The Jakarta Post
Bonita And The Hus Band (JP/Arief Suhardiman)
Non-mainstream music group Bonita & The Hus Band — it does not mean ‘husband,’ mind you; hus is a
German word which means ‘home’ — has just released its second album called Rumah (Home) and is currently on a national tour.
The album was released in December 2016 as a follow-up to its 2014 album Small Miracles. The members of the band are Bonita on vocals, Petrus Briyanto Adi on guitars, vocals and bass, Bharata Eli Gulo on drums and vocals as well as Jimmy Tobing on the saxophone. Prior to releasing two albums with the band, Bonita – the daughter of Indonesian singer Koes Hendratmo – had already released two solo albums (Bonita in 2003 and Laju in 2009). The band began playing in several cafés in Jakarta after coming together 2009.
Rumah, released by non-mainstream label Demajors Independent Music Industry, features seven full-length songs interspersed with six short interludes. The album was made between December 2015 and December 2016.
“We started to write new work after Small Miracles and we felt they had to be documented,” Bonita told The Jakarta Post at the Demajors office on Jalan Fatmawati, South Jakarta, during a recent interview.
As in Small Miracles, this album features a strong jazz and blues feel. However, in contrast to their 2014 output the new album is rich with surprises for the band’s longtime fans: lots of ethnic and Malay musical influence can be felt on tracks such as ‘Tekadku Ikhlas’ (My Determination is Sincere) and ‘Satu Hari Sebelum Esok’ (A Day Before Tomorrow).
Another innovation is Bonita’s singing style, which on this album relies heavily on notes in lower registers, as opposed the common use of higher registers on the previous album. She also adopts a calmer approach on this album, compared to the previous album where she showcased the full-power of her vocal abilities.
Satu Hari Sebelum Esok features lyrics in three different regional languages from across Indonesia, namely from Nias Island, Medan in North Sumatra and Java. According to Adi, the song seeks to portray Indonesia’s diversity while encouraging the preservation of local languages.
On reflection, Tekadku Ikhlas is rich with Minangkabau sounds with lyrics referencing the West Sumatran ethnic group’s strong merantau (immigration) tradition. The song, however, tells a modern story of Indonesian migrant workers who have to work abroad, sacrificing themselves for their families.
The song was apparently inspired by real-life stories.
“I know someone whose oldest daughter has to work abroad as a TKI (tenaga kerja Indonesia; Indonesian migrant workers) to finance her younger siblings’ education and pay her family members’ debts,” Adi said.
A song called Lord Guide Me, which has a hymn-like feel to it, however, is inspired by Adi’s personal experience confronting a sense of loneliness and praying to God for guidance.
The song also appears to carry a socio-political resonance. According to Adi, when performed on tour in May in East Java, at a time when embattled former Jakarta governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama had withdrawn his appeal against his two-year prison sentence for blasphemy, the song seemed to have a heightened intensity for both the performers and listeners alike.
Regarding the album’s new touches and singing style, Bonita says these things happen because the band has played together long enough to push each other’s boundaries and discover their own unique sound.
“We have always been interested in Malay music. We have covered [Malaysian singer] Sheila Majid’s Ikhlas tapi jauh (Sincere but far) before. We also want to discover our roots in traditional Indonesian music. It was no coincidence that we meet with traditional musicians from Banyuwangi, East Java, as well as the group Kua Etnika [with prominent musician Djaduk Ferianto] along the way,” Bonita said.
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“As for the changes to my singing style, I don’t deliberately think about it. The melodies are written as is. I just serve the music,” Bonita added.
To promote the album, the band has just completed the first three legs of their 2017 tour from February to May. The first leg, from January to February, covered Greater Jakarta and West Java, the second leg, in April, covered Bali and West Nusa Tenggara, while the third leg in May covered Central and East Java.
To organize these concerts, the band worked with local communities in each region, including a community library in Magetan, East Java, to gather an audience.
“The audience was very enthusiastic in Magetan. They really paid attention to what we performed,” Jimmy said. True to the nature of non-mainstream, niche music, although the audience numbers paled in comparison to pop concerts, all who attended were totally engaged in the music.
Currently, the band is preparing for the fourth leg of its tour, slated to begin on July 20, covering Nias Island in Sumatra as well as Siantar, Binjai and Medan in North Sumatra. The band is also documenting the tour for a documentary.