To be honest, as a youngster born and raised in Jakarta, I was not all that interested in ethnic music. Perhaps that was to be expected, since Western music influences were everywhere.
Then in 2001 I accepted a music directorship for a Batak concert that was part of a Lake Toba preservation campaign. I did not want it at first, but I accepted it anyway because my parents pushed a bit.
I went with the visual team to Lake Toba to record some video for the concert. I spent three
days there and I was astonished by the natural beauty. And I realized that this region was producing few artists.
Back in Jakarta I plunged into arranging Batak songs in the studio with new energy, and discovered the essence of those songs. I realized that ethnic songs can be incredibly beautiful, even more beautiful than pop music.
Long story short, the Save Lake Toba concert was successful and I got the idea to make an album from those recycled Batak songs. The TobaDream trilogy album was the result.
With that project wrapped up, I thought, “Is it only North Sumatra? What about other regions?” I started digging up other ethnic songs, this time from my mother’s heritage of Sunda. I found that material cool as well. I became addicted to exploring traditional music from other ethnic groups, like Java, Banyuwangi, Malay, Betawi and Padang, and compiled them on the album Indonesian Beauty album.
We often envy other countries for being advanced in many areas: — politics, economy – , urban planning, sports, music development, which we cannot compete with. I found something that we do have in spades: cultural pluralism. Indonesia is the richest country in terms of heritage. Ironically, our government only puts minimum effort into promoting this.
Youngsters these days can preserve these culture by doing small things, like trying to learn their mother tongue, or wearing Indonesian ethnic clothing regularly.
Interest in local cultures can also be raised by alternating your Europe, Hong Kong, or Singapore vacations with trips to Komodo, Ambon, Gorontalo, Lake Toba, Lombok, and other sites in country.
You can also support Indonesia’s national team (no matter how bad they are!), as it will be the starting point to build national pride.
For those who are into making art, you can find ways to build in Indonesian elements, whether it is in architecture, filmmaking, music or fashion.
While those who are into tourism, make sure you promote Indonesia’s touristic destinations. When one region’s tourism moves forward, its local culture will advance as well.
This musician and composer recorded the trilogy TobaDream, Indonesian Beauty, his unique rendition of folk songs, and pop album Satu which contains his compositions with traditional music instruments. “Sahabat”, a number played with Sundanese drum and Batak flute, reigned on top of hip radio charts in Indonesia’s big cities for weeks.