The Jakarta Post
Indonesian pianist Ananda Sukarlan is synonymous with classical music, but an incident at the 90th anniversary of his alma mater, Canisius College, put him in the social media spotlight.
Ananda sat down with The Jakarta Post to share his two cents on social media and the impact he feels.
Q: We heard about the recent incident at the 90th anniversary of Canisius College. What actually happened? Why did you decide to walk out of the hall during Governor Anies Baswedan’s speech?
We knew a few hours before the event that the governor would come. [Some of my friends] and I were considering not to enter the hall until he would finish his speech.
However, Canisius College gave awards to five people, including me. Hence, there were five VIP seats [at the front], and everybody knew that [I had arrived at the venue]. I thought it would not be nice to just stay outside the hall. I entered [the hall] so that my seat would not be empty.
After the opening speech by the school’s head, [the governor delivered] his speech. I disagree with all the things he did during the election, and [his speech contained words that I think] he did not apply.
I did not listen to all of [his speech] and [decided] to walk out, which, I thought, was a normal thing to do. It was purely spontaneous.
As I was walking out [of the hall], I was thinking about my speech, as [I was required to give a speech]. [Assuming] that the governor would be there, I [decided] to direct my criticism at the organizers, not the governor. He was invited and we should all respect him.
I wanted to criticize the organizers, as they invited someone whose values and integrity are not what the school had taught us, the students, many years ago and until now, presumably.
Apparently, the governor left the building after [delivering his speech], and [I decided] not to change any words, it was all in my head, I had not written it down.
I do not regret what I said or I did. I think it was the right thing to do. I thought and I still think if we disagree about something, we should express it nicely and in an ethical way. When I walked out [of the hall], I did it silently and did not disturb anyone.
What I regret is what people did in response to my action, the hoaxes, the media and the cyber army.
Q: Did you expect it to go viral on social media?
No. I thought [people would talk] about it, but not in such a viral way with slander, twisting and hoaxes. Everything got out of hand, because of the cyber army and hoax creators.
Q: How did you respond to the backlash?
I responded through Twitter and Instagram. Some media outlets asked me for interviews, but at the time, my focus was on calming things down.
Q: Did your followers on Twitter and Instagram increase after the incident?
Yes. There were many new followers that followed me to attack me.
I asked some of my friends, social media experts, what to do. They suggested I just let it be, [allowing these new followers to] say anything they want on social media and investigate them afterwards. Some of the accounts only have 10 followers or fewer, which means they are fake accounts and we should block them. I blocked them two weeks later.
There were [thousands] of paid [or fake] accounts, and they worked 24 hours. When I woke up in the morning […] there were thousands of comments on Twitter and Instagram. And the comments insulted me.
I don’t think they were dangerous, but it was annoying. Apparently, they also attacked other [accounts] that put my name as a hashtag or videos on YouTube, where other musicians play my music. They wrote dirty words.
Q: If the incident had happened years ago, before the digital age, do you think it would have been different?
I think so. I know it’s for political reasons. Despite the benefits, I’m sure that social media could be dangerous for our country. All the hoaxes and account farming, as one person can have 50 accounts.
Don’t get me wrong, social media is good for democracy, as everybody can talk and express their feelings and opinions. However, we have to be careful, as not many of us are prepared to use it wisely.
Q: What have you learned from the incident?
[I learned] that we can do anything, and anybody else can also do anything in response to our [action]. We need to be careful.
Q: Since walking out of the venue, have you changed your mind about our current governor?
A: I still feel the same way about him.
Q: Let’s talk about your next project. Can you share a bit about your upcoming project?
I’m thankful, as many music institutions and music schools will be celebrating my 50th birthday throughout this year by teaching the students to play my music and inviting me to their school.
I will also bring the issue of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama to the international [scene]. I composed a piece called “No More Moonlight over Jakarta,” [commissioned by the project 32 Bright Clouds to write music] based on a theme from one of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. [The piece] was taken from Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
Moonlight means Tjahaja Purnama in Bahasa, which is the name of our former governor.
"No More Moonlight over Jakarta" will see its World Premiere by Israeli pianist Yael Weiss at the Changwon International Chamber Music Festival in South Korea on 7 April, followed by a tour to the United States. (asw)
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