Nov 15, 2018 Last Updated 6:23 AM, Nov 5, 2018

Battle of the bands

Julia Perez in Democrat Party campaign - http://www.jpnn.com
Published: Nov 30, 2015

Hariyadi

On the last day of the 2014 presidential campaign, tens of thousands flocked to Gelora Bung Karno stadium. The audience enjoyed free musical performances from renowned Indonesian artists, and showed their enthusiasm to the musicians, particularly Slank, an iconic group of Indonesian pop-rock music.  But their most enthusiastic support was reserved for a skinny man, who ran to the centre of the stage to address the audience, Joko Widodo (Jokowi). 

Most of the audience who were shouting out ‘Salam Dua Jari’ (Two-finger salute, referring to Jokowi’s number in ballot paper) might have already had him at the front of their minds before the concert.  However, some pundits thought that the concert was important to sway the attention of swinging voters (mostly young people) from the other candidate, Prabowo Subianto.  In the last weeks of the campaign Prabowo had been able to close the gap in the polls and Prabowo’s camp predicted that their candidate would take over the lead.  Arguably, the success of the ‘Salam Dua Jari’ concert was one of the reasons Jokowi could maintain his popularity over Prabowo and win the election.

Has video killed the radio star?

The prominence of pop music videos in the 2014 electoral campaigns marked a watershed moment for political campaigning in Indonesia. Whilst in the past dangdut and other musical forms have been used in electoral campaigns, the 2014 presidential election was saturated with a variety of musical genres offered on many different platforms. In the presidential election videos created by musicians and uploaded to YouTube became both official and unofficial campaigning tools for the two candidates. These videos included original songs and productions and parodies of popular music videos, attracting millions of viewers.

The first Indonesian popular music video release explicitly campaigning for a candidate in any election was most likely ‘Jokowi and Basuki’, produced by Cameo Project, a group of amateur artists from Jakarta in support of Jokowi’s campaign for governor of Jakarta in 2012. The song was a parody of ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, by British boy band One Direction.  The ‘Jokowi and Basuki’ music video was an instant hit and became a theme song for the campaign.  The video was not developed by Jokowi’s own campaign team, but rather by Jokowi’s ‘volunteers’.

Following the success of this video, when Jokowi ran for the presidency in 2014 his supporters produced several more like it.  Most significantly, popular heavy metal band Slank wrote Salam Dua Jari, a song dedicated to supporting Jokowi’s presidency campaign.  Hip-hop singer, Marzuki Muhammad, who is known as Kill the DJ, also produced ‘Bersatu Padu Coblos No.2 (Together We Vote for No.2)’. Both songs used pop to create a catchy way for voters to remember which box to check on the electoral ballot.


Prabowo Subianto was also supported by musicians, including famous songwriter and singer, Ahmad Dhani. Dhani’s video was a cover with original lyrics of English band Queen’s hit song, ‘We Will Rock You’. It featured himself and contestants from the popular television reality program, Indonesian Idol, where Dhani was one of the judges.  The music video was met with controversy, not only because Dhani did not seek copyright permission from the writer of the song, Brian May of Queen, but because he and other musicians featured in the video, wore Nazi-style uniforms.

Nothing new

The use of musical performances during elections is not new.  Music was regularly used in campaigning in the New Order period when there were only three political parties.  All three parties, including PPP, the only Islamic political party, used musical performances, dangdut in particular, to attract audiences to their public speeches.  The power of dangdut was such that the New Order government banned a performance by Rhoma Irama, who supported PPP in 1977 and 1982 general elections, from TV and radio.  Rhoma Irama would later align himself with various Islamic political parties including PKB ahead of the 2014 elections and in July 2015 he announced that he had established his own party, the Peaceful and Benign Islam (Idaman) party.

In the post-New Order period, politicians have clearly been more aware of the allure of musical performances.  The difference between the New Order and post-New Order periods is in the varieties of musical genre the politicians have used in their campaigns. In the 2004 presidential election, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), who went on to win, often sang ‘Pelangi Dimatamu’ (Rainbow in Your Eyes) in public, including on live television in the final episode of Indonesian Idol.  During the 2009 campaign, SBY, this time also with his rival, Wiranto, also sang in Indonesian Idol’s finale. 

In 2014, Prabowo Subianto likewise attended the final episode of Indonesian Idol. The very popular show is produced by RCTI, a private TV station owned by Hary Tanoesoedibjo, a Prabowo supporter. Unlike SBY and Wiranto, Prabowo did not sing. He became a guest judge instead, which led to one of the more memorable moments in the campaign, where he appeared on stage with the winner, Papuan Nowela Elizabeth Aupray, wearing a traditional Papuan head dress.

Widely known as a fan of heavy rock music, Jokowi used another way to utilise the power of music. Since his Jakarta governorship campaign in 2012, Jokowi continued to be supported by Slank.  It was Slank who initiated the ‘Salam Dua Jari’ concert to support Jokowi’s presidential candidacy. The concert, attended by tens of thousands supporters, was funded by the band and money raised by volunteers. 

International support

It was also notable that some foreign musicians took an interest in the 2014 presidential election, with several supporting Jokowi via their social media platforms. Musicians Sting and Jason Mraz and rock group Arkarna, encouraged Indonesian voters to support democracy and get behind Jokowi. Their support was predictably met by criticism from Prabowo’s supporters who argued that musicians (be they western or Indonesian) should be neutral, or at least keep their distance from political matters.

Twitter Screen shot - Jason Mraz
Twitter Screen shot - Jason Mraz

Music, politics and business

In one of the presidential debates, Jokowi pledged to make the development of creative economies – including music – a priority during his presidency. In the debate, Jokowi said that creative economies have huge potential to nurture Indonesia’s many talents in arts as well as to help to improve public welfare.  Indonesians must scrutinise the promise to develop the creative economy along with his many other promises during the election. So far, the promise is yet to be delivered, as new government body created to deal with it, the Creative Economy Agency, has done nothing but select and appoint officials and recruit employees. The chairman of the agency, businessman and former musician Triawan Munaf has said that there are three focuses of creative economy that will be developed: fashion, music, and cuisine.

As the 2014 elections demonstrated, the importance of popular music as a tool for political campaigning is here to stay. It is hoped that the ability of the music to influence people is not limited to entertainment. Music could be an effective tool to raise critical awareness to a wide range of social issues, ranging from environment, corruption, gender, poverty, to violence. And if government is really serious about making music as one of its focuses in developing the creative economy, music should be able to generate sufficient income for anyone who has interest and talent in it. 

Hariyadi (harryhariyadi@gmail.com) is a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Jenderal Soedirman University of Purwokerto, Central Java.

Inside Indonesia 122: Oct-Dec 2015

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