With a hip-hop artist’s enthusiastic chatter in one ear and Jimi Hendrix screaming into the other, one could be forgiven in thinking that I had recently travelled to Los Angeles…in a DeLorean. However, I couldn’t be much further from a time-warped version of La La Land, being that I am in Jakarta, Indonesia, attending the 2017 Java Jazz festival.
OK, so the Hendrix song is a cover (the wonderfully appropriate Crosstown Traffic – we were bumper-to-bumper the whole way in) but the band on stage do the legendary icon justice, wailing and stomping through the up-tempo jam as the dancing crowd sway in the warm evening heat. The hip-hop element is more contemporary, the Indonesian rapper Iwa K and his charismatic entourage are hanging out by the food stalls, discussing the growth of local hip-hop in the area as well as how their sound will translate on the other side of the world. Rich Chigga, the 17-year-old star who has recently shot to fame with his track Dat Stick, is out of town, yet he, Iwa K and their peers are helping to raise Indonesian hip-hop to a global platform. Terrified that my minuscule knowledge of hip-hop would be outweighed only by ignorance of the Indonesian language, I hang back to let the cooler kids do the talking and take in the scene.
Located at the behemoth that is Jakarta International Expo, the entrance to the giant building boasts life-size cardboard cut-outs of some of the key artists playing at the festival. Indonesia is very much a ‘selfie culture’, so there are polite queues for visitors to pose with their heroes. The umbrellaed tables are occupied by a wide societal cross-section, the mix of ages, races and religions uniting to scarf down the equally eclectic mix of street food on offer from the multitude of stalls. Bintang, the national beer, flows amongst those choosing to imbibe; as Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, there is a large sober contingent, lending a calmer, more serene atmosphere to the festival than many of its British counterparts. One notable feature that I’ve never spotted at Glastonbury or Bestival is the young women in schoolgirl outfits selling e-cigarettes. Their absence from the booze-fests of my home country is almost certainly a good thing, not least for the girls themselves.
When checking out the line-up, I was surprised and overjoyed in equal measures to see Naughty By Nature on top of the bill; the New Jersey trio were one of my brother’s favourite groups when we were growing up and such tunes as Hip Hop Hooray and O.P.P. sound tracked my youth (on the nights when I wouldn’t drown them out by blasting Blink 182 and Green Day…my parents must have loved us). Still not confident enough to discuss rap music with the charming Iwa K (known locally as the godfather of Indonesian hip-hop) and his crew, I mosey on over to the other tents and check out the jazz stylings of the groups on the quieter stages.
The prestigious Hotel Borobudur is where the majority of the festival’s artists stay; I’m lucky enough to be staying there myself and before I went to the show I shared an elevator with a singer from the headlining group, Incognito. She asked me which band I’m in (possibly my coolest moment of 2017) and after I confessed that I’m actually a journalist, she exited with a smile. You win some, you lose some. Still, I try to seek her out onstage but get waylaid by a rabble-raising blues guitarist who is just shredding the eight-bar on a small stage; I watch him for a long while, happily mesmerised by the east-to-west-to-east fluidity of his dextrous hands, before heading back via a jazz-fusion tent to the hip-hop posse, where I am still no closer to being able to lend anything useful to the conversation, but happily buzzed from the mellifluity of my recent walkabout.
This diverse mix of musical styles is indicative of the progressive nature of the festival and indeed of Jakarta itself. Catering to a particularly wide variety of tastes, and with a welcoming attitude, Java Jazz should be on the list for any music fan, whether they are jazz aficionados or simply fans of interesting music. I’ll certainly be keen to return in 2018 and who knows, I may even be able to join in the hip-hop chat…that is providing that the organisers secure bookings for either Eminem or Tupac.
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.