The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Highwayman blues                                        

When Hengki Herwanto weaves his fat four-wheel drive between dirt diggers down unfinished highways the music in his CD player is progressive rock.
Which is the right choice for the man in charge of building new toll roads in East Java. 
He might have selected Roger Miller’s King of the Road. But as he’s not an arrogant fellow and likes ballads, starting off with a bit of Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again sounds just right.
Completing his shift with the late John Denver’s Country Roads, Take me Home seems apt, even though the overloaded highways are close to gridlock, and driving a migraine-making test of nerves.
Jobs where staff can indulge their hobbies during work time without getting reprimands or worse are rare.  Though not if you’re director of Transmarga Jatim Pasuruan, a company in the giant PT Jasa Marga toll-road group and the duties include site inspections and long spells behind the wheel.
You may have heard of Hengki, or at least recognise his jolly features from his time as media spokesman for Jasa Marga.  Then he was discussing mega-million construction budgets and explaining why land acquisition problems are holding up road plans.
Now 56 he should have retired last year but has been kept on to push through some major projects, including extending the Surabaya-Malang highway.
What you probably don’t know is that the genial civil engineer is just nuts about music, despite being unable to play any instrument. Does this indicate a frustrated muso? After a four-beat pause and a backing track of chuckles: “Maybe.
“When I hear good music there’s something there that creates a new spirit in me. I love ballads, rock and country – every type has its own quality, but I prefer the music of the 70s and 80s.
“I’m still trying to understand gamelan. So much modern music is easily forgotten. Perhaps I’m just a romantic.”
If so he’s also practical. Four years ago Hengki and his old school mates who also live in a state of suspended adolescence, set up a library in a large rented house.  It holds more than 10,000 donated discs, cassettes and vinyl records.  Some, like their custodians, go back more than half a century.
A wall of honor recognises 70 local bands and performers.  Malang isn’t Tin Pan Alley but it has a large student population from across the Archipelago so Hengki thinks the chances of a local sound emerging are high given the right space.
“The United Nations’ headquarters is in New York,” he said, “so we have United Music in Malang with music from every country in the world.
“Here anyone can listen and be inspired by music they’ve not heard before.  We care about preserving the past.”
So caring that they are collecting donations to buy laminated sleeves for 50,000 unprotected vinyl records held in Solo by the Lokananta Studio.  The 57-year old company is State owned.
 “It’s not managed well and we’re worried about the collection,” said Hengki, showing photos of jumbled records in open wooden boxes. “A donation of just Rp 2,000 (US 20 cents) buys protection for one disc.”
Lokananta’s storage problems aren’t duplicated in the spacious Malang museum, though the volunteer organisers prefer to call it Galeri Malang Bernyanyi. The translation curiously suggests singing, but that’s not the intent.  “We thought young people might be put off by the word ‘museum’,” Hengki explained.
The walls are covered with framed posters of men with hairy armpits and outrageous make-up, thrusting their crotches and electric guitars.  The girls are leggy, though by overseas standards more sterile than seductive.
The East Java all girl mop-top pop band Dara Puspita is well featured, wholesome as Disney princesses. Tikkie, Takkie, Suzy and Lee (were those their real names?) toured Europe twice in the late 1960s and cut eight albums, 30 years ahead of the Spice Girls.
The memorabilia is marvellous, splendid posters from yesteryear that even now carry the enticement of a great night out despite the fading colors.
Hengki came from a military family but marched to a different drum from Dad.  For a while he worked a journalist for the music magazine Aktuil, which collapsed in 1978 after 254 editions.
In those heady days he followed the British heavy metal rock group Deep Purple and was present at their 1975 Jakarta concert.  Rolling Stone magazine reported 150,000 fans, 200 injured, and police with machine guns and Doberman dogs.   
Teendom is heady, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Hengki left a life of screaming kids for the roar of diesel engines.  “I went into engineering to help build Indonesia’s infrastructure,” he said.
Music can’t be borrowed from the gallery, though that policy may change. The immediate plan is to digitise and catalogue the cassettes that are most at risk. Plastic tapes stretch and magnetic oxide coatings flake.
The gallery won’t duplicate and sell recordings.  As many supporters are in the music industry they say they respect copyright. So far about 300 people have donated their private collections.
There’s a keyboard, recording equipment and electric guitars, including one painted with batik designs.  Musicians, including New Zealand gamelan players who toured Java and Bali in July, have dropped in.
Visitors sometimes run clinics for local talent. The gallery holds discussion groups and promotes events. 
“Dangdut is popular in the regions though not the big cities,” said Hengki.  “There’s too much Western influence, but we are developing indigenous styles.   Instruments like the angklung (bamboo tubes that are struck and shaken) and gamelan are distinctly Indonesian.
“The center for music is Jakarta. Most people seem to pick up trends through television promotion.  Radio doesn’t feature so much, like it does overseas.
 “Our vision is to maintain and promote Indonesian music, but also carry examples of music from other nations.
“Indonesia is internationally known for corruption.  That’s negative.  We want our country to be famous for its music.” Or as Hengki’s hero Iwan Fals, Indonesia’s Bob Dylan, sings: Salam Reformasi.
First published in The Kakarfta Post 27 August 2013

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