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Jakarta Post

Arkarna rides on pseudo-nationalist pride niche

  • Hans David Tampubolon

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, August 21, 2015   /  10:11 am
Arkarna rides on pseudo-nationalist pride niche

JP/Hans David Tampubolon

When a Western band is no longer relevant or struggles to build a solid fan base in its homeland, what should it do to survive? Travelling thousands of miles to a foreign country filled with Western-obsessed people might begin to like sound a good idea.

English electronic rock band Arkarna '€” fronted by vocalist Ollie Jacobs and guitarist Matt Hart '€” seems like the perfect example of how a commercially struggling Western band can manage to find a second wind by making and selling their music in a country obsessed with being internationally recognized.

Arkarna, since its formation in the mid-1990s, has so far managed to produce three albums '€” Fresh Meat in 1997, The Family Album in 2001 and an independent free album called Music Is My Therapy in 2013.

The band enjoyed moderate success during the release of its debut album in the US. Two of the album'€™s songs '€” '€œHouse on Fire'€ and '€œEat me'€ '€” got frequent radio time.

However, since their moderate success back in 1997, Arkarna somehow failed to expand on or at least repeat their achievements in later years. In 2014, however, Arkarna somehow managed to find a niche in Indonesia that could relaunch their career.

Arkarna, a UK band whose members have no voting right in Indonesia, out of nowhere issued a statement saying they supported the candidacy of then presidential candidate, Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo, on social media.

Arkarna'€™s statement went viral. Indonesian voters, who mostly had never heard of Arkarna before, suddenly became crazed about the band.

What Arkarna did, with their statement about the Indonesian presidential race, was a perfect match for Indonesia'€™s cultural disease called '€œinlanderism'€ '€” a term coined by the late first vice president Mohammad Hatta.

Inlanderism, by definition, is an inferiority complex among most Indonesians who always see foreigners as superior.

So, it is just natural for Arkarna to successfully build a solid fanbase consisting of inlanderism-infected Indonesians following their political statement on social media about Jokowi.

Arkarna did not waste time rebuilding their music career in Indonesia. About a year after Jokowi won the presidential race, the band launched another publicity stunt.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Indonesian independence, Arkarna launched a single by covering the highly patriotic Indonesian song '€œKebyar-Kebyar'€, composed by late Indonesian singer Gombloh.

'€œThe people [....] they are so friendly,'€ Jacobs said during a recent press conference about the single launch when asked why Arkarna loved Indonesia so much they decided to cover an Indonesian song.

Hart said he was also aware about the positive sentiment and love towards international artists here in Indonesia and Arkarna would like to use that to create a difference through their works.

'€œFor us, we have always been aware that internationals are looked at here in a really positive way, but what I notice more and more is that not many international artists really use that ability to that full potential,'€ he said.

In less than 24 hours since the release of their single, they have managed to garner more than 150,000 YouTube views.

The response, as predicted, has also been very positive. The Indonesian Youtube viewers greeted Arkarna'€™s cover of Gombloh'€™s magnum opus work with open arms, although the band has somewhat turned '€œKebyar-Kebyar'€ '€” a song that makes a glorious analogy about the Indonesian red-and-white flag '€“ into a karaoke -style song.

Jacobs'€™ vocal performance, despite spending 10 months trying to learn Indonesian pronunciation correctly, is disappointing, with his combination of unclear mumbling and highly overdone notes, which makes Arkarna'€™s version of '€œKebyar-Kebyar'€ a painful musical experience to endure.

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