Southeast Asia Tour Diary 2: East Java – Punk Rock’s rock setup
Sunday: Fly to Surabaya, Java. No hassles at customs, we go through swiftly and easily out into the heat where we are met by Risqi and friends. Amongst them are old friends Piping and Eva who we met the last time we were in Surabaya. We were given a quick update on why the show couldn’t happen. It is unfortunate but it’s lovely none the less to get a chance to reconnect briefly with Piping and Eva. They also sort us out with an Indo sim for our phone, fantastic, we are now in contact.
Plans are remade quickly now there is no show in this city, it is decided that we travel direct to Blitar from the Surabaya airport. A Travel Van is hired, a regular van in the role of a mini bus, some negotiating to get aboard and we are off to Blitar. During the ride we do some brainstorming about how we would like to capture some video footage on our pocket camera in Blitar and make some sort of video for the song Stella when we return home. We have no real concept so decide just to make it up as we go along.
The journey takes about 4 hours and delivers us directly to out old friend Pepenk’s family house. It is a wonderful thing to arrive at this home and we are welcomed in in the warmest way.
We settle in and reconnect telling stories of the last couple of days. And finally we get to meet Stella, who is now about five.
Last time we were here Lestari, Stella’s mother, was pregnant, and the family asked Chrissie to suggest a name for the baby. Stella was offered if the baby was a girl. She is slight, inquisitive and full of life. We connect gently while we eat and chatter away.
Pepenk then takes us to meet the Ni Kita Jibril collective, one at a time on the back of his scooter.
Our first Indonesia scooter ride, an exhilarating experience in the dark, weaving between vehicles and potholes.
It is a short trip to the collective space situated on what appears to be a main road. We arrive and meet the collective members and one of their mothers who also lives and cooks in this building – about ten in total live here. Pepenk tells us of the work that this DIY hardcore punk collective do, and about the space in which they do it. The building forecourt is used as a carwash, but we are told that it is a carwash built by hand by Ni Kita Jibril from the ground up. Collective members constructed, poured concrete and together worked on their own terms. The currency Rupiah is earned from the carwash and then divided between the workers, the collective needs, and any ongoing running costs.
There’s about 8 guys working there when we arrive. We watch them execute a “snow wash”, they are intent to do the best job they can.
Pepenk tells me that the quality of the work is important as it is there attempt to help reduce judgmental attitudes towards the local heavily tattooed community. It is the hope that they will be considered on the quality of their work rather than their appearance. And interestingly Pepenk tells of the impact of being tattooed in Indonesian society. It guarantees that you will never get a job in governmental or civic employment. So for some with tattoos, they are a conscious and committed act of refusing to take part in the system.
Inside the building is a long compact room for screen printing, a room with two computers where local video clips have been made and the net is accessed, a hand made rehearsal studio for local bands, and a hairdresser where a couple of the young women create self-employment. It’s an amazing set up. We are shown videos that have been made of educational workshops the collective has facilitated to the community. We are blown away by the considered and practical functions in this space, an amazing inspiration, and an astounding example of d.i.y at best.
There has been a recent change to the concert plan, the show is planned for Tuesday but has been brought forward to Monday. On Tuesday the collective plan to take us to the beach to film a music video! Indis is the director and he seems to have a strong idea of what he would like to do. This feels like a collective-owned project and things are happening for us and about us and we simply go with the flow. Any plan we had made, and there wasn’t much, has gone out the window, to our relief. It is wonderful to feel the community ownership of this project, and it feels as if the community have taken ownership of the song Stella as well, it is after all about the experience shared by many Indonesians who travel great distance for employment.
And before we leave a spontaneous jam session tales place in the studio. Then we go home and sleep.
Monday morning, we wake to the sound of Stella getting ready for kindy. We are the spectacle for the local children who swing past the house but remain shy to the strangers. We try to teach them clapping games and attempt connection though play and its fun, although we have no mutual language, other than maybe laughter and goofiness.
It is show day and we need to travel about one hour north of Blitar to a smaller town, a small convoy of us travel in van and on scooter. Movement by scooter is such a massive mechanism of transport, it would be an ecological disaster should all the scooter riders suddenly decide to travel by cars.
We arrive at the venue, it is in the front yard of a family home located down a narrow and busy residential street.
A crowd has already gathered and consists of young children, many local youth, and elderly women. A Food not Bombs stall is feeding the masses, there’s a woodcut exhibition, a zine and tape distro, and a drawing workshop being run by the local collective for the children. The stage has been set at the entrance to the house, and the bands set up and play, enthusiastic, jubilant raw street punk.
We get changed during one of the acts and come out just before we are due to perform, exiting our changing room onto the street, and if any traffic were possible that day on the street then we would have stopped it. We were surrounded by dozens of enthusiastic folk agog at the spectacle before them, a weird white clad duo, some called us ghosts. We were surrounded in a very orderly fashion, children at the front and then the many older women.
Then it was photo time, and we were approached by young mums with babies who wanted a picture and we almost, without fail, manage to scare and make cry every baby. This spectacle was genuine fun, a chance for the locals to enjoy this funny little bit of theatre outside of everyday life.
Then it was our turn to play, and again the audience arranged itself with the youngest at the front, so all could see. We were asked to describe each song before we played it, our words were translated into local language. It was our opportunity to play Stella to this community, this song is what this trip is all about. Another song that we have rekindled is Buru, a song based on a series of books The Buru Quartet by a Javanese dissident author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, this song also gathers attention amongst the crowd.
And it’s done, we finish and it feels monumental, the song Stella has taken a long journey to finally return to the community where it belongs and get the opportunity to be sung into the Javanese air. After the set there is one more band, loads of conversation, and a movie. Meanwhile in the kitchen many of the local woman have been preparing food collected and donated by the local collective. Food not Bombs has finished and this new feast appears and the community is sated. We return to our temporary home in Blitar later that evening and sleep contentedly.
Waking Tuesday we prepare ourselves for the day. Over breakfast we get to have the conversation with Lestari about the content of the song. It is our first opportunity to do so and we hope that we have not created any discomfort by writing what we perceive to be her story. Lestari remarks that she was amazed at how we got it so close to her experience, and no, she wasn’t uncomfortable about it. We learnt much more of the conditions of her employment while working in Singapore. She was expected to work seven days a week, no days off, attending to the needs of the ten people in the household from morning to night. Once a month she could call home for ten minutes. She also lost contact with her husband, who had also gone to Bali to or better paid work, for a long period of time. Stella remained in Blitar being raised by Lestari’s mother. After about four years Lestari returned to Blitar unable to tolerate being away from her family anymore.
Around midday we collect ourselves and return to the collective space and get ready to make this video. There’s a gang of guys all helping, and the van is loaded with drum kit, amps, cameras, and bodies, and we head of to the beach Tambakrejo. It’s a rugged and beautiful journey and we descend into a broad horseshoe shaped bay of golden sand, fishing boats, and the community that use them.
The equipment is set up on a rocky pier, pieces of instrument balanced of smaller rocks.
A speaker system is set up so we can mime to the song, a battery powered speaker with a microphone situated to a cellphone speaker! We wait til the suns is close to setting and then filming begins. It’s a wild experience, the local fisher men standing in the distance watching this mute-ish circus perform. The actual filming takes no longer than a couple of hours.
It was an incredible day! After the filming was finished, we changed, collected the gear back into the van and returned to Blitar.
This is our last night here, and there’s sadness in the idea of leaving. We repack our gear in preparation of the journey to Jogjakarta in the morning. Pepenk has arranged another Travel Van for us as the most direct transport to the following show.
We sleep, wake and go to the depot to departure. But the farewells first are deep and heartfelt. It is nothing short of remarkable, that the journey that has started five years ago, and now the completion of that journey, has been a vast and extraordinary learning experience.
And so without further ado ladies and gent’s, here is the final version of the video, in all it’s glorious splashy technicolour. Cheers enormously for the swift work Ni Kita Jibril, an amazing effort!