Dewa Budjana

I guess there’s always time and good mood in order to get to know a new artist and listen to some, out of the ordinary, nice music. I happened upon the guitarist, composer & producer Dewa Budjana, who is from Indonesia, a little time ago and I thought that it would be a good idea to present him in the Western world so as to hear a different voice and his viewpoint about music. Dewa talked to Grande Rock about his future plans, his cooperation with some renowned musicians and his “cosmopolitan music” as he likes to call it…
Dewa Budjana pic

Greetings Dewa. It’s a pleasure talking to you as it gives a chance for European and US music fans to get to know you better. I must also say that I think your latest album “Joged Kahyangan” is a great piece of art!
 
D: It’s my pleasure as well.
 
 
I know that you’re a renowned musician in your country mostly due to your pop-rock act GIGI, but your musical quest cannot be covered with only one kind of music, can it?
 
D: I grew up listening to many musical styles... rock, pop, jazz, fusion, prog, indigenous ethnic music from Indonesia... so I do not divide music into genres but in what’s closer to my musical sensibility, and that’s very diversified.
 
 
So what music style do you prefer to play and where do you find the most freedom?
 
D: I equally enjoy performing and recording with my pop-rock band GIGI and performing and recording my progressive jazz projects: it’s all my music because I play my own original tunes. The definition of freedom is possibly more expressed in my progressive jazz side, but I do enjoy great artistic freedom when I perform pop-rock as well.
 
 
I think it’s great that MoonJune Records has given music devotees the chance to hear your music. What do you bring to their table?
 
D: I am trying to blend the ethnic heritage roots of my native Bali and my country Indonesia, which is a unique mix of many different cultural and ethnic influences. When performing jazz, now in collaboration with MoonJune Records, I try to blend my music with that from the West and that of the various jazz and fusion masters who I’ve recorded with lately, such as Larry Goldings, Peter Erskine, Dave Carpenter, Bob Mintzer, Jimmy Johnson and Vinnie Colaiuta. Then there are those I’ll record with in the future, such as Antonio Sanchez, Beledo and hopefully some of my heroes such as Ralph Towner, Jan Garbarek, Lyle Mays and many more.
 
 
I’ve noticed that the ethnic features are fewer in your latest work and that you’ve focused more on the Western style. Is that to make your music more appealing to US & European fans?
 
D: For me it is important to introduce my music to the world outside of Indonesia via MoonJune records and Leonardo Pavkovic, MoonJune’s boss. He has an immense knowledge of music and knows people in all corners of the world. We are also very close friends, and we have so much in common when it comes to music, especially our love for ECM, jazz, fusion, progressive rock and much more.
 
It’s true that my last two projects, “Joged Kahyangan” and the upcoming one, “Surya Namashkar”, have less ethnic influence from Bali or Indonesia than my previous works. However, if I introduce music rooted in my ethnic heritage or if I play my music using just the western music vocabulary, it really doesn’t matter. And what happens in the future doesn’t matter either because music, whatever it is, will happen organically, with or without ethnic influences.
 
Of course, it’s also important that people around the world get more familiar with the music of my country and I often use instruments such as kendang for percussion orsuling which is a bamboo flute.
 
I am pleased that my last two albums on MoonJune are getting so many reviews around the world because I know it’s difficult for someone like me living in Indonesia and not in one of the world’s music capitals, such as NYC, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin or Amsterdam. But I understand too that it’s a process and with Leonardo we are looking at the bigger picture. We have a long term vision, and are not in a hurry; I am very confident that things will take care of themselves.

 
 
Although Dawai in Paradise first came out in Indonesia in 2011, it was released on MoonJune in March, and “Joged Kahyangan” just six months later! Why was that? Don’t you think that it would have been better to allow some time between releases so that the fans get into your music?
 
D: For Leonardo, “Dawai in Paradise” was released to test the market and to introduce my name among his contacts, in specialized media and among fans. The MoonJune version has two bonus tracks, and we collected an impressive amount of reviews in over 25 countries worldwide, a lot of airplay including the BBC, VPRO national Dutch Radio, and major German stations such as Radio Berlin and Radio Bremen. It was a good introduction, so I’m happy.
 
I have so much music to play and record and because it is important to get the music out, we are scheduling two albums a year. I would like to record and play more and more with American and European musicians. Music of this kind may not sell, but it really doesn’t matter. What does is offering great music to new, and old, fans. As I’ve said, things will happen in an organic natural way.

 
 
You’re working on a new album now to be released in the Spring of 2014. It’s like a “music orgasm”, isn’t it?
 
D: Yes, that’s true. For me artistic creativity is most important, particularly when I feel inspired to create and record new music. There will also be another album released in the Fall 2014.
 
 
Please tell us about the new album and recording it in Los Angeles.
 
D: I recorded the first session of the new album, to be called “Surya Namashkar (The Tree of Life)” in January this year at the A&M (Henson) studio with a dream rhythm session (section?) team: Vinnie Colauita & Jimmy Johnson. It was recorded by a very well-known engineer, Robert Feist, who recorded classic albums of my guitar hero, the legendary Allan Holdsworth (“Road Games”, “I.O.U.”, “Metal Fatigue”, “Attavachron”, “Sand”, “Secrets”), who is managed by Leonardo.
 
We recorded 5 tunes, and then I went back in October to another studio in Los Angeles and we cut another 3 tunes, with Gary Husband contributing keyboards on one tune and Mike Landau contributing additional guitar on another. Everything was recorded live in the studio, and virtually all were first takes, although in some cases we did another take, just in case. With musicians of such caliber as Vinnie and Jimmy Johnson, you cannot go wrong: whatever they play is simply amazing.
 
The album was self-produced and there was good chemistry between us in the studio, and both times Leonardo came from NYC specifically to give me support. He is also a dear friend of Jimmy Johnson who he’s worked with for many years when booking Allan Holdsworth worldwide. Robert Feist gave me a lot of support, and the music between the three of us just flowed organically and magically. I’d sent both musicians the charts in advance but we are talking about some of the greatest musicians you can wish for, and they’re also amazing and cool people.

 
 
OK, back to “Joged Kahyangan” again. Is it true that you recorded it in a single day without any rehearsals? How was that for a musician like you? Have you done it before?
 
D: Yes, “Joged Kahyangan” was recorded in a single day at Firehouse studio in Pasadena, Los Angeles. This was the first time I’d recorded live in studio and with this combination of instruments; besides bass guitar and drums, we had saxophones and clarinets and keyboards, piano and Hammond organ. All the musicians had charts in advance, and we didn’t rehearse. We did first takes, which was a sort of rehearsal, and then did another take, but some tunes on the album are first takes. Again, we are talking about world class musicians, and again, the chemistry in studio was great and I had recorded previously with Peter Erskine. (i.n.: What more can I say?!)
 
 
So how was it to work with such celebrated musicians as Larry Goldings, Bob Mintzer, Jimmy Johnson & Peter Erskine? I’m sure that not only did they make your life easier but it must have been a pleasure to jam with them at long last.
 
D: Yes, it was a very different and new vibe for me to play with such legendary musicians. We didn’t jam at all, we just played my written compositions live, and I guess they loved what they played and really enjoyed the session.
 
Dewa Budjana & the crew pic

Why did you feature a vocal track on the album, and why did you choose Janis Siegel to be the singer? I believe that Janis’s voice was perfect for the song. By the way it is a very beautiful song!
 
D: Thanks. I’ve known Janis since 1994 when she came to Jakarta and performed at the Jamz Club, and I was in her band. We met again a few years ago at the JavaJazz festival, also in Jakarta, and she remembered me and was happy to accept my invite earlier this year to sing on my album, but I didn’t have any idea that it would end up the way it did. I sent her my tune via e-mail, she liked it and offered to get some lyrics. She arranged a lyricist specially for the tune and then she sang it beautifully.
 
 
Are you going to have vocal tracks on your future releases?
 
D: I’m not sure but you never know. I like the Indian singer Shankar Mahadevan a lot, and if he agrees to sing on an album of mine, I will do it without any hesitation.
 
 
You also did an excellent job self-producing the album. Is that something that you prefer to do so as to have the total control of your music?
 
D: Yes I produced the album, but actually it all happened spontaneously because when you have top musicians who are great people, and there is a good vibe and magic chemistry then things are easy because there are no ego trips. I produce all my music, for my pop-rock band GIGI as well. Although I feel comfortable with it, I would love to explore the possibilities of someone else producing my music.
 
 
Please tell us something about each track.
 
D: “Cloud of Foggy”: I wrote this song during my trip to Mount Bromo, where you can immerse yourself in clouds and feel their magic on you.
 
“Joged Kahyangan”: This is about a dance in Paradise, and my native place Bali is the paradise itself.
 
“Dang Hyang Story”: This is the story about the introduction of Hinduism in Bali.
 
“As You Leave My Nest” (feat. Janis Siegel): Magic happens when you give freedom to an amazing singer to create words and to sing beautifully.
 
“Majik Blue”: This is my dedication to my favorite guitar, my blue Parker, I have over 100 guitars.
 
“Erskoman”: I wrote this song for Peter Erskine, a dear friend, who first recorded with me in 2002 on my album “Samsara”.
 
Guru Mandala”: This is about good companionship and fellowship.
 
“Borra’s Ballad”: This is a ballad for my lovely wife Borra.
 
 
How would you define your music style? Do you follow any kind of principles or is it about the timing and the inspiration you have at the certain moment?
 
D: It’s all about inspiration and of course about moods, and I am always in a good mood to be inspired.
 
 
Now that you have found your way in the US & Europe can you say that it’s another challenging period for you? Did you always have in mind to make an opening to Western world?
 
D: Thanks to Leonardo, I’ve got exposure in the USA and all around Europe, and also in Latin America, especially in Brazil, as well as in Japan. My music is not ethnic nor is it confined to one place; it’s cosmopolitan, open minded and it belongs to the world. I’m very happy to travel in the rest of the world outside Indonesia and record and perform with great musicians from all over the planet. And in Leonardo I’ve found a perfect ally since he is like me, a citizen of the world.
 
 
What are your current plans? Will there be any live shows?

D: I will be busy with my rock band GIGI, celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2014 and recording a milestone album in the famous Abbey Road studios in London later this year. Once I’ve paid my dues to GIGI, Leonardo and I will find a way to record more, and play more internationally. As I said, we have a big picture plan, we are not rushing, we are patient and we’ll make it happen sooner or later. We are totally relaxed and there is no pressure whatsoever.

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