Interview: Joel Ma – OzAsia Festival

Joel Ma brings Saudara Sound System to this years OzAsia Festival.

There is something calming about the sound of a traditional Balinese Gamelan percussion orchestra, soothing and hypnotic. At this year’s OzAsia Festival Saudara Sound Systemwill combine Gamelan and traditional Balinese dance with hip hop, electronic beats and soulful vocals.

Saudara Sound System’s musical director, vocalist and musician Joel Ma spoke with Glam Adelaide about this unique special event. Ma comes from a wonderfully rich background in music and performing, and he shared with us what led him to pursue a career in the music industry.

“I come from parents who were very creative and I was brought up listening to jazz and blues. I was born in Malaysia and arrived in Australia when I was two. Both of my parents really embraced creativity in a fun way. When I hear about other people’s experience who are in the arts, whose parents might have encouraged them to get a real job or have some sort of safety net, my parents were always really supportive and told me to live the life I want. Be happy and investigate — so that led to a life in the arts.”

Saudara Sound System promises to be a wonderful experience for audiences. We asked Ma what drew him to be involved with this production.

“One of Australia’s closest neighbours is Indonesia. For me, to begin to understand my identity after growing up there, I had to learn to listen to the music around me, not just Western music, but music from the region in which I grew up in. I am absolutely fascinated by Gamelan. I find the sort of atonal and non fixed tempo and nonlinear structure really beautiful and somewhat similar to ambient music and to experimental jazz — music I love and relate to. I was very fortunate to be asked to be the artist in residence for a local Gamelan orchestra in Melbourne, and that really opened up the scope to learn about some of the theory and the traditional pieces that you would hear if you were travelling through Indonesia. I also come from a background in hip-hop, electronic music, sequences, programming and drum machines. It felt natural for me to find a conversation between that music and Gamelan.”

Saudara Sound System will feature powerful vocals from fast-rising superstar, Komang (Rosie Clynes), her signature soaring vocals and vibrant R&B electronic style dubbed neo-soul with Balinese spirit, and special guest Ria Soemardjo, recognised for her distinct and ethereal vocal sound. Renowned visiting Balinese artist, Yande King adds virtuosic musical stylings while dancer PutuAyu Lestari expresses Balinese stories through gesture. All is underscored by the mesmerising rhythms of Gamelan DanAnda and pulled together by electronic and experimental artists, JIWA (Jocelyn Tribe and Liam Baudalasia), and rapper, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Joelistics (Joel Ma), who brings his gift of beats, melodies and evocative turns of phrase to masterful musical direction.

It is clear that Ma is excited for audiences to see this production at the OzAsia Festival.

“I’m excited for audiences to engage in music that is a part of my culture. A lot of Australians have been to Bali, but maybe haven’t really engaged in music in any sort of meaningful way other than what is offered to the tourist industry. We’re bringing depth and more contemporary elements that show the really strong contemporary music scene in Bali. I’m excited to bring that to an Australian audience and to be able to introduce them to the fusion of electronic music and hip-hop with Gamalan. Through the show there is a subtle narrative referring to the kind of kaleidoscopic cultures of the world. There will also be some traditional Gamelan as well as a lot of that crossover between Gamelan, hip-hop and electronica. It’s a really beautiful show.”

Saudara Sound System
Saturday 4 November at 7pm
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

Photo credit: Juan Castro

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