With an office bookshelf positively groaning with the works of 150+ speakers set to descend on the UWRF17, Festival staff have no shortage of literary inspiration. So what’s keeping them up at night, page by page, in the lead up to this year’s event? In our latest series, #UWRFBookClub, we chat to the Festival team about their highlight authors and artists. For the second installment, we hear from our International Media Consultant, Julia Winterflood.
For our sister event Ubud Food Festival, naturally we do a lot of food writing, and it can sometimes get quite repetitive. When composing media releases or program copy I keep a list of synonyms for ‘delicious’ on hand, and often scribble down quirky and unusual descriptions of flavor, texture and sensations. In Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, I have found a tantalizing treasure trove of imaginative and inventive food writing. But beyond the fiery secret sauces and steaming bowls of sea-flavor noodles is what gives this book its extraordinary essence: characters rich and strange in deeply stirring scenes.
Fuchsia’s intimate culinary encounters – in the back of simple eating houses, in tiny home kitchens and malodorous markets, and often on the streets – play out like a funny and poignant film, such is the evocative depth of her stories. Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper is mouth-watering food writing, yes, but above all it’s a window into a heady, chaotic world affectionately seasoned with quiet, tender moments. I cannot wait for Fuchsia to regale us with her intrepid food adventures at the Festival. I can already feel the fizz and tingle of Sichuan pepper in anticipation.
Despite living in Indonesia for over three years, I feel ashamed to say I still know little about Malaysia. I’m yet to travel there and have only spent a half day’s transit in KL. Malaysia is a neighbor, its bilateral relationship with Indonesia is one of the most important in Southeast Asia, yet I’ve had little contact with its cultures apart from food and poetry fragments and Preeta Samarasan’s devastatingly beautiful book Evening is the Whole Day.
Bernice Chauly’s Once We Were There is the second novel set in Malaysia I’ve read, and it was exceptionally eye-opening. My scant knowledge of the Reformasi era was brought to life in a way no history textbook could ever come close to achieving, giving full force to Nilanjana Roy’s recent statement in the Financial Times, “…novels are the new textbooks of history.” Bernice’s writing is brave, charged, visceral, sexy and harrowing, and despite being pushed to the brink of emotional destruction, her central characters are ultimately hopeful. Nilanjana Roy continues, “Novels […] are not meant to replace non-fiction, but they can become work that pushes back against the authoritarian urge to control history.”
The first time I saw Bonita & The Hus Band at Betelnut in April as part of their 25-date BelongToEachOther Tour, I knew I’d try and seize every opportunity to see them live from then on. Bonita is Indonesia’s Aretha Franklin and each band member a virtuoso. With Betelnut’s exceptional acoustics and masterful sound mixing, I felt as though I was seeing an act with twice as many members – lush, orchestral, powerful, both deeply moving and danceable.
Bonita’s voice spans the softest honeyed tones all the way up to dazzling diva notes. She’s a powerhouse, a neo soul gospel goddess – the strength and vibrancy of her voice and personality irrepressible. Petrus Briyanto Adi’s refined vocals are haunting and comforting in equal measure, his lilting guitar both gentle and bold; Jimmy Tobing’s dexterity and sincerity on soprano sax lifts their arrangements to symphonic heights; and wrapping it all up are the warm and textured timbres of Bharata Eli Gulo’s beat-perfect percussion. Crooning in his native tongue from Pulau Nias off the western coast of Sumatra, his sonorous voice is suffused with ancestral spirit.
Weaving together various Indonesian languages to tell meaningful stories both sad and sunny, I reckon Bonita & The Hus Band are world class musicians on stage and in the studio. Line up their albums Small Miracles (2014) and Rumah (2016) on your device now, and come and join me for a dance when they perform at the Festival’s Closing Night Party. I’ll be front row center, and I’d love to share it with you.