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Yogyakarta’s touch of hiphop

By Felix Dass

The Jogja Hiphop Foundation comes from the underground with high redefinition of hiphop, a simple example of how the young generation can find a genuine cultural identity.

The distance between New York City and Yogyakarta is probably too far to be measured. The first city is widely famous for its metropolitan life. “The Big Apple” provides so many visions of modernity with its rich cultural elements, while Yogyakarta is located in the Southeast Asia with its beautiful atmosphere and arts. What connects these two cities?

Don’t laugh if you find hiphop music is the answer. The born-and-bred cultural product of New York is now in a well-adapted state in Yogyakarta.

The credit goes to the Jogja Hiphop Foundation, which was founded in 2003. Marzuki Mohamad, a.k.a. Kill the DJ, was the brain behind this collective. It was designed to be a fluid organization where everyone could come and go but then, at that moment, he had a loyal support from two local groups; Jahanam and Rotra.

So many things have happened during its nearly decade-long existence. The punk rock do-it-yourself ethos blended well with spreading the word about how good hiphop in Java is, not only demographically but the real menu; the music itself with Javanese languageelements.

One of the most accurate illustrations is the documentary, Hiphopdiningrat. The film premiered in late 2010 and
managed to find wider audience on DVD just recently. Kill the DJ opens the story and asks people to feel their long up and down journey to where they are now.

The DVD version of the movie closed with an extended cut that didn’t appear in its early festival run, a part where finally these boys paid direct homage to New York, the cultural capital of hiphop. It happened last year, when almost everyone in the collective made a trip to New York City, except MC Lukman Hakim, a.k.a. Rajapati, whose visa was blocked due to similar name to one of the US’ most-wanted terrorists.

To remember their trip to New York, last weekend they performed two successful sold-out concerts in Graha Bakti Budaya and Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta.

The collective played a theatre-esque set to a very different crowd, 80 percent of whom probably never saw them play. The two shows were guided by Yogyakarta’s own top-notch musician Djaduk Ferianto and directed by Agus Noor who has a very long history in the local literature and art scenes.

“New Yorkarto is our retrospective concert that commemorated our trip from small stages in villages back home to prestigious international big gigs and also the first Indonesian hiphop collective who managed to do an exclusive show in New York, the place where hiphop found its birth,” wrote Kill the DJ in New Yorkarto’s program book.

The fact that the collective secured a deal to play in New York with their own interpretation of hiphop last year drew attention from people who were willing to even sit on the stairs just to see thoe two shows due to the fast-selling tickets. The ticket prices were not even considered low; they were quite expensive for a local music gig.

But then, the shows were not only putting on a good display of how good their music was. They’re more than that; their whole cultural package and persistency needs to be heard to remember Jogja Hiphop Foundation.

“I like the idea of watching Hiphop with Javanese lyrics,” said Armand Wijaya, a 32-year-old preppy-looking Jakartan who watched the first show without having any knowledge of the collective before. He ended up buying the Hiphopdiningrat CD and DVD.

“I saw the ad on Metro TV one night and booked the ticket the next morning. It was all worth the money. I love what they performed tonight,” he continued.

Kill the DJ and his crew made a very brief and neat statement about how good east-meets-west cultural collaboration — and monetization — can be.

“I’d like to sell all tickets for a minimum of Rp 500,000 (US$54) but then Djaduk [Ferianto] and Butet [Kartaredjasa] revoked that idea. Well as you can see there are so many people there with lower ticket prices,” he said.

T-shirts, DVDs, CDs and other Jogja Hiphop Foundation merchandises were sold in crazy quantities during the shows.

There’s a simple explanation of how this could happen: People were just true to their hearts, delivering daily lives and forever love-is-blind-kind-of-thing passion to hiphop. Put aside your typical common sense about our local hiphop scene. Visually, they looked quite the same but then the true hiphop spirit slinks in a very gently. The lyrics they sing are actually happening i their daily lives.

“The creative process you see is actually our daily lives. That’s our social background,” explained Kill the DJ.

Added value will be their ability to adapt traditional Javanese words from legendary stories such as Serat Centhini into a song. Not to be left out was their collaboration with Sindhunata on a few other songs.

Sindhunata said, “They are actually very tied to Javanese tradition.” That’s probably the grand reason behind the movement.

“The Jogja Hiphop Foundation was built to conduit our needs to express ourselves. So it’s all about consistency. Our first five years were pretty hard, But hey, we’re here and able to sell tickets and make people pay to see us,” said Kill the DJ.

“Everything we have now is actually our own reality, they are our habitat and it’s not a commodity. That’s us on a daily basis; we listen to Javanese songs, see wayang and play gamelan.”

Back to the concerts, M2MX, one of the crews had a similar account of two nights, which is probably a good example of the passion that they have.

“I was born near Kali Code. Of course as local boy there, I never had a dream of doing a gig in New York,” said M2MX on the introduction session of New Yorkarto. Well, probably true, Kali Code is a hardscrabble suburb in Yogyakarta that suffered dearly after the Merapi eruption

World class camaraderie from Djaduk Ferianto and his Kua Etnika ensemble plus nonstop humour from Ki Catur Benyek and his puppet that stole the attention for few segments during the show. Ki Catur Benyek also visually attractive by using a pair of Nike sneakers combined with this traditional outfit.

“I was happier on the second day’s performance. We were more loose,” he said separately after the gig. “My oration was longer, right?”

Both gigs took more than two-and-a-half hours to be finish, with only 12 songs and one encore on each night. It was a really good dig-down into cultural heritage.

A glorious weekend may have passed away as soon as they moved their feet back to Yogyakarta the following Sunday after those two glorious gigs.

“The boys have a gig in our home the next evening so we need to catch the first flight the next morning,” said road manager Adi Adriandi who took the stage manager role on the New Yorkarto shows.

But, future lies sweetly in the next upcoming months. “We will be back in the US next November and have a tour booked there,” said Kill the DJ. Australia will also be on their schedule in September.

The Jogja Hiphop Foundation crews are probably having their best times of their career doing what they like. It’s a one-way street to the top and let’s hope their road is paved permanently on the happy face of Indonesian music industry.

And this time, hopefully Rajapati will take some part in the tour. He deserves a moment in the spotlight and with his contribution to the Jogja Hiphop Foundation, there should be no reason to reject his visa just because of an unfortunate name. The best will come from these dudes.

Taken from The Jakarta Post.

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