A Cuppa with Eq Puradiredja

I remember back when I was still in junior high, I saw a video clip of a new Indonesian duo Humania on TV. It caught my attention straightaway, as their music was really different compared to what’s considered popular in the Indonesian music scene at the time. Armed with their skills, the producer duo Eki Puradiredja (or more commonly known as Eq Puradiredja) and Rediyanto Heru Nurcahyo (Heru) released three albums and all of them were very well received. After releasing the third album in 2000, they decided to take a break.

But that doesn’t mean they quit music altogether. Eq Puradiredja went on to produce and co-produce the albums of other artists such as Indra Lesmana, Jamie Aditya, Maliq & D’Essentials, Andien, Tohpati and the Malaysian songstress Sheila Majid. His works got nominated and even won awards! He recently produced Art of Tree’s debut album and one of the tracks “Gibberish” was nominated for “Best Urban Track Production” by Anugerah Musik Indonesia (AMI).

I first met Eq back in 2007 when I was performing with Sister Duke at the after party for Jakarta Crossover Jazz Festival. What impressed me the most from our first encounter was his sincere and friendly smile. At the time he was in charge for artist selection for Java Festival Production (JFP)—the organizer of festivals such as Soulnation Festival, Java Rocking Land and Java Jazz Festival.

A couple of months later I got to perform for the first time in one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world. I was really excited since I had been a loyal goer since it was first held. And I was blessed with the opportunities to take part in it in the following years. Every year I witnessed how Eq dedicatedly went from stage to stage to check out the performances of Indonesian artists. He’s truly got what every good music producer needs—the sincere desire to support the artists and watch them grow.

I had the chance to have a (quite long) talk with Mas (a Javanese word commonly used in Indonesia to address a—not necessarily older—man with respect) Eq last Sunday at Excelso, Bintaro Exchange, while his beautiful wife Antie and their two sons were playing in a nearby play land.  Over a cup of caffè latte that he rated 8 out 10, we talked about music, why he decided to leave his post as the Program Director at JFP, and what made him interested in history.

Hi, Mas Eq, thank you for taking your time to talk to me for my blog. How are you? I heard that as of this year you no longer work for JFP?

Yes, I am now working for Electric Ocean Asia as the Creative Director and currently we are busy preparing for Habibie Festival to celebrate BJ Habibie‘s 80th birthday. The event will be held from 11 to 14 August 2016 and will showcase his contribution to Indonesia and the the country’s developments in technology.

 

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Although it’s still in line with one of your previous job descriptions, which is creating concept for events, it is not related at all to music. May I know why you decided to make a detour in your career?

I actually had already prepared to leave my post at JFP in 2015. But they requested me to stay and so I did. I had been working for them from the start and it’s great to witness how Indonesian artists finally got to the point where they received the appreciation and recognition that they deserved. It wasn’t like that initially; I had to convince them that there were a lot of people who’d like to see Indonesian artists too. And eventually they saw it for themselves, how Indonesian artists attracted so many audiences.

After working for them for a decade, I felt that I’ve made my point, done my job and it’s time for me to move on to the next challenge. And finally this year I got to work at a new office, fulfilling my vision in a bigger scale.

What is your vision? Would you please elaborate more on it?

Heru and I founded Humania in the early 90s because we wanted to break the notion that the kind of music we produce was unpopular in Indonesia. We weren’t looking for spotlight but we actually wanted to make changes, which was the same motive that made me join JFP. And we managed to make that impact with our first album, paving the way for other artists such as Singiku, The Groove, Sova, etc.

Humania is based on our desire to produce not just music, but also events, films, etc. There were some issues that we want to discuss and we believe that these mediums can help us deliver our messages. But after releasing three albums, we felt like we got astray because the industry shaped us in a way that people view us as a band, as celebrities, not producers. That’s why we decided to take a break.

What sort of issues that you are referring to?

I have been intrigued with spirituality since I was 15 after I witnessed my friend passed away because of a traffic accident. A couple of years later, the same experience happened to me again, seeing a friend died in an accident. These experiences made me ponder upon many things and piqued my interest in politics and history. It also made move to Sydney, Australia where I got to meet many people from different countries and backgrounds which broadened my perspective.

From 1998 to 2000, amidst the chaos that happened in Indonesia, Heru and I left Jakarta, moved to Puncak and set up a studio to produce our third album. There were several other musicians who came to the studio and spent time with us. We had a lot of discussion, mainly on the current situation of Indonesia. We channel all of our thoughts to the music and lyrics we made. I could see that Indonesia would be able to rise after everything that happened so we made a song called “Ya’ll Be There”, because we believed that although we had to get through a slow and painful healing process, this country would eventually get “there”—the point where it’s supposed to be.

If you didn’t tell me this, I would’ve never thought that your songs have such deep meanings as you convey your messages in a very subtle way. Did you do it in purpose?

Yes, because we want to relate with as many people as we can. We’ve been doing it since the first album when we made a track called “Kuasa” (power). The song is about God but you can’t find the word God or any religious reference in it. We wanted it to be universal so it could touch anyone.

I read that you’ve always wanted to be a music producer since you were quite young. Could you tell me briefly about it?

During the 4th grade of elementary school, I was asked to replace my brother’s position as the drummer in our school band in Hong Kong because my brother went back to Indonesia. He was already in high school so I had to play with other high school students. Then I moved back home and started hanging out with his friends, playing music and going to the studio for rehearsal and even recording sessions. I was really immersed in music and liked to pay attention to the details and read the credit on the inlay of the album when I was listening to music. After listening to Quincy Jones’ “Back on the Block” album which was released in 1989, I got the epiphany that I wanted to be a music producer.

You mentioned that you’re interested in history and I also saw you posted several things related to history in your social media. Have you always been interested in history since you were little?

No. I think it all went back to 1998, the crisis and tragedies happening in Indonesia made me wonder a lot about who I was, where I came from, how to find my roots. I believe that the history of Indonesia is manipulated, and I’m really concerned. There’s a missing link in the history showing the greatness of our nation and there were researches conducted on it in Gunung Padang, but unfortunately the most recent one was stopped.

This missing link induced the inferior mentality that lead to the notion that foreigners are better than us—I got to witness it myself in my effort to prove Indonesian artists could also attract many people to the festival.

It’s crucial that the truth is revealed so we can realize how great we are as a nation and can finally unleash our true potential. Also, history is the key because by having profound understanding on it, we can figure out what steps we should take now to make us ready for the future.

I actually made a song about being lost and trying to find the way back to greatness. The track is called “Coba Sekali Lagi” and you can find it in Humania’s third album.

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With his firstborn, Quenra.

Now I can really see why you were referred as an idealist in some articles that I read. Like you said before, you really wanted to make an impact?

Yes. As a father, I want to leave a good legacy for my children. We can witness that there are recently a lot of movements to make the country flourish. I think Java Jazz Festival can be considered as one of them.

I totally agree. There are more and more talented young musicians nowadays, like Joey Alexander. I bet in a way the festival made an impact on their careers.

Yes.

Do you find it hard though? Being an idealist yet at the same time trying to make a living?

I’m doing what I truly believe to make a good impact. It is indeed tricky. But if you have something that you feel strongly about, somehow you will be redirected to it again. Like I mentioned before, I felt like I got astray after releasing three albums with Humania. But here I am again.

So far people identify you as singer, musician, songwriter, music producer, DJ, ex bar owner, consultant, etc. What do you think define yourself best?

Producer.

As a music producer, which three albums do you think  have the best production?

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Snarky Puppy – Family Dinner

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

And what are the three things that make the production of these albums really good?

The talent, composition, and the concept of the recording.

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