For three of the street musicians featured in the documentary “Jalanan,” it was a fitting end to a journey that has taken five years, as they stepped into the spotlight on Monday.
When the film made its Indonesian premiere on Monday at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, the three took to the stage in front of 4,000 cheering festival-goers from all over the world to do what they do best.
Ho, one of the documentary’s main subjects delivered a stellar rock performance in what seemed to be an unrehearsed, spontaneous jam session with the band Navicula.
Singing and screaming into the microphone, Ho moved up and down the stage like a veteran, shaking his head and swaying his dreadlocks. Ho is used to creating music on the fly, singing lyrics off the top of his head and that day was no exception.
But the experiment was far from Ho’s beautifully crafted original song featured in the film, where he is seen busking in a packed bus in Jakarta singing about greed and corruption.
“Reformasi / Masturbasi...” he sings in the film, produced and directed by Daniel Ziv, a brutally honest view of the Reformasi movement, launched by students in the streets 15 years ago. Ho’s lyrics remind those students, now stakeholders of the status quo, that men like him continue to live as second class citizens.
Boni, another of the film’s main subjects, sang one of his original compositions whose folksy feel draws its inspiration from singer and underclass hero Iwan Fals. His song spoke to the hardships of those marginalized by the harsh realities of a metropolis like Jakarta.
There was a certain poetic quality to his words. In contrast to Ho’s spontaneous and at times erratic energy, Boni brought a street philosophy to his music.
“There must be feces from all kinds of people in that toilet bowl. Rich people, poor people,” Boni says in the film’s scene where he pretends to be rich and uses a lavatory in an upscale Jakarta mall.
“If their feces can mix, why can’t the people?” he asks.
In another scene, Boni decorates his makeshift home under a city bridge to make it feel like a five-star hotel. The film charts his path to homelessness after his home is again destroyed by city officials.
Boni, who dyed his hair blond and wore a colorful T-shirt while performing at the film’s premiere, said even though life is now better he still remembers his street days, when he busked from one bus to the next and lived in a squatter home.
“Everything you see in the movie is true. It was our life and my friend Daniel captured it perfectly,” he said.
Titi, the female character, also gave a beautiful performance. As a street musician she is used to singing in front of a dozen bus passengers who generally ignore her or pretend to sleep. She also has a deep repertoire of religious songs because, as she says on camera “they are more attracted by sympathy, and pay” than when she plays her original tunes.
But all attention was on her as she played an original pop folk song about the day-to-day struggle of a woman in the city. In the film, she charms the crowd with a beautiful voice and sweet melancholic notes strummed from her guitar.
“If only my father could see me now,” she says with tears in her eyes. Her father died before seeing his daughter finally leave the street life, earn a high-school diploma and sing to a crowd of 4,000.
In an earlier interview with the Jakarta Globe, Ziv, a Canadian native who moved to Jakarta 14 years ago, said he did a lot of bus-hopping, conducting what he called “an internal audition” in his head.
His editing resulted in a 107-minute film that documents the musicians’ tumultuous lives over the course of five years. The film, which won Best Documentary at Busan International Film Festival in South Korea last week, also tells a story of perseverance and determination.
Its portrayal of the lives of buskers transcends the sympathy evoked from issues of poverty, begging and homelessness, and portrays a depth to the engaging, philosophical and creative souls in a hidden city waiting to be discovered. Mostly, though, it is about the music, which reaches out for you in rawest form.
Boni and his music aim to change the reality he alludes to on screen, that the rich and poor don’t mix: The three musicians who have lived the street life are beginning to touch hearts of people from all walks of life.