Hip-hop with leather puppets

Indonesian group Jogja Hip Hop Foundation members include (from left) Balance (Balance Perdana Putra), Lukman (Lukman Hakim), Kill The DJ (Muh Marzuki), M2MX (Heri Wiyoso) and Anto (Yanu Prihaminanto.

Indonesian music collective Jogja Hip Hop Foundation rap in Javanese, use Indonesian instruments such as the gamelan and reference classical Javanese and Malay literature in their hip-hop songs.

Fusing their culture with the urban grittiness of hip-hop music was a natural evolution, says spokesman Muh Marzuki, better known by his stage name Kill The DJ.

"We got a lot of inspiration from our culture and traditions. It is our root, just like the Javanese language that we're using every single day, gamelan has also become part of our daily lives because we've listened to it since we were born," the 38-year-old says in an e-mail interview. "There were no pretensions to combine it with contemporary hip-hop, everything happened naturally."

The quintet, which also comprise M2MX (Heri Wiyoso), 34, Anto (Yanu Prihaminanto), 36, Balance (Balance Perdana Putra), 31, and Lukman (Lukman Hakim), 34, are one of the headline acts at the Esplanade's Malay arts festival Pesta Raya, which runs from today until Sunday.

Their gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall this Saturday is their second in Singapore.

Performing here again is special, Marzuki says, because their first series of gigs here at the 2009 edition of the same festival opened up doors for them to do more shows outside of Indonesia.

"It was our first time performing abroad as a group," he says. "And it turned out to be our window to the international stage. So we have to say thank you to the Esplanade.

At that time, we were a bit nervous about how to address the public who did not know us but now, everything is getting better because we are quite experienced at it."

In 2011 and last year, the group did two tours in the United States, which included shows in California, Washington DC and, most importantly, New York, the birthplace of hip-hop.

Despite the language barrier, Marzuki was pleased that the group managed to connect with American audiences.

"It is all about the energy that you get from the music. The audience doesn't care about the language barrier. When they're dancing to our music, it means that they can accept the energy that we deliver through our music and style. In the birthplace of hip-hop, people who came to our show in the US seemed to like finding out about our new approach to hip-hop."

Marzuki says that they are also looking forward to having Singapore Malay hip-hop acts Mawar Berduri and Surat- khabar Lama perform with them at the Esplanade show.

He adds that they have been collaborating on new songs based on the works of 19th-century Buginese-Malay poet and historian Raja Ali Haji.

Besides referencing classic literature, the group also sing about social issues and are known for lyrics that tackle topics such as poverty and corruption.

"Hip-hop music is not just about how good you are and how famous you are but is also about the meaning and role of your presence in the world."

Marzuki formed the collective in 2003 by roping in fellow hip-hop pioneers from the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, famous for being the nucleus of classical Javanese art and culture.

Balance and M2MX also perform under the monicker Jahanam, while Anto and Lukman are from Javanese rap duo Rotra.

Jogja Hip Hop Foundation's formation and its contribution to the Javanese hip-hop scene are chronicled in the Indonesian documentary film Hiphopdiningrat, which premiered in 2010 and has since been released on DVD.

Marzuki says that the Esplanade gig will be a multimedia affair.

"In Yogyakarta, we are used to having thousands of people at our shows and all of them sing along together with us. Of course in Singapore, it will be different because the people may not really know who we are.

"Our performance will have a story- line, a touch of leather puppetry and videos. We are very excited to do it and hopefully, Singaporeans will be just as excited and welcome us," he adds.

dinohadi@sph.com.sg

For details about the other programmes in Pesta Raya, go to www.pestaraya.com

Book it

PESTA RAYA - MALAY FESTIVAL OF ARTS JOGJA HIP HOP FOUNDATION

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Saturday, 8.30pm

Admission: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)


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