A long-standing tradition of Ngayogjazz has been a communal gathering with the village, festival organisers and a number of musicians the night before the festival begins. Known as a slametan in Java, this gathering took place last night in the centre of the village as the evening grew dark, with many elders from the community gathered together cross-legged to share their thoughts and pray together.
There’s something very atmospheric about the tradition of the slametan. In the quiet of the village with only the sound of the final preparations for the next day, members of the group spoke in polite Javanese, some bowed a little with age, all wearing an array of batik shirts and sarongs. Once the speeches and prayers were finished, it was time for perhaps the most symbolic part of the slametan, the cutting of the tumpeng – or tower of rice. Similar to the importance of cutting the first slice of cake, or cutting the ribbon before an opening, the slicing of the tumpeng symbolises a beginning and a shared experience.
Once cut, it was as if the quietude and seriousness of the earlier speeches had been broken; instead people laughed, took photos and passed around plates of Javanese specialities like sweet tempe, coconut salad and salted duck egg while discussing the next day.
The slametan between the Ngayogjazz team and the local village highlights the relationship between local community and festival. It has been said many times before and it will be said many times again, but Ngayogjazz is unique in how it forms itself around the wants and needs of the village community where it is based. It’s not about music coming into a space, staying for the day and then leaving, but about developing a relationship between people and place, festival and village, valuing others and wanting to develop long term connections.