Music often the key to winning Indonesian voters

AFP, TANGERANG, Indonesia

Fri, Apr 12, 2019 - Page 5

From Indonesia’s hip-swiveling juggernaut dangdut to thumping rock bands and Islam-infused tunes, music could be the clincher for winning hearts — and votes — as the world’s third-biggest democracy heads to the polls next week.

Political platforms aside, candidates know it is entertainment that draws the crowds to campaign rallies in music-mad Indonesia.

Just ask millennial voter Muhammad Ariel, who went to a concert where popular rock band Radja performed in support of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi.

Screaming “where are Jokowi’s fans,” Radja’s energetic show and thumbs-up for Indonesia’s heavy-metal music loving leader resonates with young voters like Ariel, who make up almost one-third of the electorate.

Jokowi’s camp has said that winning over millennial and first-time voters was crucial.

“I’m a Radja fan because their songs are great, but it’s also because we’re going to vote for the same candidate,” Ariel said from the rally near Jakarta.

More than 190 million people are set to cast a ballot for thousands of candidates, from the president down to local legislators, in the nation’s biggest-ever election on Wednesday next week.

Music is essential in this nation of 260 million, where song and dance is a staple of television shows, sporting events, presidential debates and even the central bank’s recent economic review.

It is a must-do at election time.

“Music is meant to capture the interest of people on the lower rungs of society,” said Hamdi Muluk, a University of Indonesia psychology professor who has a specialty in politics and voter behavior.

Jokowi’s rival, retired general Prabowo Subianto, is banking on capturing the attention of conservative voters with concerts featuring Islam-inspired gambus music.

Prabowo’s musical arsenal also includes Rhoma Irama, a geriatric-looking version of Elvis Presley who is famed as the “King of Dangdut.”

The hugely popular style — which runs the gamut from religion-inspired lyrics to a raunchier version involving sensual dance moves similar to twerking — takes its cue from Hindustani and Arabic music.

Dangdut is infused with a hypnotic percussion beat backed by a multi-instrument band.

Every Indonesian knows it, there are television channels dedicated to it, and dangdut is performed everywhere from the smallest villages to bustling Jakarta — and the beat ramps up during election time.

The promise of a legendary crooner like Irama, clad in a white jumpsuit, is what got housewife Alima Kholil out to a huge rally for Subianto in vote-rich West Java, despite pouring rain.

“I’ve never seen him before and I know that when he sings, he’ll be singing about religion,” the 44-year-old said of Irama’s Islam-inspired tunes.

For 46-year-old fan Jhon Kenedi, a taxi driver, Irama might have taken the country’s top job if he had a decided to throw his hat in the ring against Jokowi and Subianto.

“I’d choose him if he ran,” Kenedi said.

Irama’s dangdut style is not the only one offer, though. Another version involving erotic dance and female performers in skimpy clothing is hugely popular, despite opposition from some conservative Muslims.

Dangdut star Inul Daratista made a career out of her signature “drill dance” in which she moved her hips in a rapid circular motion like a drill — sparking a string of copycats.

At a Jokowi rally in Soreang on Java this week, throngs of mostly male fans did not appear to be thinking much about politics as they cheered on a voluptuous dangdut singer in skin-tight pants.

“Music is just part of the lifestyle” here, said Bens Leo, an Indonesian music journalist. “And you can bet that a big majority of a band’s loyal fans will vote for the candidate that their favorite stars pick.”