Category: Stories

What I Miss, pt. 1

I have been away from Bandung, my hometown, for almost two years now. Within the last three months, I have been having the most serious homesickness I have ever had. I’ll tell you what I am missing.


This area around the city square

This is not exactly the city square, which is a sight of fake plastic grass and a smell of a million naked feet. The street next to it, the Dalem Kaum street, is my favorite weekdays destination but also my least favorite weekend destination. Go here on a free Tuesday; parking is a breeze, street food carts reduced to those whose snacks are actually delectable and affordable, and shops empty (although some were no more because of a great fire two years ago).


Warung Tegal (Warteg) is a national institution. It is a simple, very affordable food stall with seats for very few number of people; you can find a warteg in almost every metropolitan city in Java and some other islands. The namesake comes from the small city of Tegal in Central Java, known for their people who venture into other areas of Indonesia to introduce and establish their culinary heritage. It sells a variety of traditional and signature Javanese dishes, lots of saucy curry-style dishes and deep-fried goodness, to be served alongside steamed rice. My favorite dish that is almost always available in every warteg is salt-cured skipjack tuna fillet cooked in red chili pepper sauce. This particular Braga Jaya Warung Tegal is located in downtown Bandung; its pricing is on the more expensive side but still affordable for people from almost every walk of life.


S.14: this warm and cozy library and events venue

S.14 is an emerging intellectual institution in my city. It is an independent library and event space, often hosting talks and tiny acoustic concerts, such as the one pictured above, my buddy Oscar Lolang’s first ever concert featuring the amazing Jon Kastela (sitting, left)’s soothing voice. S.14 is currently on hiatus as the owners, spouses Aminuddin Siregar (a.k.a. Ucok) and Herra Pahlasari, are in the Netherlands where Ucok is taking his Ph.D. at the University of Leiden.


Kupat Tahu, my go-to breakfast dish.

This particular one is from a stall in the neighborhood market, about 15 minutes walk from home. The dish originated from the regency of Tasikmalaya, about 110 kms to the southeast of Bandung; most people selling the dish throughout Indonesia hailed from the very same town where the dish was first concocted. The dish consists of slices (or dices) of a dense rice cake (the kupat) and pieces of flash-fried succulent yellow tofu (the tahu); mung bean sprouts are typically added before everything is doused in watery peanut sauce and sweet soy sauce. Another popular variation of the dish is tahu petis, which is similar to kupat tahu with the only difference being the addition of petis (smooth fermented shrimp paste) into the peanut sauce. This dish is particularly a breakfast fare, and most stalls or carts that sell this dish close down shop before noon.


This second breakfast of chocolate milk and local doughnuts

Sometimes the kupat tahu just doesn’t cut it and when you’re in downtown area around 9 am, you feel like having a quick and sweet second breakfast. People on Java in general are not particularly fond of dairy products thus finding fresh dairy products is generally tricky. Luckily the dairy stalls downtown, just about a five-minute walk from the city square, serve fresh whole milk every morning delivered from Pangalengan, a small town just outside of my city known for its fresh milk and dairy products. The chocolate milk in the picture does not come flavored, and flavored syrups are added to the fresh milk right before it is served. Popular flavors include chocolate, strawberry, mocha, and vanilla. These stalls also serve cookies, cakes, and pastries, whose ingredients include the very same kind of milk they serve fresh. My favorites are the doughnuts, which are smaller yet denser than American-style doughnuts, with toppings and glazing that are not as sweet as their American counterparts.


This particularly filling dessert called Pisang Ijo

Pisang Ijo (lit. Green Banana) comes from the province of South Sulawesi, but it is getting more popular in Java in the recent years. It is mainly a dessert, but it can also be quite filling considering the ingredients. The titular green banana is made with a particularly soft and sweet variety of banana, encased in a pancake-like dough made of rice flour colored green from pandan leaves extract. What gives the dessert its unique combination of flavor is the creamy and rich custard sauce. Sometimes sweet syrup is added, although the custard itself is already sweet enough, as well as chocolate sprinkles and crushed peanuts. It is served cold with ice cubes or shaved ice.


This amazing hand-pulled noodles from Singapore

Okay, this is another food item not originally from my city, but this is the closest thing to having easy access to hand-pulled noodles whenever you want it. (And I always want it.) Mie Tarik King is a Singaporean chain that specializes in making their noodles hand-pulled and fresh on the counter. They offer a variety of soups and stir-fried noodles; all of which are good, but my favorite is the one pictured, which is the sweet-ish soy-sauce-based chicken broth with sweet stir-fried chicken, fried wonton bits, and kangkung (water spinach), an always welcome vegetable addition to any Chinese-style noodle soup. Kangkung may or may not be illegal in the US; if it is really illegal, then it is a crime committed to Southeast Asian Chinese food lovers in the US, who miss out on a vegetable that may be as addictive as weed.


This simple yet delectable fried rice with crackers and pickled cucumbers (not pickles!)

Okay, this is not even in my city, but in Jatinangor, the college town where I worked in. This fried rice stall opens late in the afternoon and stays open well into the wee hours of the morning. It cannot get simpler than this: rice, pre-prepared spice mix (which the owners spend all morning mixing), scrambled eggs, and tiny pieces of pulled chicken. The wok taste, the smokiness is what makes the simplicity so delicious.


This Tegal soto, which is my go-to sick dish

As mentioned above, Warung Tegal is a national institution, but few Warung Tegals actually serve the Tegal variety of soto, a national dish which invariably consists of a meat-based broth with rich spices, which includes at least one kind of meat, be it chicken, beef, or mutton. The Tegal soto is usually a chicken soto, with also a chicken-based broth enriched by thick coconut milk. The Tegal soto is perhaps comparable in appearance to the Jakartan Betawi soto, but the Betawi soto usually lacks turmeric; the Tegal soto is exactly characterized by its turmeric smell and taste which go hand-in-hand with the rich coconut milk. This particular Tegal soto from Jatinangor includes a healthy amount of pulled, stewed chicken, potato cubes, fresh scallions, and emping crackers. In this picture, it is served alongside a plate of steamed rice sprinkled with fried shallots and a piece of deep-fried tempe. Any kind of soto is typically comfort food, and the Tegal soto is one for when I feel a little under the weather.

As we roam further from my city, in part 2 I’ll include more things that I miss that do not come from or are not available in my city!






















Lagu Minggu Ini: “Aku Tak Berdosa” (Favourite’s Group)

Minggu lalu dan minggu ini saya rindu sekali pada satu lagu yang dulu sering saya dengarkan waktu saya masih kecil; saking sukanya saya pada lagu itu, ketika alm. bapak merekam suara saya untuk pertama kali, saya nyanyikan lagu itu. Dengan kekuatan YouTube, akhirnya saya temukan lagu yang saya rindukan itu, bahkan sekaligus dalam album orisinalnya yang ditransfer dari piringan hitam dengan cermat oleh bung John Kwa Indonesia, yang sebelumnya dikenal telah pula mengunggah diskografi lengkap Koes Bersaudara dan Koes Plus. Lagu yang saya kangeni adalah lagu pertama di album bertajuk Favourite’s Group Vol(ume) 4, yang dirilis sekitar tahun 1974 (umumnya album-album pop Indonesia pada masa itu tidak berangka tahun).


Seingat saya, lagu ini pertama kali saya dengar bukan dari Volume 4, tapi dari kaset kompilasi bertajuk The Very Best of Favourite’s Group. Almarhum bapak membeli kaset itu karena seleksi lagunya sangat bagus dan lebih banyak berfokus pada formasi klasik Favourite’s Group (dijelaskan sedikit di bawah), formasi yang paling ia suka. Saya mulai ikut-ikutan memutar kaset itu dan menyukai banyak lagu di dalamnya, di antaranya lagu “Aku Tak Berdosa” ini, “Ma Onah”, “Cinta Monyet”, dan “Cari Kawan Lain”.

Jadi, siapa saja sebenarnya anggota formasi klasik Favourite’s Group? Favourite’s Group pertama didirikan pada tahun 1972 atas cetusan A. Riyanto, pencipta lagu, pemain kibor, dan produser veteran yang telah menulis banyak lagu sukses pada 1960an dan awal 1970an dan mengiringi beberapa penyanyi di studio rekaman bersama band-nya 4 Nada; beberapa penyanyi yang paling sukses ditanganinya adalah Tetty Kadi dan Arie Koesmiran. Formasi pertama Favourite’s Group bisa dikatakan adalah 4 Nada yang berganti nama, dan ditambah Mus Mulyadi sebagai penyanyi utama (walau A. Riyanto ikut pula bernyanyi beberapa lagu). Formasi pertama hanya bertahan sampai album pertama mereka usai direkam. Is Haryanto (dram) dan Harry Toos (gitar) bergabung untuk rekaman album kedua, dan Mus Mulyadi mengisi posisi gitar bas, instrumen yang ia mainkan sewaktu masih bergabung dengan band Ariesta Birawa. Tommy WS (bas) bergabung untuk album ketiga dan seterusnya, dan lengkaplah formasi klasik Favourite’s Group. Formasi ini awalnya hanya merekam dua album, Volume 3 dan 4, sebelum Mus Mulyadi memutuskan untuk fokus bersolo karir. Formasi ini kemudian bereuni pada tahun 1978 dan merilis beberapa album hingga pengunduran diri Harry Toos pada tahun 1989.

Lagu “Aku Tak Berdosa” dari Volume 4 ini mungkin lagu Favourite’s Group’s yang paling (atau mungkin salah satu yang paling) psikedelik dan bergitar. Lagu ini dibuka dengan melodi gitar sederhana yang berulang selama setengah menit yang mendadak dipotong oleh distorsi gitar satu not, diikuti dengan gitar ritem yang terdengar mirip “Hi Ho Silver Lining”-nya Jeff Beck Group. Lagu kemudian berlanjut dengan lirik utama yang dinyanyikan oleh A. Riyanto dan Mus Mulyadi, lirik dan melodi yang membius saya sewaktu saya kelas satu SD dan memutar kaset ini hampir setiap hari sepulang sekolah.  Refrain lagu ini dinyanyikan oleh A. Riyanto yang sepertinya terlalu memaksakan pita suaranya untuk mencapai nada tinggi, tapi menurut saya justru inilah bagian paling krusial sekaligus paling menggelikan dari lagu ini. Bagian refrain lagu ini kemudian mendadak pindah ke bagian bridge yang sangat sepi, dan sangat psikedelik, sebelum kembali lagi ke refrain. Lagu ini diakhiri dengan solo gitar Harry Toos hingga akhirnya menghilang dan selesai. Singkatnya, ini adalah lagu keren dan unik dalam katalog lagu  Favourite’s Group; lagu ini cenderung lebih keras dengan aransemen yang lebih longgar, cukup berbeda dibandingkan lagu-lagu balada mereka yang cenderung simfonik atau lagu-lagu upbeat mereka yang terasa lebih ringan dan umumnya dipengaruhi unsur musik keroncong atau dolanan Jawa.

Selama bertahun-tahun sejak tahun 1989 saya berusaha memahami maksud lirik lagu ini (lihat di bawah), tetapi terlalu banyak interpretasi bermunculan di benak saya. Apakah ini lagu tentang dosa asal (original sin)? Apakah ini lagu tentang kepolosan manusia di tengah alam, dan kemudian membandingkan dirinya dengan kepolosan alam? Apakah lagu ini ungkapan terima kasih pada Tuhan atas anugerah hidup dan penebusan dari dosa? Entahlah. Saat ini saya sebaiknya menikmati saja lagu keren ini.

Aku Tak Berdosa

(A. Riyanto)

Siapa yang berdosa
Tak dapat ku berkata
Siapa yang bersalah
Susah ditelaah
Mari kita
Kita renungkan

(Ulang *)

Refrain 1:
Siapakah harus berdosa?
Siapakah harus dicela
Bila rambut panjang terurai?

Mengapa tidak kau restui?
Mengapa tidak kau hayati
Indah dan bebas dan alam ini?

Pohon lebat daunnya
Begitu pun rambutku
Telah diciptakanNya sejak dahulu

Refrain 2:
Di mana tempatku berdiri
Indahnya alam kunikmati
Syukur pada Tuhan Yang Esa

(Ulang *, Bridge, Refrain 2, dan *)



Indonesian Classic Song of the Week: “Aku Tak Berdosa” by Favourite’s Group

This week I’ve been longing to listen to a song of my childhood, a song I was so fond of that when my father recorded my voice for the first time on our first tape recorder when I was a first grader, it was the voice of me singing this song. With the magic of YouTube, I found somebody had digitally transferred the album the song is on from a very good vinyl copy. The credit goes to John Kwa Indonesia, the uploader. The song is the first track on this album called Favourite’s Group Vol(ume) 4, which was released some time in 1974.


But I remember that I didn’t hear this song for the first time from this particular album, but rather from a compilation album called The Very Best of Favourite’s Group. My father bought the album in 1989 because he loved the selection of songs, which are basically the Favourite Group’s songs that he grew up with. I began playing the album over and over mainly because of two songs, “Ma Onah” (perhaps more on this later) and this song.

So, let’s get things straight first: who were the Favourite’s Group? The Favourite’s Group was somewhat of an early Indonesian pop supergroup of the 1970s. It formed in 1972 out of veteran (even at that time) songwriter, keyboardist, and studio A&R person A. Riyanto’s idea of turning the backing band of his recording studio into an independent, hitmaking pop sensation. The band’s first album was instantly successful due to Riyanto’s presence and immaculate pop songwriting and production, Mus Mulyadi’s strong and unique vocal work, and the band’s high degree of musicianship, owing to the fact that it consisted of experienced session musicians. The original incarnation of the band didn’t stick around for too long, leaving A. Riyanto and Mus Mulyadi to complete the line-up with what is considered the classic Favourite’s Group line-up with Harry Toos on guitar, Is Haryanto on drums, and later Tommy WS on bass guitar by the time their third album rolled. It was unusual for Indonesian bands of the early 1970s to title their album, so each album is only called a volume with a corresponding number, so the Favourite’s Group first album is called Volume 1, second album Volume 2, and so on. The classic line-up recorded Volume 3 and 4 before Mus Mulyadi decided to focus on his solo career.

The song “Aku Tak Berdosa” from Volume 4 is perhaps the Favourite’s Group’s most psychedelic-sounding and guitar-centric song. The song starts with a simple clean electric guitar melody that goes on for about half a minute before getting abruptly cut by a long single note on distorted electric guitar, followed by a rhythm guitar pattern reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and then the main verse of the song, sung in harmony by A. Riyanto and Mus Mulyadi. The melody of this main verse was the melody that captivated me as a kid for whatever reason. The chorus of the song is sung by A. Riyanto attempting to reach a high note and straining his vocal cords, but I always find this part fitting albeit a little cringey. The chorus then breaks down into a quieter middle eight section before coming full force into the chorus with different lyrics. The song ends with a guitar solo that fades out. In short, it was a great and unique song in the Favourite’s Group catalogue; it is an almost all-out rocking psychedelic and somewhat loose track in the band’s usually tight and more symphonic approach to their music arrangements.

And by the way, the lyrics just don’t seem to make sense while the title means “I’m Not Sinful” or “I’m Free of Sins”, or “I’m Innocent”; if you’re new to the Indonesian language, the lyrics will sound even more like random jumbled phrases. Is this a song about a person freed from the original sin? Is this a song about the innocence of man amidst nature or compared to the innocence of nature? Is this a song of gratitude to God for the gift of life and innocence? Was the band on something when they wrote and recorded this song? I don’t know. What’s important is that this song is awesome and brings back good memories.



“Sekarang kau tinggal aku…”, Yon Koeswoyo (1940-2018)


Foto Koes Plus favorit saya dari sampul album Volume 8: in action, kiri-kanan: Tony Koeswoyo (gitar, kibor, vokal), Yon Koeswoyo (vokal, gitar), Yok Koeswoyo (gitar bas, vokal), Murry (dram, vokal).

Saya selalu berpikir bahwa suatu saat saya akan menulis tentang Koes Plus (dan juga tentang Koes Bersaudara), mungkin lewat satu racauan di blog saya atau mungkin secara lebih akademik ketika saya sudah tidak terlalu disibukkan dengan studi. Banyak yang bisa dibicarakan tentang Koes Plus: mereka salah satu ikon counterculture sekaligus ekses budaya populer Indonesia; romantisme mereka tentang Nusantara (di antaranya melalui lagu-lagu Nusantara yang berjilid-jilid itu) tentunya pantas ditelisik; suka atau tidak, peran mereka sebagai kepanjangan tangan sekaligus komentator Orde Baru melalui musik populer (seperti yang pernah dibahas secara umum, seingat saya oleh Budiarto Shambazy beberapa tahun lalu) juga perlu lebih ditelaah. Akan tetapi, saat ini saya sebaiknya memendam dulu segala gagasan tersebut dan berkubang dalam berbagai kenangan sebagai seorang pecinta musik Koes Plus, karena setelah 5 Januari 2018, Koes Plus seperti yang saya (dan kita yang familiar dengan musik mereka) kenal mungkin tidak akan ada lagi. Pada 5 Januari kemarin Yon Koeswoyo, penyanyi utama dan gitaris ritmis Koes Bersaudara dan Koes Plus, berpulang. Mengucapkan selamat jalan kepada Yon Koeswoyo adalah juga mengucap selamat jalan kepada Koes Plus yang saya tahu, yang diperjuangkan oleh Yon hingga akhir hayatnya.

Sampai menjelang nafas akhirnya, Yon adalah satu-satunya anggota asli Koes Plus yang aktif bermusik. Kakak pertamanya, Tony Koeswoyo, sudah terlebih dahulu berpulang pada 1987. Yok Koeswoyo sudah cukup lama undur diri dari kegiatan bermusik dan hanya sesekali bergabung dalam kesempatan tertentu. Terakhir kali tiga anggota asli Koes Plus manggung bersama adalah pada konser Unplugged Koes Plus tahun 2013. (Walau ketiganya terkadang kurang kompak dan kurang latihan dalam beberapa lagu, ini adalah konser yang intim dan penuh canda spontan). Tak lama setelah konser ini, Murry berpulang. Setelah itu, dan bahkan sebelumnya ketika Murry sakit, Koes Plus adalah Yon Koeswoyo. Bahkan jauh sebelumnya ketika mereka masih utuh berempat, Yon Koeswoyo adalah suara Koes Plus (dan juga Koes Bersaudara), walaupun terkadang Tony, Yok, dan Murry pula bergiliran menyanyi.

Saya bukan hanya terbiasa dengan suara Yon; saya suka suara Yon karena mungkin ia adalah penyanyi Indonesia dengan suara yang paling jujur, tanpa teknik vokal yang istimewa atau njelimet; walaupun terkadang terdengar pengaruh Everly Brothers dan Barry Gibb (tentu bukan falsetonya) dalam suaranya, Yon tidak pernah terdengar berusaha terlalu keras untuk terdengar seperti orang lain. Yon Koeswoyo adalah Yon Koeswoyo. Sebagai orang Jawa (lahir di Tuban, Jawa Timur), ia tidak pernah kehilangan kejawaannya dalam bernyanyi, bahkan dalam lagu Koes Plus yang paling rock n’ roll dan berbahasa Inggris sekalipun. Saya dan almarhum bapak kerap menertawakan kejawaan intonasi dan pengucapan Yon, tapi kami juga tidak memungkiri bahwa kejawaan suaranya itulah yang membuat kami sangat menyayangi suara Yon. Seperti suara vokalnya, permainan gitarnya pun jujur, polos dan sederhana. Akan tetapi, penggemar Koes Plus mafhum bahwa suara dan genjrengan gitar Yon adalah dua unsur yang tetap membuat Koes Plus bertahan setelah Tony dan Murry berpulang serta Yok undur diri.

Saya tumbuh diiringi musik Koes Bersaudara dan Koes Plus, seperti halnya almarhum bapak saya yang juga tumbuh bersama musik Koes Bersaudara dan Koes Plus ketika ia masih kanak-kanak dan remaja. Lagu-lagu Koes Bersaudara dan Koes Plus adalah musik akhir pekan di keluarga kami, dinyanyikan bersama-sama dalam karaokean di depan televisi pada Sabtu malam dan diputar lewat kaset atau CD pada Minggu pagi untuk menemani beres-beres rumah. Dalam perjalanan ke luar kota dengan mobil, selalu terselip setidaknya satu kaset atau CD kompilasi “The Best of” atau “Lagu-lagu Terbaik” Koes Plus.

Ketika saya mulai bermusik secara amatir untuk hobi, saya memilih bermain dram; pilihan ini dipengaruhi terutama oleh dua penabuh dram: John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) dan Murry (Koes Plus). Salah satu impian saya sebagai seorang penabuh dram adalah membawakan lagu-lagu Koes Plus, tetapi sebagai seorang pemuda di awal tahun 2000an tentunya saya kerap terjebak membawakan lagu-lagu terkini pada masa itu (terkitu?). Baru pada paruh kedua 2000an, saya bertemu dengan teman-teman yang juga bersemangat mengikuti jejak almarhum bapak saya ketika ia muda dulu: membentuk band tribute amatir Koes Plus. (Bapak saya pun dulu menabuh dram dan ia mengakui bahwa Murry sangat mempengaruhi permainan dramnya.) Kami berlima hampir berhasil. Sayangnya karena kami terlalu sibuk, kami lumayan jarang latihan dan akhirnya dari semula berlima kami menjadi hanya bertiga. Sebagai band garasi (bukan Garasi) power trio, kami sempat bermusik serius-tidak serius (lebih banyak tidak seriusnya) dengan nama Tiga Pemuda Idaman Gadis Manis Diterpa Gelombang Cinta di Lautan Asmara Nun Jauh di Sana (nama yang sungguh serius). Walaupun kami banyak berlatih lagu-lagu garage rock 1960an dan juga lagu-lagu Cream, sebenarnya yang paling sering kami bawakan di panggung adalah “Kelelawar” dan “Mobil Tua”, yang tentu saja adalah lagu-lagu Koes Plus.

Ketika saya mulai coba-coba menulis lagu, tentunya saya memulai dengan sederhana dengan tiga atau empat kord saja, seperti yang kerap dilakukan Koes Plus. Memang saya kemudian menjadi lumayan pretensius dan bereksperimen ketika mulai menulis lagu untuk dinyanyikan oleh rekan satu band saya, tapi saya selalu merasa bahwa saya berutang pada Koes Plus yang membuka jalan. Saya terutama sekali berutang pada Yon Koeswoyo dengan lagu-lagunya yang bersahaja.

Yon Koeswoyo adalah seorang pencipta lagu yang produktif, dan banyak lagunya bersama Koes Plus tetap didengar sampai hari ini. Album-album Koes Plus selepas album pertama umumnya menampilkan Tony dan Yon sebagai pencipta lagu utama yang mengisi dua pertiga atau tiga perempat bagian, sementara sepertiga atau seperempat bagian lain dibagi antara Murry dan Yok atau diisi dengan lagu-lagu yang ditulis bersama. Menurut saya, lagu-lagu Yon adalah penyeimbang sempurna lagu-lagu Tony. Lagu-lagu Tony cenderung diaransemen dengan lebih pekat, dengan bunyi-bunyian yang lebih kaya dan pengaruh dari berbagai genre musik, dan juga kerap menyelipkan melodi atau progresi kord yang agak rumit dan “pintar” untuk ukuran lagu pop. Lagu-lagu Yon lebih sederhana dan terus terang (dan Tony sebagai pengaransemen dan produser sebagian besar lagu Koes Plus paham benar pentingnya menjaga kesederhanaan lagu-lagu Yon), kendati kerap terdengar lebih kontemplatif. Saya mengagumi semuanya dan bagi saya Koes Plus sebagai entitas penghasil musik adalah keseimbangan antara kedua pencipta lagu utamanya yang diselaraskan oleh kontribusi dari kedua anggota lain. Seperti halnya saya mengagumi karya-karya Tony dengan segala eksperimentasinya, saya mengagumi karya-karya Yon seperti saya mengagumi suaranya: sama-sama jujur, sederhana, dan polos.

Ketika Distantyearningalert (band saya kala itu) akan manggung untuk pertama kali sebagai entitas pop elektronik dengan seorang vokalis pada tahun 2009, saya berpikir untuk me-reka ulang “Kau Tinggalkan Aku” karya Yon Koeswoyo, yang intro vibraphone-nya selalu berdenting di telinga saya. “Kau Tinggalkan Aku” memang bukan lagu Koes Plus yang populer, tetapi buat saya ia istimewa secara musikal. “Kau Tinggalkan Aku” adalah lagu yang sangat singkat tetapi sangat atmosferik, dengan melodi yang sederhana yang melengkapi lirik yang sangat singkat tentang kekecewaan karena ditinggalkan oleh seorang yang dicintai. Kesederhanaan dan kesingkatan lagu ini menghindarkannya dari kecengengan, dan aransemen dan instrumentasinya yang minim dengan hanya mengandalkan gitar ritmis, vibraphone (!), dan dram yang sedikit dibekap menghadirkan kekosongan dan kekecewaan dengan sangat efektif. Setiap mendengar lagu ini, saya selalu terkesima oleh ambiens yang dihasilkan dari kesederhanaan dan kekosongannya.


Ketika Distantyearningalert menjadi trio pada tahun 2011, kami memutuskan untuk merekam “Kau Tinggalkan Aku” dengan memodifikasi musik dasar yang saya susun di tahun 2009. Sialnya, sesi rekaman “Kau Tinggalkan Aku” tidak terselamatkan ketika harddisk kami rusak, dan kami tidak pernah lagi berkumpul bersama untuk merekam ulang. Mungkin dalam waktu dekat saya akan kembali mengakses musik dasar untuk “Kau Tinggalkan Aku” dan mencoba merekam vokal untuk lagu itu dengan bantuan seorang teman, dan mungkin saya akan mengunggahnya sebagai penghormatan terakhir saya untuk Yon Koeswoyo. Mungkin juga tidak. Mungkin saja tulisan blog yang tidak terstruktur dengan baik ini adalah penghormatan saya, untuk saat ini, bagi Koes Plus dan Yon Koeswoyo yang saya tahu, karena “sekarang kau tinggal aku”.

Kau Tinggalkan Aku

Yon Koeswoyo

Kau katakan padaku
Bersedia menunggu… Oh.

Sekarang kau tinggal aku
Putus harapanku

Doaku untukmu slalu berbahagia
Kau katakan padaku setia padaku
Tetapi janjimu palsu
Hancurkan hatiku
Doaku untukmu slalu berbahagia
La… La la la la la la la La la la la la la la





Obituary 1: Suangsih (193? – August 22, 2016)

Kami biasa memanggilnya Wa Acih atau Bi Acih atau terkadang Wa Aceu. Ia adalah kakak lain ibu dari ibu kandungku. Walaupun berbeda ibu, hubungan wa Acih dan ibu kandungku sangat dekat dan wa Acih sangat menyayangi adik-adiknya. Sejak menikah, wa Acih memutuskan untuk tinggal bersama suaminya di Kecamatan Majalaya, Kabupaten Bandung. Setidaknya dua minggu sekali, wa Acih selalu menyempatkan diri untuk mampir ke kota Bandung menengok keluarga adik-adiknya.

Sejak dulu sampai terakhir bertemu beberapa bulan lalu, wa Acih adalah salah satu anggota keluarga terlucu dalam keluarga besar kami. Kemampuan dan staminanya dalam membanyol, terutama dalam Bahasa Sunda, sulit ditandingi oleh anggota-anggota keluarga lain. Inilah yang membuat wa Acih sering dirindukan, terutama ketika beberapa tahun terakhir wa Acih didera diabetes dan tidak bisa lagi terlampau lincah bepergian ke kota Bandung.

Kabar kepergian wa Acih saya peroleh dari sepupu saya lewat grup WhatsApp keluarga sepulang kuliah hari pertama di semester pertama saya di University of Kansas, Amerika Serikat. Sungguh malam itu adalah malam yang hampa, tidak ada yang bisa dilakukan selain berdoa seorang diri selepas sholat Isya yang terlampau malam. Tidak ada kesempatan untuk berkunjung, mengantar ke pembaringan terakhir, dan berdoa bersama sambil berbela sungkawa dan menghibur anggota-anggota keluarga yang ditinggalkan.

Saya sempat banyak melamun di hari berikutnya dan sedikit kurang focus belajar di hari kedua kuliah. Akan tetapi, keesokan harinya saya teringat salah satu banyolan terlucu Wa Acih, yang sulit untuk diceritakan kembali di sini karena alih kode yang sulit dijelaskan dari Bahasa Indonesia ke Bahasa Sunda. Saya pun tertawa-tawa sendiri sepulangnya ke apartemen dan bisa mengenang Wa Acih pada saat terlucunya. Dalam ketiadaan pun ia tetap lucu, dan saya yakin Wa Acih akan tertawa-tawa bahagia sesampainya nun di sana. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rojiun.

It is unfortunate that I should begin my updates on my first month in Lawrence with the sad news of the passing of my aunt. We usually called her Wa Acih or Bi Acih (lit. Aunty Acih) or less commonly, Wa Aceu. She was my mother’s half-sister from my grandfather’s previous marriage. Despite coming from a different mother, she loved her half-sisters very dearly. Since getting married in the early 1970s, Wa Acih decided to live in Majalaya, a suburban district of Bandung regency. At least once a month, Wa Acih went to Bandung city to visit the families of her sisters.

At least until several months ago, when I met her for the last time, she was one of the funniest family members in our extended family. Her ability and stamina to create jokes, especially in Sundanese, is hard to be matched by other relatives. This is what my relatives missed the most about Wa Acih, especially since in the past couple of years, she could not visit Bandung city at will due to diabetes.

The news of Wa Acih’s passing was relayed by a cousin through the family WhatsApp group, in the evening of the first day of class in my first semester at the University of Kansas. The night suddenly turned hollow, nothing else to do except for praying alone after the Isya prayer late at night. There was no opportunity to visit the internment and pray together in a congregation while expressing condolences and consoling the surviving family members.

I spent the following day pensively and even became less focused on the second day of class. The next day, however, I suddenly remembered one of Wa Acih’s funniest jokes, which is difficult to tell here because it involves code switching from Indonesian to Sundanese. I laughed all by myself once I got to my apartment and I was glad I could remember Wa Acih at her funniest. Even in her absence, she remains funny, and I am sure she will laugh happily once she gets up there. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rojiun.

Sebulan di Lawrence – First Month in Lawrence

Sebulan lalu (sudah lewat satu hari sebenarnya), saya berangkat dari Tanjungsari, Sumedang menuju Lawrence, Kansas, Amerika Serikat. Saya akan tinggal cukup lama di Lawrence, karena saya terdaftar sebagai mahasiswa purna waktu di program doktoral Sastra Inggris, Department of English, University of Kansas, yang artinya saya akan tinggal selama 4-5 tahun hingga program saya selesai. Hidup di sebuah kota kecil di tengah Amerika Serikat tentu berbeda dengan hidup di sebuah kota kecil di Jawa Barat, Indonesia, dan tentu terasa semakin berbeda karena sebulan ini saya hidup sendirian, jauh dari keluarga (istri dan anak saya akan menyusul nanti), sahabat-sahabat, serta kolega-kolega. Akan tetapi, saya berusaha menyesuaikan diri dengan lingkungan baru, kawan-kawan baru dan cara belajar baru. Karena saya tidak harus bekerja di sela-sela kelas, (sepertinya) saya pun akan punya waktu untuk menulis dan mengunggah sesuatu di blog saya yang sudah cukup berdebu karena lama ditinggalkan. Selamat membaca!


Sorry for the eyesore! In front of the Kansas Union, a hub for students of KU and Lawrence community.

A month ago (a month and one day, to be exact), I left Tanjungsari, Sumedang, Indonesia for Lawrence, Kansas, United States of America. I am going to stay for quite a while in Lawrence, since I have been enrolled as a full-time student in the PhD in English Literature program, Department of English at the University of Kansas. This means that I am going to live in Lawrence for the duration of my program, which usually takes 4-5 years. Living in a small city in the middle of the US is certainly different from living in a small city in West Java, Indonesia and it is even more different since currently I have been living alone, far from my family (my wife and son will catch up soon), friends and colleagues. However, I am adjusting to living and studying here, while making new friends along the way. Since I don’t have to work in between classes (except for homework, that is), I can allocate time to write something and get this blog up and running after gathering dust for several months. Enjoy reading!

Janto, the Unsung Hero

L-R: Soman Lubis, Bhagu Ramchand, Sammy Zakaria, Janto Diablo, Benny Soebardja

L-R: Soman Lubis, Bhagu Ramchand, Sammy Zakaria, Janto Diablo, Benny Soebardja

Janto Diablo just added me as a friend on facebook and we had a short chat afterwards. And my heart leapt up. He sang lead on two songs, shared vocal duties on two more songs, played bass and flute and provided backing vocals in Shark Move’s only album, Ghede Chokra’s, released in perhaps 1970 or 1971. His outstanding contribution to the album is often overshadowed by the fact that the band was directed by prog luminary Benny Soebardja, who would go on to break new grounds and scored longer success with the proto-prog-metal outfit Giant Step.

The songs that he sang, the bluesy and improvisational “Harga” (in which Janto also played a wicked flute solo) and the anti-drug song (!) “Madat” are perhaps two of the best rock ballads ever to grace my life. The bass guitar riff and solo of “Evil War” will be forever etched in my mind. His high-pitched, bluesy vocal work is tinged here and there with Sundanese intonation and inflection, making his voice all the more unique.

Janto Diablo (born Janto Suprapto) hailed from Bandung and has been living in the city ever since. He started his career in music in the 1960s. Later in the decade, Janto formed and performed with Diablo, a rather tenacious yet short-lived rock band. Shortly thereafter, he became known as Janto Diablo. The nickname was carried over to his next band, Shark Move, after Diablo folded in early 1970. Shark Move folded too only over a year later, after some of the members left, including keyboardist Soman Lubis who later joined aspiring God Bless. Benny Soebardja eventually called it a day for the band and moved on to form Giant Step. After Shark Move, Janto was involved in a number of musical projects before settling on working for Aktuil production house, as well as having a long backstage career as a stage manager and later as a concert promoter. One of the concerts that he managed early in his career was the bustling Deep Purple Concert in 1975 in Istora Senayan, Jakarta.

35 years after they called it quits, Shark Move reunited in a tribute to the late Gito Rollies, former lead singer of fellow Bandung band The Rollies and a legendary artist on his own right. Shark Move went on to perform in a full-scale reunion concert, titled Shark on the Move (a reference to Giant Step’s album, Giant on the Move, and the fact that the reunion featured also several songs by Giant Step) featuring a fixed Shark Move line-up along with performances from former Giant Step members and Benny Soebardja’s sons playing an expanded repertoire of Shark Move and Giant Step songs. Shark Move still performs occasionally up to this day with revolving line-ups, with Benny and Janto as the mainstays. Amazingly, Janto’s voice has changed very little after more than forty years. He still sings “Madat” with the same bravado found in Ghede Chokra’s:

Kini telah kuniatkan

Persetan dengan goda dan rintangan

Segala omong kosong tentang kasih dan sayang

Persetan dengan cinta dan perdamaian

‘Kan kuserbu musuh biar seribu

‘Kan kubunuh, ‘kan kubunuh, ‘kan kubunuh…


The Mercy’s are a pop band formed in Medan, Sumatera Utara, Indonesia in the late 60s. They were one of the bands that gained considerable popularity after the wake of Koes Plus. During their heydays in the 70s, they were considered among the top five bands of the era, along with Koes Plus, Panbers, D’lloyd, and the Favourite’s Group. Much like the other four bands, they continue to enjoy lasting success and recognition through a number of hit songs, re-released and remastered over the years by their record label, Remaco. Some of the members of the band have been elevated to legendary status as they charted lasting impact in the history of popular music in Indonesia.

Cover of The Mercy's second LP. Courtesy of

Cover of The Mercy’s second LP. Courtesy of

The Story

Depending on the sources on the net, The Mercy’s formed in either 1965 or 1969. The band’s name was said to derive from the popular nickname of Mercedes-Benz cars, the Mercy. It was possible that the band formed in 1965, yet they did not fare well until 1969, when they secured a contract for a string of gigs in Malaysia and Singapore. At the time, a great number of Indonesian bands and singers had been contracted for playing in public places in Malaysia and Singapore, sometimes for months. The first of these bands were The Peels, which included future prog luminary Benny Soebardja on guitar, whose tenure in 1967 resulted in a local best-selling live album as well as a handful of singles, mostly covers on Indonesian traditional and popular songs. The trend of Indonesian musicians touring Malaysia and Singapore started from then on to the early 70s, with a number of these bands and singers eventually signing recording deals with international record labels, such as RCA/Victor and Philips.

The line-up that had been set to play in Malaysia comprised founding members Rizal Arsyad (rhythm guitar), brothers Erwin (lead guitar) and Rinto Harahap (bass guitar, vocal), Iskandar (lead vocal, keyboards) and Reynold Panggabean (drums, percussion). Prior to their departure, Iskandar left the band to concentrate more on his studies in medicine. The remaining members of the band rushed to find the replacement and installed Charles Hutagalung to fill in Iskandar’s spot. Charles proved to be a dependable member and soon became key to The Mercy’s success in both performance and recording. The band’s tenure in Malaysia lasted six months, with the band performing covers of Indonesian popular and traditional songs with originals thrown in here and there for good measure. They enjoyed lasting popularity in Malaysia, resulting in some of their albums released by Malaysian labels in the 70s.

Going back to Medan from Malaysia, with cancelled Singaporean tour dates and Charles becoming a full-time member, the band seek to secure a recording contract. Following in the footsteps of Panbers, a fellow Medan band whose first album had made considerable national impact, The Mercy’s made a move to Jakarta in the early 70s. Rizal refused to move with the band and chose to continue his study in Germany.

After a series of sessions, it was clear that the band’s main songwriters were Charles and Rinto, with few contribution from Erwin and Reynold. However, the “leader” of the band was always Erwin Harahap, as was also stated later on the sleeves of their albums. Charles and Rinto each had a fair share of writing both sentimental, slow songs and more upbeat, rock n’ roll tunes which was showcased in their early efforts, particularly in the first two albums (later re-released by Remaco in 2003 as a single-cassette split album). Seeking to diversify their sound, which was by then dominated by Charles’s organ sweeps and Reynold’s percussive attack, the band asked Albert Sumlang, an aspiring saxophone player, to join in. In the band’s first album, Albert’s expressive, soaring and sometimes wailing saxophone work can be heard on a number of songs. Albert also contributed one song to the first album, “Kisah Seorang Pramuria,” one of the band’s career-defining songs.

The band eventually secured a contract with Purnama Records and in 1972, their first album was released to much fanfare. The upbeat songs, such as “Di Pantai”, showcased what The Mercy’s were made of. It was, however, the band’s slower, more melancholic songs that fared better: “Tiada Lagi”, “Kisah Seorang Pramuria” and “Love.” The success of “Tiada Lagi”, their first single, was interrupted by a fellow Medan band, Judas, claiming that the song was theirs. To this day, however, the song still belongs to the Mercy’s back catalogue. “Kisah Seorang Pramuria” was considered to be their runaway success and perhaps their career-defining song. It was the song that people today identify most with The Mercy’s. It has all the trademarks of the band’s career: Charles’s nasal voice and Farfisa riffing, Albert’s meandering saxophone work and the sense of balladry supported by narrative lyrics told in first person which was to become The Mercy’s lasting style. The band also started their trend of inserting a song with English lyrics in their albums with the song “Love”, known for Charles’s and Albert’s emotional delivery on their instruments.

The second album followed a year later with pretty much the same formula and met with pretty much the same success. By the third album, the band had pretty much established a stable formula: lots of the trademark ballads with a few upbeat and jamming-oriented songs such as “Woman” and “Tak Mungkin” sometimes showcasing their rock n’ roll, blues and hustle roots. During this era, the band accumulated a lot of following and was even voted as the most popular band by several magazines and polls, including the poll conducted by the Armed Forces (!), considered the most prestigious popular music poll at the time.

At the height of the band’s popularity, Albert was fired in 1974 shortly after finishing the band’s eighth album, citing personal and musical differences. The band decided that they could go on without Albert and moved on as a quartet. After Albert’s departure, things got more laid back in the band’s quarter, thus allowing Charles to form a short-lived project called Ge & Ge (Genial and Gentlemen), whose musical output was not drastically different from The Mercy’s. The project, however, enjoyed moderate success with the single “Hanya Satu,” which sometimes finds itself amidst a compilation of The Mercy’s songs, despite being performed by an entirely different band. Rinto traced back his Malay and Batak roots and experimented with traditional music. This was evident later in the band’s three volumes of pop Melayu (Malay pop), released perhaps to cash in on the success of Koes Plus’s pop Melayu albums. Koes Plus were The Mercy’s label mates as The Mercy’s switched labels from Purnama to Remaco from their eighth album onwards. However, being more in touch with Malay and Batak musical tradition, The Mercy’s Malay pop outputs were drastically different from Koes Plus’s. While Koes Plus rejected to release a Mandarin-pop-influenced album, The Mercy’s agreed on releasing a Mandarin-pop-styled album, sometime at the end of their recording career. It was at this point also The Mercy’s re-recorded their early hits without Albert, with Charles’s organ and Erwin’s guitar solos replacing Albert’s parts. The session resulted in sleeker and more polished versions of their songs. The results of this session were later used for many of the band’s greatest hits compilation albums, thus diminishing Albert’s role in the eyes of many late listeners of the band except for a handful of songs.

By 1978, it was clear that the band had become a shadow of their former selves. The balladry formula was no longer tried and true, but rather a tired one. Their ballads have become sappier yet less emotional. The return of Albert and the release of their final studio album, Mimpi, did not save them from calling it a day. By late 1978, the members parted ways and minded their own business. Charles chose to pursue his solo career and did not revive Ge & Ge. Rinto and Erwin became songwriters and producers for other musicians, establishing Lollypop Records, with Rinto becoming a more influential figure in pop music. Reynold ventured into the realm of fusion dangdut with his then wife, Camellia Malik, in an outfit called Tarantula. Albert continued on as a session saxophonist and ventured cafes in the Netherlands at times.

Twenty years after the breakup, the band chose to reunite and tour the nostalgia circuit. The reunion resulted in a live album and a karaoke album with old songs in new arrangements. They toured extensively with great success with Charles particularly in good spirits after recovering from stroke. One of their most memorable post-reunion performances was the televised sold out concert at Ancol, where they shared the stage with their contemporaries, D’lloyd and Koes Plus. The band’s newfound success was cut short, however, by Charles’s death in 2001. Realizing that they could never replace Charles, the remaining band members parted ways once again.

The legacy of the band lives on to this day, thanks to Remaco releasing a number of greatest hits albums and inserting the band’s songs into select compilation albums of Indonesian evergreen hits. In 2003, Remaco also remastered and re-released the band’s first six albums, whose rights were previously owned by Purnama Records, finally giving a chance to the younger generation to grasp The Mercy’s original, rawer sound. In January 2005, the band’s Rinto-penned ballad, “Ayah,” was reworked as “Aceh” and released as a single from the charity album for the 2004 tsunami/earthquake disaster in Aceh. The single was performed by a number of well-known Indonesian singers, including Ariel of Peterpan and Candil (then) of Seurieus.

Rinto hinted in an interview that The Mercy’s were never dissolved, but the band’s reunion is rendered improbable due to the apparent absence of Charles and that, at the time, there was nobody suitable enough to replace him. However, the final fate of the band was seemingly sealed by the death of Albert Sumlang in 2009. Concerts to honor The Mercy’s musical legacy have been held sporadically at times, with the latest held in November 2012, joined by Rinto who jammed with the sons of Albert Sumlang.

It is never an understatement to say that The Mercy’s have lasting impact on popular music in Indonesia. Along with Panbers and D’lloyd, they were the main proponents of Malay music influence in Indonesian popular music, which can be traced in a number of Indonesian bands today. The members of The Mercy’s are also astute in continuing their band’s legacy. The Mercy’s were influenced by Batak pop music and they also, in turn, influenced Batak pop music. This was continued by Charles Hutagalung through his activities in Batak pop music circles, making him a respectable figure in the development of Batak pop music. Rinto Harahap almost single-handedly revived Indonesian sentimental pop in early 80s and brought an unprecedented number of mostly female Indonesian sentimental singers to fame. This move has led him to both fame and notoriety. He, along with other producers following in his footsteps, was blamed for over-sentimentalizing pop music, resulting in sappy and counterproductive songs which were banned (!) by the Ministry of Information in the late 80s. However, to many musicians today, Rinto is respected as a great songwriter and producer and his great contribution to The Mercy’s and Indonesian pop music in general has been honored by two tribute albums by younger musicians.