While Koreans are conquering the world of pop with their factory-assembled boy bands and mindless Gangnam-ish songs, the Indonesians are going counterflow by churning out original music that’s bold, intelligent, non-formulaic and a joy to perform.
In my four months’ stay in Jakarta, I was immersed in one of the most progressive music transformations in the world.
Here, music is close to a religion… a sacred thing. Even the piped in music at malls are populated by the tunes of local artists interspersed with classic work of jazz greats.
Yes, no Air Supply.
What has been puzzling me about why Indonesia’s music scene is the way it is was solved last night when I chanced upon one of the country’s upcoming artists.
A small bar in suburban Kemang featured 20+ Indonesian singer Monita Tahalea with her posse of young, accomplished musicians.
As I watched her set, I noticed that there were no flashy costumes or studied, choreographed moves (standard fare with pop acts in music lounges) or funny, comedic spiels.
The focus was on pure, unadulterated music. Good music.
(Let me now move on with my thesis – but with your kind permission, do let me revisit her performance every now and then as a point of reference.)
5 Reasons why Indonesian Musicians will dominate the region
1. They perform their original music – with pride. With great artistry. With perseverance.
Although she could have covered any of the world’s current female idols with aplomb, Monita chose to be… herself.
And painstakingly made the audience enjoy her take on her original songs.
2. They don’t aspire to be clones of some Western artist.
Indonesians do cover foreign artists – but they don’t try to mimic them. What they celebrate and pay tribute to are the great songs by these artists – executed in their own distinctive style. (And it doesn’t matter if the songs were created before these Indonesian musicians were born.)
3. The support they get is overwhelming.
Indonesia is now under the world’s music radar because of three huge musical events that take place annually (spread out, months from each other). These are Java Jazz Festival, Soulnation and Java Rockin’land – all the brainchild of local media visionary Peter Gontha and now under the baton of his young daughter Dewi.
The events which attract the world’s biggest acts (Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Earth Wind & Fire, Santana, George Duke, Swingout Sisters, among others) and hundreds of thousands of music enthusiasts from around the world provide Indonesian musicians the opportunity to shed their musical inhibitions by building up their self-confidence – as they perform side by side with the world’s best. Corporate Indonesia enthusiastically supports the music fests and the tourism department throws in a significant amount of subsidy to make the events a success – year after year.
4. No pigeonholing: they perform what they want to.
No pressure from some old lady in the audience to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” or a request from a D.O.M. and his date to dance to “Happy”.
5. 250 million people is a lot of clout, integrity, credibility and sold CDs.
A nation with Indonesia’s booming economy (75 million now belong to the middle class – roughly 3/4 of the Philippine population) can effortlessly nurture a promising music industry.
The attitudes are good. The numbers are encouraging. Let’s wish our Indonesian brothers – and sisters – the best in their quest.
May they also inspire and infect us with their intensity and passion.