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Jakarta Post

Sun begins to set on Lokananta

Wed, March 22, 2017   /   03:05 am
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    An original vinyl record of the national anthem “Indonesia Raya” is seen on display. The record was produced by Lokananta, Indonesia’s oldest recording company. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    A staff members checks on records shelved in a storage room at Lokananta. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    One precious vinyl features then president Sukarno’s speech on Indonesia’s declaration of independence on Aug. 17, 1945. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    A worker undertakes the process of digitalizing a vinyl record to save the master recording. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    A staff member operates an audio mixer in one of the recording rooms at Lokananta. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    A woman looks at vinyl records by Indonesian musicians such as Waljinah that are stored on the shelves. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    A staff member manually processes a cassette. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    A Lokananta cassette lies on a machine. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    Many people believe that a gamelan set housed at Lokananta can play by itself. The name Lokananta comes from a Sanskrit word meaning a strain of gamelan music from heaven. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    A visitor walks past pictures of musicians in one of Lokananta's rooms. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    Covers of vinyls produced by Lokananta are displayed side by side. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

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    The art deco architecture of the Lokananta building now looks somewhat dull. JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

Lokananta is the oldest recording studio in Indonesia. The company’s premises are not as good as those of newer recording firms as, from the outside, Lokananta looks dull and dirty. However, 40,000 tapes and vinyl records with historical value from various genres are stored inside.

As the country’s first recording studio, built in 1956, Lokananta became a pioneer of Indonesian music recording. It served as a national hero when two Indonesian songs — “Terang Bulan" (Moonlight) and "Rasa Sayange” (Love) — were claimed by other countries. When the Pendet dance was claimed by Malaysia, Lokananta came to the rescue by proving that the dance originated in Bali.

Unfortunately, Lokananta’s important role lacks recognition. The company, which is located in downtown Surakarta, Central Java, remains marginalized.

Thousands of vinyls line dirty shelves in one of the rooms at the Lokananta building. The temperature of the room is too warm for storing vinyl. The room also houses works of Indonesia’s great musicians, namely Gesan, famous for his composition “Bengawan Solo”; Waljinah, with the song “Walangkekek”; Buby Chen, known for the album Buby Chen and Kwartet; Titiek Puspa famous for the song “Gang Kelinci”; recordings by singer Bing Slamet; and dozens of Javanese compositions from puppeteer Ki Narto Sabdho.

Another valuable recording kept at Lokananta is of a speech made by Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, also known as Bung Karno, on Aug. 17, 1945, as well as the national anthem “Indonesia Raya” in two versions, mars and keroncong, which were produced between 1940 and 1950.

Lokananta’s golden era was between 1970 and 1980 when cassettes replaced vinyl.

However, in the 1990s, the state-owned company fell into bankruptcy. The record market plummeted. One of the reasons was because many Lokananta recordings were illegally copied. The company hit rock bottom when the former information ministry — from which it received subsidies — was dissolved in 1999.

After being liquidated in 2004, Lokananta was acquired by state-owned printing company Perum Percetakan Negara and its name changed to Perum Percetakan Negara Indonesia Surakarta-Lokananta. However, the result of the acquisitions was not good.

The poor condition of Lokananta has triggered young musicians like Glenn Fredly, Efek Rumah Kaca, White Shoes and the Couples Company, Shaggydog and Pandai Besi to help to rescue the recording company. They are using social media to campaign with the hashtag #savelokanantamovement.

Their efforts, unfortunately, have not resulted in a big change. The income from studio recording, copying tapes, digitizing vinyl and selling CD still does not fully cover the company’s expenses. Some 19 employees’ salaries remain low, with a few of them earning below the minimum wage at Rp 1.3 million (US$100) per month.

Without government interference, this recording company will become part of history. Lokananta is heading toward the end of its life.