Jazz Gunung 2010, Bromo, Indonesia
July 3, 2010
Gunung is not the name of the town which hosts Jazz Gunung; in Bahasathe predominant language of Indonesiait means mountain. Mountain Jazz is as good a name as any given that this one-day festival is staged among the swirling clouds, some two thousand meters above sea level in the East Java town of Wonotoro. It's a three-hour drive from the nearest airport of Surabaya and the contrast between sprawling conurbation with its teeming roadschaotic yet curiously functionaland the bucolic idyll of the high mountain pass where Jazz Gunung is staged couldn't be more pronounced.
Passing through town after town, the sight of tricycle rickshaws tenaciously negotiating the thick traffic serves as a symbol of the stubborn refusal of the past to cede to the roller coaster changes modern Indonesia is undergoing. However, the occasional crumbling façade of colonial Dutch architecture is reminder enough of the inevitable passing of all things, empires and tricycle taxis included.
The turn-off to Wonotoro and Jazz Gunung leaves the towns behind and soon bright green rice fields and tall walls of corn roll endlessly by. The narrow, rutted road winds its way up a valley, wildly lush and verdant. The Tengger inhabitants of the valley are Hinduunlike the majority of lowland Javanese who follow Islamand have the leathery color of the Nepalese or Tibetans.
The steep mountain sides are carefully sculpted into agricultural terraces, often at seemingly impossible angles of seventy five degrees. On the lower slopes and on the plains farmers toil in fields of mulberry, cabbage, lettuce and tomato which will end up in the markets of Jakarta, a five-hour drive away. It is odd to think that some of these farmers will later be performing in the jazz festival. In the villages women sell Edelweiss by the side of the road, and children on holiday from school fly red, yellow and blue kites which lift and dance easily in the mountain currents.
The valley is bursting at the seams with trees, coarse bushes, ferns and palms. Even the areas around the snug, brightly colored village houses are sewn with vegetables, or flowers such as rhododendrons or buttercups. The incredibly fertile soil of this area is due to the active volcano Bromo in the next valley, and for longer than anyone can remember it has spewed out smoke and ash into the air. Roughly every September during the Kasada festival the Tengger people climb to the rim of Bromo and throw offerings of flowers and live fowl to the God of Fire to ensure good fortune for the coming year. All in all, it is a strange yet undeniably stunning setting for a jazz festival.
The man behind Jazz Gunung is Sigit Pramono, a senior Indonesian banker, jazz lover and keen photographer. Pramono initiated a number of bank-funded infrastructure and economic programs in the areaa national parkwhich have directly benefited the lives of the Tengger people. At the same time Pramono has indulged his passion for photography and over the years he has published several books of his photographs of the volcano, the surrounding terrain and the local people, endearing himself to them in the process. In '07, during the sacred Kasada festival Pramono received the rare honor of being appointed as a senior, honorary citizen of the Tengger people.
Most tourists however,come to the national park to see the sun rise over Bromoclouds and fog permittingand it's not a bit of wonder; on a clear day the view is other worldly. Eight peaks wind around to form the crater rim of an ancient, massive volcanic mountain called Mt Tengger which has a diameter of ten kilometers. It is difficult to imagine the size of the eruption which threw up the Tennger massif caldera; in the foreground in the middle of the massif is the smoking, sulphurous Bromo flanked by two extinct volcanoes and surrounded by the Sea of Sand. In the far distance the great volcano Semeru, belching out steam, smoke and stones every fifteen to twenty minutes. Semeru last erupted in '04 and it is not surprising that a typical Tengger greeting translates as: "May you always be in safety."