When Music and Politics Mix

Indonesian rock band Slank takes support for the Anti-graft agency, or KPK, to street concert. Musicians like Slank are increasingly engaged with politics, making their political beliefs work to support candidates who are in line with their values, embracing their appeal in their music and lyrics. (Antara Photo/Hafidz Mubarak A)

By : Albert W. Nonto | on 3:33 PM April 25, 2017
Category : News, Politics

Jakarta. Slank has been in the music business for three decades. As a musical genre, the group represents an unusual way of making music. The word ‘slank’ itself is an informal way of spelling the English word ‘slang’: Slank as a way of life representing informality and equality.  In the wider perspective the term ‘slank’ combines satire, criticism, slang and the voice of freedom, sincerity and fraternity. Most importantly it is a symbol of vox populi – the voice of the people.

Slank’s manager Iffet Veceha Sidharta, commonly known as Bunda Iffet (Mother Iffet), has been at the band’s helm through good times and bad. She sees the band as a significant theme in Indonesia’s music industry over the past 30 years.  

The group is true to the pop-rock genre and has built a huge fan base across the country. As the trendsetter, the band has helped the birth of many more singers and bands. Iffet mentions big names in the industry such as Ahmad Dhani and Dewa, Gigi, Anang Hermansyah and Tompi, who all made their debut at Slank headquarters in Gang Potlot in South Jakarta, which itself has become a symbol of freedom and brotherhood.

For slow-rock music fans Potlot is a place to hang out, chat and meet with fellow fans from around Indonesia. Because of the fanatic followings of Slank, its fans are at times the targets of politicians keen to attract voters. Slank personnel are no longer young, now aged between 40 and 50, but their fans span a wide range of ages. The band is composed of Bimo Setiawan Almachzumi or Bimbim, 51, Akhadi Wira Satriaji or Kaka, 43, Mohammad Ridho Hafiedz or Rido, 45, Ivan Kurniawan Arifin or Ivanka, 46, and Abdi Negara Nurdin or Abdee, 49. 

Aspiring presidential candidate Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo visited Slank headquarters to win support before the 2014 elections and the band has been vocal in its support of embattled Jakarta gubernatorial incumbents Basuki Tjahaya Purnama – ‘Ahok’ - and Djarot Saifullah Hidayat, seeing them as representing the values they sing of:  transparency, integrity, anti-corruption. 

While many other musicians are cautious about supporting politicians, Slank has been outspoken in its political positions, unconcerned about losing fans who disagree with them. They too were neutral for many years but when Jokowi ran for governor of Jakarta in 2012 and then as president they were unreserved in their support. 

“I didn’t vote for a long time but I see the humble and real intention in him,” said iconic Slank drummer Bimbim of Jokowi in 2014. Similar perceptions drive the band’s backing of Ahok, who they see as a leader without personal interest who is transparent and offers clear programs. “As long as he stands firm to fight corruption and is transparent, we support him,” says Slank member Kaka. 

Avid campaigner 

On the other side of the political fence is dangdut ‘legend’ Rhoma Irama. He has written some thousand songs with more than 93 albums during his career. Dangdut - Indonesia’s country music - still has a huge fan base, especially with the lower-class market. As a musician, no-one can deny Rhoma’s achievement in the industry and his durability. 

With some 30 million fans throughout the country, Rhoma has long been a magnet for business and politics. His involvement in politics has made him a vote-getter for political parties. During the Suharto era, he was a frontrunner in the campaign for the Islam-based United Development Party (PPP). 

In the reformasi era he has continued to back Islam-based parties, although in 2014 his original promise to support Muhaimin Iskandar’s National Awakening Party (PKB) was dropped to support Jokowi. Now, aware of the fidelity of his fans, he has started his own political party, Partai Idaman, hoping to be a participant in the next presidential election in 2019.

This article was first published in Globe Asia magazine 

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