Ska finds Indonesian home
Jamaicansmusic.com produces documentary about reggae in the archipelago
Davina Henry, Staff Reporter
Reggae music may have originated in Jamaica, but Indonesia has certainly latched on to the genre and has established a vibrant reggae scene.
Alex Morrissey, CEO of Jamaicansmusic.com, a mega hub for all things reggae and dancehall, told The Sunday Gleaner that the archipelago first came to his attention through his Facebook page.
"Earlier in the year while going through Facebook statistics, I discovered that of our 2.7 million fans on the page, Indonesians accounted for over 500,000. Naturally, I was curious to find out how reggae penetrated their musical landscape and what caused thousands to gravitate to it. So the best way to feed my curiosity was to get a first-hand experience of what was going on there," he said.
Having visited the archipelago on several occasions, Morrissey and his team of writers Biko Kennedy and Tanaka Roberts (who were visiting for the first time), went in pursuit of interacting with the website's largest fanbase.
Morrissey and his team spent a month in Indonesia, conducting interviews and familiarising themselves with their plethora of musicians.
The result is a documentary, scheduled for a February release in Jakarta and a March release in Jamaica titled The Many Languages of Reggae: Indonesia or Reggae Indonesia for short.
"The reggae scene there is unfathomable and awe-inspiring wrapped in one. Their take on reggae and ska genuinely takes you back to the days of Desmond Dekker and Prince Buster in their ska prime and the early productions of reggae's sound. In essence, they have duplicated the reggae/ska sound in its purest form. It's really something you have to experience first-hand to truly understand ... the documentary will highlight their sound," Morrissey continued.
Noting that there were several similarities and differences between the reggae scene in Jamaica and that of Indonesia, Morrissey said the citizens of the archipelago have a deeper appreciation for the genre.
According to Morrissey, the average Jamaican is not as in tune with ska as they are in Indonesia where most fans of Jamaican music are teenagers.
These teenagers see ska and reggae as synonymous with Jamaican music and are less familiar with dancehall, rocksteady, mento and other genres that have come out of the island state.
Jamaicans, Morrissey says, "Will easily reel off cliché ska hits", whereas those in Indonesia really know the music.
There are other differences as well because the Jamaican "reggae sound is more contemporary while theirs is authentic".
Morrissey compared the sound to the kind that was made by The Wailers in the 1960s and '70s.
The similarities, Morrissey says, are numerous.
"Similarity - the energy and love for music. We went to a concert there and for the 10-plus hours that it lasted for, patrons danced and sang along verbatim to every artiste's song or set. Every artiste ... verbatim! There were about 25 bands there and they each had roughly 30-45 minute sets (if not more). Not sure where they get their energy from," Morrissey said with a chuckle.
Roberts also agreed, saying the reggae scene in the archipelago is nothing like that of Jamaica.
"It's so different yet possesses that familiar vibration that Jamaicans are known to possess. Although seemingly worlds apart, Indonesian musicians have uncannily captured the spirit of the music of Jamaican people," Roberts told The Sunday Gleaner.
Equally surprising though, is that the dancehall scene is less active in Indonesia. Morrissey highlighted that this may be due to the fact that coming from an English background, reggae would be easier to understand/translate as the lyrics are clearer than those in the more patois-driven dancehall.
"Throughout our research there's only one artiste that will embody the spirit of dancehall throughout his song - his name is Ras Muhamad - which has actually propelled him to becoming one of their top acts because his take on the music is different from what everyone else is doing. In fact, he's actually introducing the ideology of recording on rhythms there. Each artiste has their own band and they compose and produce all original content, so the idea of having more than one artiste on a musical backdrop is considered plagiarism. He's currently trying to change that thought process," Morrissey said.
Kennedy, who shakily attempted to speak the Indonesian native tongue, Bahasa, believes ska has been neglected by Jamaicans.
"Mengambil pada mereka [Their take on] reggae and ska is truly awe-inspiring. Being on stage watching a few of their artistes perform and the crowd's response to them really opened my eyes to the undying spirit of a genre that is arguably neglected by most Jamaicans - ska. If we as Jamaicans aren't careful, worldly territories will heavily profit from a genre we originated, while we glorify and place emphasis on dancehall; which isn't appreciated as much as reggae and ska on a global scale," Kennedy said.
The Many Languages of Reggae: Indonesia will be the first of a series of reggae documentaries produced by Morrissey and his team.
The documentary will present the history, the evolution, the Rastafarian ideology, the profitability and longevity of the reggae scene within Indonesia.
In the meantime, there are plans for the team to return to Indonesia to host the launch of the documentary in February.
"For a sequel to the series of documentaries that we plan on putting out, we don't want to say too much and spark ideas in people - giving them a chance to do it before us, but I will say it's a Portuguese-speaking country located in the northern, western and southern hemispheres. Should be easy figuring the country out!" Morrissey said with a smile.