WartaJazz.com: An Indonesian Jazz Mission

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In his book The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia's Quest for Wealth (HarperCollins, 2009), Michael Schuman writes, "In little more than a generation, Asia has emerged from centuries of stagnation to become the rising force of the global economy—a transformation so spectacular that some have called it a miracle."

WartaJazz.com founders in 2001, from left: Ajie Wartono Ceto Mundiarso, Agus Setiawan and Kushindarto

Given the sheer number of people—over 4 billion—the booming economies and important social changes, it is not so farfetched when Agus Setiawan, of WartaJazz.com, declares, "The next big thing for jazz is Asia."

Certainly it would appear that there is a growing appetite for the music. Jazz festivals are popping up all over the place and the two largest, Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia and Jarasum Jazz Festival in Korea, draw crowds of 100,000 and 150,000 respectively. An increasing number of exciting Asian bands are emerging, perhaps encouraged by the freedom to record independently that modern technology has brought within reach of so many.

The largest, most populated continent in the world is also welcoming jazz musicians from Europe and America. Although the highly appreciative and knowledgeable crowds in Japan have long been a magnet for jazz musicians, traditionally receiving them with a reverence more usually accorded classical musicians, American and European jazz musicians are increasingly touring more widely in Asia. It is no longer a surprise to check out a musician's tour schedule and find dates in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea or Indonesia.

WartaJazz.com, the most active organ for the promotion of Indonesian jazz both at home and abroad—and jazz in general—has played a significant part in the recent development of jazz in Indonesia. Celebrating 10 years as one of the most dynamic, innovative organizations on the jazz scene anywhere in Asia, the story of WartaJazz.com is an inspiring one, for in it lies the truth that jazz is a living, evolving entity—and one with a very promising future. And if Setiawan and WartaJazz.com have their way, Jakarta could yet become the future world capital of jazz music. An impossible dream? Perhaps, but one that WartaJazz.com aspires to, and, as its colorful history shows, with motivated people and determination, almost anything is possible.

The roots of WartJazz.com go back to 1996, when WartaJazz was launched as a monthly publication. The idea was that of a group of friends from the Jazz Society of Jogjakarta, Ajie Wartono and Ceto Mundiarso, who were soon joined by fellow jazz fan Agus Setiawan, who suggested they take the idea a step further by making an online edition of the paper.

Nobody jumped at the idea initially, as Setiawan recalls.

"This was back in 1996—at that time nobody knew what Internet was all about and how the system worked," he said. "The idea just remained an idea for a while, with nobody doing anything about it. It stayed like that until early 2000, when I had just come back from Pittsburgh where I'd been to the jazz festival, and I thought why don't we seriously put everything together and call ourselves WartaJazz.com. and mention .'com' every time we meet people?"

With all in agreement, Setiawan spent a couple of months researching branding and thinking about the contents. Finally, on Aug. 8, 2000, WartaJazz.com was up with articles contributed by Setiawan, Wartono and Mundiarso. It wasn't a runaway success at first.

"For the first while, the site was only accessed by five people, which was obviously us three—and two other people," recalls Setiawan, laughing. Ten years on and the site receives 30,000—60,000 visits per month. But that's just the beginning of the story.

Ask Setiawn what WartaJazz.com does and he says, "We do everything as related to jazz. Anything connected to jazz, that's where we are. Our mission is to introduce jazz to as many people as possible."

Setiawan talks with the precision and clarity of purpose of the most dedicated of professionals but it was very much a hobby for all concerned. That is, until a turning point came only a few months after WartJazz.com was launched.

Returning to Jakarta from his family village after Ramadan, Setiawan was surprised to find a note waiting for him from the local post office asking him to stop in. Curious as to what it could be about, Setiawan went straight away to find a bag waiting for him containing 150 CDs from around the world from musicians seeking reviews at WartJazz.com. It was a defining moment for Setiawan.

"That was the time I said to Ajie and Ceto, 'man, this is a really serious business,'" he said. "From that moment, we decided to take this hobby and treat it in a professional way. Now in our catalog we have about 15,000 CDs."

At the end of 2000, the three pioneers became four when they were joined by photographer Kushindarto. "He told us our photographs were terrible," laughs Setiawan, "so he joined the team."

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