By Joseph Purugganan
“There’s a village in the making, a community of friends
who refuse to yield their hopes, to the sirens of despair.”
Musicians from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand gathered in Jakarta on the occasion of the ASEAN Peoples Forum 2011 and shared their songs and stories, and discussed the prospects of building a network and community of socially-engaged musicians who write and perform songs that are rooted in peoples’ struggles.
The interaction started with a video presentation of “The Village in the Making,” a 20-minute video report made by Jess Santiago from the Philippines. “The village” documents the yearlong journey of Santiago in the course of his research on song as tool for popular education and people’s advocacy in Okinawa, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia from 2005-2006 under the auspices of the Asian Public Intellectual research fellowship of the Nippon Foundation.
After the video showing, there was a quick round of introductions among the artists and the audience and Santiago provided the context for the interaction/jamming session. Santiago also offered a minute of silence for Indonesian musician Franky Sahilatua who passed away recently. Franky, as he was more popularly called, was one of the musicians interviewed by Santiago in “The village” documentary.
The first to perform was the Indonesian band Sejati (true). Sejati is based in Jakarta with members coming from Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI) or the Indonesian Peasant’s Union. SPI is a movement organization of small peasants, farm workers and peasants-based indigenous community. SPI is active in the struggle for agrarian reform, peasant’s rights, food sovereignty, family farm based agriculture and the against the neoliberal agenda. Sejati writes and performs songs that touch on themes that are relevant to the peasant struggle. They performed two songs at the interaction including Passar or “Market,” a critique of free market policies and their impact on small farmers and peasants.
Nitithorn Thonthirakul or Ae Nitikul, singer-songwriter from Thailand performed two of his songs. Ae is also a human rights activist and uses his songs to educate on HR issues and share his message of tolerance and unity. Ae Nitikul also dedicated one of his songs to the Thai and Cambodian people and called for peaceful resolution of border problems between the two countries.
Two members of the Village Idiots (Jonathan Ronquillo and myself) from the Philippines also performed two songs at the gathering. The first was a cover of the Jerk’s song Lupa or “Land,” which speaks of the struggle of farmers for land. The band also performed one of their original songs, Palengkera or “Market Vendor,” which narrates the day in the life of Lolita a market vendor from a coastal town in the Philippines.
Members of the Indonesian metal band Speed Kill also graced the event. Instead of a performance, Ambon, the band’s lead singer and songwriter gave a brief history of his band and expressed support to the aspiration to build solidarity among musicians in the region. Ambon and his friend Gophar (who was at the interaction as well) were two of the young musicians interviewed by Jess Santiago in his documentary in 2005. The interaction became a sort of reunion therefore for Santiago, Ambon and Gophar.
At least two more artists, the Messenger Band from Cambodia and Ego Lemos from Timor Leste were invited to the gathering but they were unable to travel to Jakarta. They remain however part of the emerging network of artists, and the organizers of the event vowed to continue involving these groups in future activities.
The final performance was reserved for Santiago. Jess or “koyang” as fellow musicians refer to him, started with a heart wrenching rendition of his classic Halina. When performing “Halina” to an international audience, Koyang usually starts with a recital of the English translation of the words before singing the song. Halina narrates the story of three people—Lina, a worker in a garment factory; Pedro Pilapil, a farmer; and Aling Maria, a slum dweller—and their life-and-death struggle against the forces of oppression and marginalization. Halina has been translated to Bahasa.
Koyang capped the night with a performance of Achim Iseul or “Morning Dew,” a well-loved Korean song written by legendary songwriter Kim Min-gi. After rendering the song in Korean, Koyang segued into his own Filipino translation of the song, which means Hamog sa Umaga; this is in his his third album Puso at Isip (Heart and Mind).
The interaction ended with final calls to organize more interactions of this kind among musicians from the region and to continue the effort of building the network and community of artists, which received expressions of support from the artists as well as the audience.
*Report from the ASEAN Peoples’ Music Interaction Workshop
4 May 2011; 6-10pm. Jasmine Room, Grand Tropic Suites Hotel in Jakarta
Organized by Focus on the Global South and the Asian Peoples Music Collective