Jazz on the Water, Introducing Ngayogjazz 2023

Mbak Wiwin carefully pours broth into a bowl at her soto stall, behind her sit four elderly ladies observing as the crew of Ngayogjazz 2023 put the final touches to the site around them. The vocals of the nearby Hamengkoni stage float over. “We’re not too familiar with jazz. In the village we’re used to Campursari, Dangdut – this is a new experience for us.” They said, looking forward to the thousands of people expected to descend on their village.

Gancahan, the home of these ladies, will for one day be transformed into the home of one of Yogyakarta’s biggest, and entirely free, jazz festival.

In its 17th iteration, the festival is bringing in a wave of new and familiar faces – from the velvety classics of White Shoes and the Couples Company, twinkly strings of Petik Cantik Nusantara to the heavy beats of Kuntari – to Gancahan across the site’s six stages.

There are also a number of international faces making themselves known this year, including Netherland-based Kretek Beats and Tom van der Zaal Quartet Ft. Rubah di Selatan.

On the other side of the village, Paris-based musicians Samy Thiébault and Felipe Cabrera recline on a bamboo bench, black coffee in hand, waiting for their 11 A.M. soundcheck on the Hangayomi stage. It is Felipe’s first time in Jogja but Samy’s second, having performed at Yogyakarta’s mainstay jazz night, Jazz Mben Senen, seven years prior. The standard of the musicians he had played with then had stayed with him, and he was looking forward to sharing their Cuban-infused jazz in the very same city this evening.

Each year Ngayogjazz’s organisers make sure the festival works like a conversation between the event and the “spirit” of the host village, with the stages, pasar jazz market spots and workshop spaces weaved throughout the streets and alleyways. Somehow this scattered, fluid setting is the most conducive for listening to jazz and exploring new music.


This year, the heart of the festival is Gagak Suro Lake, where locals say Jogja’s first Sultan, Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, appeared before a man fishing and asked him to choose the location of Yogyakarta’s palace. Today, the Sultan may not appear with such a request, but there are many other activities, musical and otherwise, to give the village news stories to tell in the future.

By the lake, away from the music is Guyub Jogja, a selection of stands found within the trees by the lake offers festivalgoers the chance to sample the best coffee from around Indonesia with Komunitas Kopi Nusantara, Gancahan’s plastic recycling community offering furniture made from the village’s waste, and Unen Unen, a community offering travelling music lessons to name just a few. It was here that the morning was abuzz with activity, members of each community sat drinking coffee and speaking about the day’s events.

But as the afternoon set in and the midday call to prayer rang through the village, all ate it was nearly time for the festival to start. From the lake the festival opened, beginning with the ceremonial walk of the Bregada from the Hamengkoni stage all the way down to the Hangresnani stage, the crowd slowly swelling until suddenly the village was full.

And as the sun slowly dipped and the atmosphere began to build with the sound of basslines and groups of friends rejoicing as they bumping into each other, it was time for Ngayogjazz 2023 to truly begin.