Interview with Riza Arshad (simakDialog)

Leader of the famous Indonesian jazz / fusion /prog-rock group simakDialog, keyboardist Riza Arshad gave this interview to the Russian site from Minsk, Belarus. Great thanks to Leonardo Pavkovic (MoonJune Records) for his assistance in arranging this interview.

1 Hello Riza! Your art and that of your colleagues has opened the music of Indonesia as a new dimension for jazz and prog-rock fans in post-Soviet countries. We donít know a lot about you, so as a start I would like to ask some personal questions. How did you come to that style of music?
That comes from my teenage years when I learned piano and music theory at various private courses. In addition, my mom and elder brother, Iwan 'Luke' Arshad (also a musician), had a big influence on my music direction.

2. Who were your personal favorites at the beginning of your professional career? Have you now changed your tastes?
I listened to bands like Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson and a few others, and I still listen to them. I also listened to jazz-rock music especially those who were in the beginning of jazz rock era like all those came from 'Miles Davis's school' - Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and some ECM label artists.

3. simakDialog was born 20 years ago. Please tell us something about the history of the group and about your partners.
My old musician friend, drummer Arie Ayunir and I formed sD in 1993. We included bass player Indro Hardjodikoro - who is Tohpati's close friend from when they were in the same band, 'Halmahera' (Indro is on two Tohpati's releases on MoonJune). Having watched one of Tohpati's impressive performances, I gave him a call the next day inviting him to join simakDialog. Tohpati and I are now the only original band members.

4. I see from the albums released by MoonJune Records, the personnel of simakDialog is fairly constant. We are talking about good partnership in this connection. Are you also good friends with your musicians outside the studio and gigs?
Since we are all have our own projects and gigs, we are not in constant communication outside the band. That's why we, especially the percussion section and I, have a weekly base meeting for rehearsal or just to discuss some 'new thing'. While Tohpati and I only occasionally communicate outside the band; it's during the writing and production stages that we have more intense communications.

5.Leonardo Pavkovic, the head of MoonJune Records, commented in the interview for our site about the first time he met you. It will be interesting to hear your version of this story.
I met Leonardo back in the year 2000 when I came as a sound engineer for a short US tour of an amazing Indonesian prog-jazz-rock band called 'Discus'. Despite my main job as a sound engineer, my plan was to introduce my music to any US agent and label. Leonardo helped Discus to play at the Knitting Factory, NY. I also visited his 'spacey' office in New York when he still run his graphic design and advertisement agency Studio T. He's a dedicated, hard working type of person who very often bravely takes chances. This is very important because there are not many people like this in the music industry nowadays

6. I have only listened to the simakDialog albums released by MoonJune. Can you tell us something about the three earlier albums?
The first two albums, Lukisan ('96) and Baur ('99), were based on the 'regular' jazz quartet format (piano/synth, electric bass, electric guitar and drums) and I think with an obvious ECM orientation type of music. After those two, in 2002 we released the third album, TranceMission, to mark a significant transition in our rhythm department. That was the beginning of our use of Sundanese 'kendang' as the main percussion backbone of our music.

7. What is the difference between Sundanese kendang and kendangs from other parts of Indonesia?
The Sunda region is the western part of Java, and its kendang is commonly used in traditional groups across the island. Although not really different to any kendang from other islands such as Bali and Sumatra, what makes this instrument stand out is the way it is played. In Sundanese tradition, the kendang has a big role in the ensemble. There are many variants of traditional rhythmic patterns across Indonesia, but what makes Sundanese different is the propulsive force, the drive you hear in simakDialog's music.

8. What is the influence of gamelan on your art as a composer?
Most of all, it's the way the music is created with its polyrhythms.

9. It seems to me, that in Patahan your keyboards and Tohpatiís guitar were the base of the groupís sound, but in Demi Masa and The 6th Story, your last two albums, only keyboards are on the foreground. Is that right?
It could be because of the recording process, which is mostly done live in the studio. Since Trance Mission, because of his busy schedule Tohpati has been the only guy in the band to do overdubs. Most of the time during the session we flow and every moment is created in real time, which makes us 'subconsciously shorten' his improv part. That's natural.
Patahan is a recording of a concert we gave in 2005 in Jakarta, so we could give Tohpati more space.

10. Why are there no vocal parts on your latest album, The 6th Story?
We treat the voice as an instrument. Unfortunately we didn't think it was necessary in any composition on the album.

11. Do you prefer studio work or concert tours?
Basically we love both - the two have different amazing stories. But playing in front of people is like having an intense personal conversation with them - that's beautiful!

12. How was your first USA tour in September 2013 and do you plan more international tours in the near future?
Definitely great! We'd love to do more and look forward to it. We are planning some tours, possibly to parts of Asia, to the USA, Mexico and to Brazil.

I wish you every success and for more interesting music from you and simakDialog! Thank you for the interview.
Likewise, thank you very much for the nice warm interview, and all the best to you as well.

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