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David Bowie and his love affair with Indonesia

  • Anton Hermansyah

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, January 12, 2016 | 01:36 pm
David Bowie and his love affair with Indonesia At peace: Wearing a sarong, David Bowie poses in a Balinese carved doorway in his villa on the exclusive Mustique Island in the Caribbean. (Photo courtesy of Architectural Digest website/Derry Moore) (Photo courtesy of Architectural Digest website/Derry Moore)

At peace: Wearing a sarong, David Bowie poses in a Balinese carved doorway in his villa on the exclusive Mustique Island in the Caribbean. (Photo courtesy of Architectural Digest website/Derry Moore)

The all-round musician and artist David Bowie, who died from cancer on Monday, left not only a vast musical legacy but also a story of his love for Indonesia.

The Englishman Bowie, born David Robert Jones, died at the age of 69 in his home in New York just two days after his birthday, an occasion that he marked by releasing his 28th album, titled Blackstar on Jan. 8.

"David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family'€™s privacy during their time of grief," a message from all of his social media accounts said on Monday.

Bowie, often dubbed one of the most influential musicians of his era, was a great admirer of Indonesia, as could be inferred from his life work and story.

He and musician Iggy Pop collaborated and released a song in 1984 titled '€œTumble and Twirl'€ that told a story about their journey exploring Indonesia. It was after Bowie's longest and most successful Serious Moonlight Tour ended in 1983, which did not visit Indonesia, though went to Singapore and Thailand.

I've seen the city and I took the next flight for Borneo

They say it's pretty, I like the t-shirts in Borneo

Some wear Bob Marley others in Playbos or Duvalier

Make the last plane come, let me rise through the cloudy above

With a book on Borneo

So went the first verse of the song.

Bowie and his then girlfriend supermodel Iman also attended a Surononan ceremony, locally known as Malam Satu Suro, in Mangkunegaran Palace in Surakarta, Central Java, in 1991. The ceremony observes the Islamic New Year and the first day of the Javanese month of Sura.

In an old black and white photo released by the royal family, Bowie and Iman are seen to be accompanied by businessman turned musician Setiawan Djody, and Yapto Soerjosoemarno, both part of the Mangkunegaran family.

Bowie'€™s love for Indonesia was also shown in the song titled "You Belong in Rock n' Roll'€ that his band at the time, Tin Machine, released in August 1991. Bowie and fellow member Reeves Gabrels created the song and even made an Indonesian version of it called "Amlapura'€, the name taken from a city in Karangasem, Bali. Bowie sang the first verse:

Hey, hey it's the tall sail on a beach reach for Java

Make way for to Java watching for boogies

Hey, hey it's a dreaming I would burn you if you should die

Hey, hey I would burn too if you should lie upon that bamboo pyre

Bowie also made an Indonesian version of his song '€œDon't Let Me Down & Down'€ in his 18th studio album Black Tie White Noise, released in 1993. The song title was translated into Jangan Susahkan Hatiku and Bowie sang half of the song in Indonesian.

Relaxed: David Bowie (second left) and his wife Iman sit as they watch a Suronan ceremony at Mangkunegaran Palace in 1991, accompanied by businessmen Setiawan Djody (far right) and Yapto Soerjosoemarno (behind). (Mangkunegaran Palace file photo)Relaxed: David Bowie (second left) and his wife Iman sit as they watch a Suronan ceremony at Mangkunegaran Palace in 1991, accompanied by businessmen Setiawan Djody (far right) and Yapto Soerjosoemarno (behind). (Mangkunegaran Palace file photo)

Indonesian-style island villa

The Architectural Digest magazine published a story in 1992 displaying Bowie and wife Iman's villa on the exclusive Caribbean island of Mustique. The villa was heavily inspired by the traditional architecture of Bali and Java.

Balinese carved doors stood strong in the living room. Teakwood from Kudus, Central Java, was used for the veranda, adorned with Sumbawa-inspired carvings.

The roof design of the dining pavilion took its inspiration from Joglo, Javanese traditional housing.

Bowie even proudly posed with a Balinese sarong for the magazine.

Bowie and Iman got help creating their getaway villa from Arne Hasselqvist, a Swedish architect who pioneered villa architecture in Mustique. New Yorker Robert J. Litwiller and Ubud-based Irish designer Linda Garland designed the interior while Michael White, an Australian born Balinese man who later used the name Made Wijaya, designed the villa's landscaping.

'€œLook, you'€™ve obviously been to the East, Arne. Have you ever been to Indonesia?'€™ He'€™d had a romp through there, so he knew what I was talking about. He had an idea for water running into the pools and into the swimming pool. And then I brought in Robert Litwiller to start constructing, in a vaguely Indonesian style, a potpourri of all the islands of Indonesia, running the whole gamut, the ring of fire," Bowie told the magazine in the interview for its September issue. (rin)

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