Sabah Habas Mustapha
Sabah Habas Mustapha is best known to fans of World Music as the younger brother in the innovative 3 Mustapahas 3. He's also a solo artist in his own right,
having just released his new album Jalan Kopo, named after the recording studio where it was created, on the Omnium label. Full of the sounds of Indonesia, Mustapha paints a musical portrait of an exotic land fused with some masterful Indonesia musicians.
Shortly before Jalan Kopo hit the streets, Sabah Habas answered some questions of mine about his music, both solo and with the 3 Mustaphas. This interview originally ran May 22, 1998.
Paula: How did you get involved with Indonesian music and how did you end up recording at Jalan Kopo with those excellent
Indonesian musicians? Have you ever done anything like this before?
Would you do it again?
Sabah Habas: Well, I have been visiting Indonesia for many years now. I have been to many
of the islands of that huge archipelago. I like this place very much and have
met many fine people there. Of course I am always listening to the music and
trying to learn more about it. About nine years ago it was that I went to
Jakarta to go and visit some record companies to set up contacts for licensing
Indonesian music to some companies in Europe. I became friendly with one
particular record company boss who offered me the use of his studio. Well, I
had been listening to a lot of Dangdut music so I asked him if I could play
with some Dangdut musicians. I quickly wrote a couple of songs and went into
the studio to learn how to make a Dangdut record. Now this really started a
big pot of soup boiling. At the end of the sessions I had a tape of my two
songs and a big burnin' hunk of desire to make a whole album like that. A bit
later I was in Japan and I went to see Wave records, who I had done some work
for (Rinken Band) and who I knew had put out some Indonesian stuff in Japan. I
left them my cassette and my proposal.
Well, to make a long story not quite so
long, I did a deal with them to make my album in Jakarta. This was released in
Japan with the title "Denpasar Moon". That was one of the songs on my demo
cassette. Then I found out that meanwhile Sony had heard this song and made a
version recorded in Tokyo with a young lady singer from the Phillipines called
Maribeth, who they wanted to launch in Southeast Asia. They made a video with
her in Bali (Denpasar is the capitol city of Bali) and showed it on Indonesian
TV. All of a sudden her version started selling like the red hot cakes. It
sold over half a million cassettes and then many local artists made cover-
versions - I now have a collection of over 50 different ones in various music-
styles and languages. Later they started a soap-opera on the TV with the same
name using the song as it's theme.Yes, I had inadvertantly written an
Indonesian classic. That song has made me many friends there. So that's how I
became involved with Indonesian music.
Incidentally my Denpasar Moon album was released in Europe on the German
label, Piranha, distributed in the USA by Stern's African Records (!), NY.
Now I still don't know why this song was so popular but I originally wanted to
mix together ideas from two Indonesian styles that I particularly liked.
Namely, Dangdut - an urban dance-style influenced by Indian film music but
with a mainly mid-tempo, slightly reggae-ish feel - and the haunting,
melancholy melodies of Degung - a more traditional style featuring gamelan
instuments and bamboo flutes and zithers which is one of the great music
traditions of the West-Javanese province of Sunda. I like this music style
particularly much, so when I decided to make another album in 1997, I went to
Bandung, the Sundanese capitol city. I'd been there before some years ago when
I had arranged a license deal between the composer/orchestra
leader/choreographer Gugum Gumbira and GlobeStyle records UK. So I booked
Gugum's studio and some of his musicians and that's the story of Jalan Kopo.
As for doing it again I am planning some more sessions in Jakarta this year.
Paula: What other musical styles and cultures are you interested in?
Sabah Habas: Well, of course many aspects of life on this planet are very interesting for
me and music is an excellent way to communicate feelings and intentions and
when you are lucky, have a lot of fun doing it. I am particularly fascinated
with Japanese culture and I am most drawn to the joikking tradition and the
people of Finlad and Samiland.
And what about Blues & Gospel & the great country musics of the USA? And I
have been at one time or another deeply moved by music from Bulgaria,
Tanzania, Mali, Nigeria, England.........er, let's face it, there is a
glittering abundance of wondrous expressions of the human spirit all over this
extraordinary spherical rock upon which we grab our chance at a fleeting
existence and try to make sense of it all.
Paula: What is happening right now with 3 Mustaphas 3?
Sabah Habas: Yes, my family is scattered to the four corners, five continents and seven
seas. All engaged in their little projects, such as earning a living, music
research, space exploration, market gardening and trying to impart knowledge
to their children, to name but a few. Lately my brother Hijaz and I have been
collecting together many recordings of live performances, radio happenings and
other audio phenomena in order to be releasing an official bootleg CD to be
released in the North Americas on the Omnium label.
Paula: What did you like most about working solo on Jalan Kopo?
Sabah Habas: Mrs Sujanto's banana fritters and that thick black Java coffee. An unbeatable
Paula: How do you plan to promote the new album -- any big tours or
tv/radio appearances on the horizon?
Sabah Habas: I am starting my European tour on the 9th May in Poland. I am open to
offers for the USA. Please contact Omnium Records
or me directly.