Together Again: Yok Koeswoyo (left) and Nomo Koeswoyo performs together on stage in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, East Jakarta, on Saturday June 23, 2012. JP/P.J. LeoThe 50th anniversary of Koes Bersaudara, the forefathers of the local indie music scene, was far from a champagne-and-chandelier affair.
The absence of luxuries was hardly a problem for the hundreds attending a free show at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah’s Archipelago stage on Saturday. The event was extravagant in other ways.
It was a decadent feast of songs by the Koeswoyo brothers, the lads from Tuban, East Java, who formed Koes Bersaudara in 1962. According to concert organizer Agus Giri, over 100 songs were played during the show, which ran from morning till midnight.
The concert was also a rare chance to see the brothers in action, even though only two Koes Bersaudara members made stage appearances.
The band’s original lineup comprised siblings Koesdjono (Jon), Koestono (Tonny), Koesnomo (Nomo), Koesyono (Yon) and Koesroyo (Yok). Before coming together as Koes Bersaudara, the band was known under its English-language name, the Koes Brothers.
Eventually, Jon left the group. After Nomo was replaced on drums by a non-family member, Murry, the band’s name was changed to Koes Plus to accommodate a non-Koeswoyo.
Koes Plus and Koes Bersaudara’s work has made them local legends. The bands have been prolific, spawning hundreds of hits that are still remembered by Indonesians young and old.
Unhampered by genre, the band’s songs range from rock-and-roll to pop in its Javanese, Malay and western forms and even dangdut and keroncong, a hybrid of local and Portuguese influences predating the nation’s independence.
One of the most famous stories about the band tells of when the Koeswoyo brothers were jailed during the Sukarno era for playing the songs of The Beatles, which were seen to represent the west and capitalism, at a time when the government was trending in an opposite direction. The lads were released three months afterwards — just one day before the abortive coup that led to the rise of the New Order in 1965.
Nevertheless, it’s the music that matters. The celebration last Saturday was indeed a celebration of their work more than anything else.
Agus said that the idea to hold a “people’s stage” (panggung rakyat), was raised by Yok in May. “He wanted to do an event that is free from sponsors and can be enjoyed by the people,” Agus recalled.
According to Agus, Yok’s idea met with a favorable response from the rest of the Koeswoyo family, and thus, organizers got to work.
At first, the concert was to be held in July in Senayan, he said. However, a change of dates and a full schedule at the Bung Karno Sports Complex led the organizers to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, located around 20 kilometers from the city center.
“The location has its own history [for Koes Plus and Koes Brothers fans], and, coincidentally, the stage is near to an image of the archipelago,” Agus said, referring to the theme park’s replica of Indonesia’s islands located behind the stage.
Although the appearance of Koes Bersaudara members was the highlight of the event, most of the songs that day were delivered by bands that dedicated themselves to playing Koes Bersaudara and Koes Plus’ songs.
Ten such tribute bands graced the stage that day, each delivering at least 10 songs.
According to Agus, it had been fairly easy to choose the acts from many other tribute bands on Java, since the lovers of Koes Bersaudara and Koes Plus’ music already have an established nationwide network (see sidebar).
Having traveled to many parts in Indonesia to meet fans and the tribute bands, Agus already had an idea of who was particularly good.
Come midday, hundreds were swinging or clapping to the hits played by these bands despite the scorching weather. Some cooled off in the nearby grass fields or enjoyed free mineral water and fried snacks offered by youngsters from the organizing team.
One couple, Mardi and Tri Haryati, said that they arrived at the show that morning, taking their 16-year-old with them. They returned afterwards at night to enjoy the show on their own.
Mardi said that he heard about the show from a local newspaper.
According to Agus, the organizers avoided putting up posters or pamphlets in places such as walls or utility poles for fear of dirtying the town.
The Koeswoyo family began to make stage appearances after dark. Yok performed one song on guitar before reading Pancasila, or the five principles of the state.
Agus said that Yon, who still sometimes performs with other musicians, had other plans that prevented him from participating.
Despite his absence, the audience was thrilled when during the set of a tribute band from Yogyakarta, both Nomo and Yok came on stage to sing “Kembali”.
As the night became livelier, sons of the members of Koes Bersaudara took over the stage under the name Brothers Koes to play hits such as “Bunga di Tepi Jalan” and “Main Belakang”.
While the tribute bands are usually known to play Koes Plus or Koes Bersaudara songs in the original style, Brothers Koes added starkly modern touches to the songs.
Still Strumming: Yok Koeswoyo from Koes Bersaudara plays on stage during the show Hiburan Dari dan Untuk Rakyat Nusantara in the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah theme park’s archipelago stage on Saturday, June 23, 2012. JP/P.J. LeoBrother Koes comprises David Koeswoyo, who is the son of Yon, Damon Koeswoyo, who is the son of the late Tonny, and Reza Koeswoyo, who is the son of Nomo, who came in front of the stage to watch their set.
The 74-year-old Nomo had his stage time, singing songs such as the patriotic “Proklamator”, the playful “Layar Tancep” and “Sego Kucing”. He swung between comedic gestures – at times dancing to the Javanese-influenced tunes – and serious statements such as “Do not ever forget history.”
According to him, the show, aside from being a celebration of Koes Bersaudara, was also to show that “the people in Indonesia are not divided.”
Yok made another stage appearance to dance and sing a few songs with preserver band B-Plus. Although during several songs he merely sang a few of the lines, he delighted the audience by antics such as surprising them when he came down the stage to dance among the crowd.
B-Plus and Yok became the last performers in the show, which ended around midnight.
However, Koes Bersaudara fans can hope for more treats in the future, because the final song for the night was “Kapan-Kapan”, which translates as, “we’ll meet again”.