival, Surabaya. So, four of us, decided to go. We arrived late at train station, the train on its way to go. We don’t catch it. We buy ticket to Semarang, hope to catch another train to Surabaya, early in the morning. When the train to Surabaya arrived in Semarang, we hop up to mail and restaurant carriage, without buying the ticket.

The conductor catch us, while we were asleep. We know we could be kicked out of train and miss the whole festival. Luckily Devara my friend a guitarist and a lawyer settled it down. Arrive at Just Jazz, at the “Meet, Greet and Jam” session, we talked about it in front of audience and another musician. A Jazz keyboardist, Riza Arshad shouted “That’s so Blues, you guys really dig the Blues”.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I am not a retro mania, actually. If there’s something I admire from music of the past, especially back to single track, 78 rpm recording forced the artist to do it short and take it live.  It’s so amazing that in 2 to 3 minutes range of records, we could find some chill run down through the spine.

I don’t have any fear and any hope for the future I guess, without taking part in it. Just keep trucking my blues away, I guess.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I want to encourage people to play their own music, to tell their own story, to get mutual feelings and feedback from another people. More jamming for everybody, according to each need and each ability. An end of exploitation from music industries over mankind.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Indonesia?

To be honest, I never analyzed it. What if people just fall in love with the blues, just like a silly school kid fall in love for the first time?  

Make an account of the case of the blues in Indonesia. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

I started to love and take blues as part of my life just about my past 5 years, started from 2009. So I don’t have a memory beside the last 5 years. In last 5 years, a lot of local blues scene, blues festival as well as local blues communities and blues player were emerge, just like flowers in the time of spring. We got some serious “purist” type of blues enthusiast here.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues Rock from United States and UK to Indonesia?

The first connection I guess came around 1950’s, with Rock n Roll and Jazz stuffs, but especially from Indo Rock style like The Tielman Brothers, then the influence of Woodstock era and British Invasion through 1960’s-1970’s.

"There’s something you can’t fix and beyond your control, so just sing it. To me blues mean 'amor fati', teach me to love both bright sides as well as my dark sides of my life."

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Sadly, I laugh too often, I don’t ever remember why I laugh. But let me tell you about something that touched me lately. It is when Emmand Saleh, a Blues and Jazz player came and play at Breaktime. He inspired me, he proved that you still can kick everybody ass even though when you getting old, without boasting about your experiences, just play the Blues then a good ear and soul will tell the story itself.  Just like an old, fine and beautiful wine, yet left us a peaceful hangover. If you talk a chit-chat with him, he much more was being an old friend, a wise one than senior, legendary ones.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and forms?

Dangdut was Indonesian Blues. It talks about daily life, about dreams, hopes, nightmares and fears. It mirrors the deepest feelings in simplest ways, yet people feel that dangdut was a shame, a troubled kid that shouldn’t be seen from people’s view.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I think I go down to the time when the human life on earth ended. A nuclear war or a meteor crash will be fun. Then I sat and watch everything burn and destroyed, all along with my blues harp and a bottle of whisky, and I’m gonna hollering and groaning my blues away.


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