The Matcha series at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has been host to a magical array of culture, talent, and music. This years series began in February 2011, and the Matcha on June 30, 2011 was one of the most memorable.
It featured a concert by Balinese jazz guitarist I Wayan Balawan simply known as “Balawan”.
When one thinks of the musical traditions of Indonesia and the islands of Bali and Java and particular, many images come to mind: large Gamelan orchestras of gongs, metalaphones, drums and bells. “Jegog” bamboo percussion ensembles, and hypnotic kechak flutes.
When thinking of Indonesia, a list of fine jazz guitarists does not immediately come to mind. That is all about to change however with the introduction of jazz sensation: Balawan!
Balawan grew up listening to traditional Balinese music, taught himself to play guitar at age 8 and joined his first band at 14. He was Influenced by rock and roll for a time and later went on to study jazz and develop his unique and innovative style of jazz fusion.
He plays a double neck Stephallen electric guitar using a rapid “finger tapping” technique. This technique enables Balawan to play two or even three different music progressions at the same time on one instrument.
Typically, Balawan uses all four fingers of his right hand to create the melody progressions and all four fingers of his left hand to create the bass and rhythmic sounds. In this style there is no pattern or repetition bet ween the left and right hands.
Balawan was in peak form on stage at the Asian Art Museum. He was joined by electric bass and a percussionist who alternated between Balinese xylophone, bamboo flute and a double-headed drum.
In addition to being a collaboration between east and west, it was also an amalgam of acoustic, electric, and high-tech on stage. Balawan really shined in the high-tech department.
In addition to his blue double-neck Stephallen, towards stage front he had a black headless single neck Stephallen. Both guitars were connected to Roland guitar synthesizers giving him the capability of going beyond stock “clean” and “distortion” sounds so commonly heard on electric guitar tracks. His setup gave him a vast tonal palate that he used very effectively as the concert progressed.
One such golden moment was in the second set where Balawan decided to do an impromptu on-the-spot arrangement to connect the music of Bali and the music of India together.
He switched to a sitar patch on the guitar synthesizer and played a beautiful raga , doing a great job of incorporating the characteristic bends of Indian music into his playing. The Gamelan played interlocking tones around him and the bass provided a low, powerful foundation.
One poignant percussion moment happened during the show that was an audience favorite. Balawan switched to a percussion patch and played a “percussion’ duet with his drummer.
The result took on mammoth proportions. It was a mind-blowing exchange of complex interlocking poly-rhythmic, multi-metric rhythms, a melange of jaw dropping percussive effects. That was completely exotic and completely accessible all at once.
In addition to being a great player Balawan is also a top-shelf vocalist often doing jazz scat singing while he played the guitar. Very versatile as well he played a wide range of material moving from fast paced pyrotechnics to mellow ballads and the haunting sounds of Bali.
Special kudos goes to the Asian Art Museum for showcasing Balawan and bringing his music to a wider audience. Hopefully we will see much more of Balawan in the future.
Balawan’s latest Recording is “See You Soon”, on the Universal Music Indonesia label, available in the Asian Art Museum bookstore.
If you would like to continue receiving Asian Music related articles including the latest news, upcoming events, and reviews, please click the subscribe link above. It is free and anonymous. Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing this story with others.
To share ideas or upcoming events send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.