Rully Shabara & Wukir Suryadi from Senyawa - A Force of Nature

Written By:

Eduard Alexandru

Published:

August 27, 2017

1. Transcontinental borders

My grandfather used to say that nothing comes for granted in life; in order to achieve a great goal, one must face and withstand different layers of suffering. There is a great sense of spiritual embodiment in the process of suffering, and even if they say that ‘suffering is optional and pain is inevitable’, the two human states go together harmoniously and blend in a symbiosis that reflects a singular, unified feeling. Since there is no suffering without pain and there is no pain without suffering, it doesn’t really matter if your heart hurts physically or ‘spiritually’. Even if they are ridiculously distinctive, these two feelings can’t function one without the other; and the consequence is simply the congruence between them.

There is pain in Senyawa’s music. And there is suffering too. It’s been one month since the Indonesian metal hardcore prodigies Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi played a blistering concert in Control club from Bucharest. A lot of crazy things happened around that period of time, some of them even becoming unexplainable. From last-moment Schengen visa issues to absurdly timed 24h airport strikes, the experience (and the challenge) of handling all kinds of twisted situations in order to have Rully and Wukir in Bucharest, felt as much emotionally charged as their own music. Like thunders.

One day before the concert we spent some good hours in our local nest for a heavy session of intercultural exchanges with Senyawa; a thoughtful experience. We watched all kinds of different recordings of trance rituals from Indonesia, played Romanian psych rock and jazz from the ‘70s and ‘80s, figured out on the map projected on the big white wall that Indonesia is the largest island country in the world by the number of islands, with more than 14.000 islands and 34 provinces. There are many things that differ a lot from Europeans to Indonesians, on so many different sheets: politics, religion, culture, day-by-day life. But in the same time we are very alike, not only because we speak the same language, which is music, but also simply because the world is round and all humans used to be kindred spirits.

The overall excitement and the booze, which played its part too, made our conversations blurry. We frantically skipped from a subject to another, played gipsy music and Romanian manele, altogether with metal and Indonesian punk, but in this little sweet chaos I could feel that we involuntarily keep relating, once in a while, to our geographic conditions and try to draw invisible transcontinental borders.

How much do we need to lose out knowledge, to forget our books, to disconnect our technologies to dive again in the incomprehensible? What are the limits of perceptions?

2. Childhood in Indonesia

Senyawa live
Senyawa live

Rully lays in the red couch and rolls himself a cigarette. His eyes are big and they pervade deeply. You can’t lie to him. His big eyes accompany a sincere smile. He is 30 something, but he looks prepared for everything. His voice is warm, it brings comfort. It feels like listening to a good radio theatre play, written by a good writer and played by a good actor. When he talks, he looks right into your eyes and he smiles.

’’In general, most of European countries are way cleaner and less chaotic than Indonesia (except maybe Napoli, they are awesomely chaotic). Japanese are the most polite people we have ever met. We drink more wine in Austria than most. We drink more beers in Australia than most. We met some of the best musicians in Denmark. I saw some of the best looking people in Bucharest, the best-dressed people in Milan, the coolest party culture in Berlin and Beirut, and the strongest weed in Amsterdam. Indonesia has the best mix of tradition, religion, and politics than any of those countries. :)’’

Wukir is more silent. His long hair falls on his shoulders and, as he lays calm on a black beanbag, with a comfortable smile on his face, I watch him and try to imagine him as a child, in his home village. He doesn’t talk that much; he rolls himself a cigarette and licks the paper to seal it.

‘’When I was in elementary school, I sold newspapers. I was living in an art community, hunting eels, fishing, flying kites. Growing up in Indonesia, we were taught to live among problems and reality of life. I was born in Malang, East Java. That area is well known for its spicy foods; people there work all day to make a living. I have 9 siblings, they are not artists. And my parents are working on their own business.’’

The teenager Wukir used to listen to music of Kuda lumping (a traditional (trance) dance from East Java), and also to music of Deep Purple, Bon Jovi or Kiss. Also as a kid, since sixth grade to junior high, he often did busking from door to door. He started working as music illustrator for theatre, poetry and short stories since he was very young; always experimenting, from seeking the source of sounds to create that source of sounds. ‘’I started making music illustration for theatre purpose, providing sounds that the director needed for his theatre show. In the process I never used any computer, I prefer to search or create the source of sounds by experimenting with materials as musical instrument.’’

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3. Instruments and books

Senyawa live
Senyawa live

Wukir is perhaps most known in the international experimental music scene for his self built musical instrument, made out of bamboo. He left his nails grow long, so that he could play more accurately and more powerfully. I remember, at the sound check of the concert in Bucharest, the reaction of the bouncer from the club, when seeing Wukir play his instrument: ‘the fuck is this thing he's playin' at, man?!’

‘’Bambuwukir is the name of my instrument, which is a modified version of traditional instruments. Indonesia has a lot of bamboos; they grow mostly by the rivers. For Bambuwukir I used black bamboo. Before making it of course I imagined what sounds it might end up with. Right now the sound is pretty strong and has its own characteristics, very unique.’’

Although I’m not sure if you can call this instrument the mother of all bizarre instruments, it definitely feels like an entire orchestra when you hear it in action. These sounds probably come from different worlds. Some of these sounds are painfully accurate; others are rich in substance and evoke powerful dark feelings. Sounds are pieces of human beings; they shamelessly walk through the bodies, through their clothes and through their ears.

Rully grew up moving from one city to another; mostly in Central Sulawesi. ’’I also spent a couple of years in Jakarta, as a child. I have been living by myself in Jogja since the age of 14.’’ Sulawesi is very different from Java. ’’They speak totally different language, they’re mostly fishermen. The place is almost surrounded by sea, and located right on the Equator, so it’s very hot and harsh.’’ While sipping from a can of Romanian beer, he remembers how at some point, as a child, he was chased and attacked by a crazy cow, in his village, while he was carrying two buckets of water from the village well.

''I have a step brother whom I really love. He is also a full time musician, a hired guitar player for nightclubs and he also plays in his own metal band in Jakarta. My mother is a schoolteacher. My father? He is Batman, since nobody knows who he is’’, says Rully.

As a child, Rully listened to a lot of Queen, because his family loves them. Of course, you cannot escape traditional music, because it was everywhere. ‘’But my house was very western minded in terms of music. I fell in love with Iron Maiden because of my uncle. My biggest admiration for vocal goes to Enrico Caruso and Diamanda Galas. One of the highlights of my childhood experience was probably when I was a kid watching a dangdut show in a public square and the lady singer did a very erotic dance and semi striptease act.’’

Before starting playing music and focusing on vocals, Rully used to write literature. ’’Everything I read would have to be related to what I was about to write. Now I read much less because I only write lyrics for music, mostly. This totally changed my mindset. So far I wrote two collections of short stories. Maybe I will get them republished someday. I always decide on a theme before starting to write a series of stories, so you`ll have many stories told under one big theme. Same goes with my lyrics. Always deciding the theme first.’’ Some of his favorites writers are Edgar Allen Poe, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk, Philip K Dick.

4. Senyawa

Senyawa live
Senyawa live

The band Senyawa exists since 2011. The pair were introduced to one another spontaneously by Wok the Rock from Yes No Wave Music, an Indonesian internet label. Rully and Wukir met literally live on stage at the Yes No Klub in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, before even knowing each other; Senyawa was formed before they had even shake hands. And four days later, they recorded their first album together, available for free on Yes No Wave.

They are both involved in other projects too. In 2004, Rully started a band called Zoo. It was influenced mostly by experimental music from Japan (artists such as Tatsuya Yoshida), but also by Western experimental music, such as John Zorn. Another project of his is Kendang Sari, a collaboration with drummers using traditional instruments of the Sunda region, focused on traditional ethnic music and reinterpreted in Rully’s own vision. These days, they are working on some live scoring for a contemporary dance company from France that will be performed in few cities in Indonesia.

Senyawa means ‘’chemical compound’’, an intense combination of two different elements. Wukir stands for ‘’nature’’, playing different bamboo instruments made by himself, and Rully’s vocals stand for ‘’humans’’, as a complement to nature. When playing live, Senyawa is mainly about the energy. ’'Limited interaction of energy with the audience, we want it to go as deep and as far as it can go towards every soul in the audience’’, says Wukir. For Rully, the live performance is all about the experience: '’A real energy from and towards the audience, so that the music doesn’t matter anymore’’.

Rully often describes Senyawa’s music as metal music, reinterpreted in their own way. In terms of metal references, both of them mention the band Sepultura as being representative for their sound. Other notable metal bands are Dilinger Escape Plan, System of a Down, Slayer and, of course, Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden for singing.

As far as they’re concern, Senyawa doesn’t fit in any hardcore/metal music scene in Indonesia, as much as they want it to, says Rully. ‘’The scene is huge; most of kids maybe even started from either metal/hardcore scene, if not a punk scene, before moving on doing other things. I think the experimental music scene especially in the Western world have been searching and exploring many new refreshing possibilities. The Japanese successfully came out with their formula in the 90s and were very influential. Now the scene in general is moving towards electronic music. So to have Senyawa from South East Asia suddenly pops up not only carrying all those `knowledge` from what the Japanese and other western predecessors were doing before, but also raw energy of punk, metal, and thick primitive Asian spirit I think would be something that fits right in.’’

5. Trance rituals

It was through Vincent Moon and his big collection of movies that I started to discover a little bit more of different trance rituals from Indonesia. The way he puts it, ’’the concept of trance, as we envision it, is to be taken in the broad sense: poetic trance, possession trance, altered states of consciousness, visions, hypnosis, mediumship, ecstasy, dreams… The race for global new body experiences, mostly through external substances, is making us rethink the entire spirituality encountered in so-called primitive cultures. (…) How much do we need to lose out knowledge, to forget our books, to disconnect our technologies to dive again in the incomprehensible? What are the limits of perceptions?’’

Kuda Lumping is a traditional Javanese dance depicting a group of horsemen. Dancers ride horses made from woven bamboo and decorated with colorful paints and cloth. Generally, the dance portrays troops riding horses, but another type of Kuda Lumping performance also incorporates trances and magic tricks. When the "possessed" dancer is performing the dance in trance conditions, he can display unusual abilities, such as eating glass and resistance to the effects of whipping or hot coals. Although the dance is native to Java, Indonesia, it also performed by Javanese communities in Suriname, Malaysia and Singapore.

‘’Indonesia has a long history of trance rituals of different kinds. They mostly involve music. Now, most of these activities have become more of a public spectacle and interesting entertainment. Last year, Senyawa and Volcanic Winds was involved in a project that brought a troupe of Kuda Lumping to a festival in Melbourne, where they performed a long set of dance and music leading up to chaotic trance. Wukir and I researched East and Central Java to find the right group for this. We wanted to find the real thing, the one that can perform real trance. One way to test it was by letting them get me into trance. The last group from East Java did it’’, says Rully.

Later on, during the concert at Control, we could see why everybody calls Senyawa one of the most intense acts in the world. Because they are, indeed, a force of nature; a chemical mixture of two totally different elements, which form together an unique, powerful and mesmerizing whole.

--

Photo credits Senyawa live @ Control Club: Andrei Mușat



About the Author

Eduard Alexandru

Eduard is one of The Attic's editors and music reviewers, as well as part of the team organizing the Outernational Days festival.

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