Syekh Marzuki Hasan, Living the Acehnese Arts

by Aryo Adhianto & Bhima Aryateja

Marzuki Hasan, widely known as Pak Uki, was born in Blang Pidie, Aceh Barat Daya, Indonesia, on May 3, 1943. By the age of seven, he was already quite familiar with many forms of Acehness traditional arts, like Dike (Dzikr), Ratib Meusekat, Seudati, Pho, Saman, Ratoh Duek, Malelang, and Ba eu (reflection of feelings of self towards others).

As a local youngling, learning Acehnese traditional arts was really important at that time. Pak Uki received his first intensive teaching from his mother, who was the leader of Ratoh Meusekat in the village. Pak Uki also enthusiastically involved in many local arts activities in the neighborhood where he grew up, such as Dalail Khairat, Medikee, Ratoh Duek, Rapa’i Debus, Mesyai, Seulaweut (narrative arts based on Islamic stories of Prophets and wisdoms), and Tadarusan. His intense involvement in rituals such as Seudati and Ratoh Duek is often done throughout the day, from afternoon until dawn. At the age of 18, he already mastered the Menseulaweut, Medike, Seudati, Ratoh duek, and the self-inflicting Debus art. the young Pak Uki had earned reputation as Aneuk Dik—those who mastered the singing or chanting of Acehnese traditional poetry.

In 1965, Pak Uki continued his study at Sekolah Tinggi Olahraga (School of Sports Education) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. About five years later, after completing his studies, he moved to Jakarta. In 1975, he received an offer to teach at Lembaga Pendidikan Kesenian Jakarta (the forerunner of Institut Kesenian Jakarta/Jakarta Institute of The Arts), an institute where he has taught Acehnese traditional dance, especially Saman, since then. Besides teaching, he also gives countless workshops, and performs at various festivals.

His warm, modest personality and unique experiences attract people from many regions to learn from and collaborate with him, among others, are Africa (Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya), West and East Europe, USA, South America, and Asia (Japan, South Korea, Brunei, Thailand).

Pak Uki was the recipient of Listen to the World’s “Endurance Awards” in 2013 as a symbol of our grateful recognition for his enduring commitment and dedication to the cultivation of Acehnese arts. For Pak Uki, art isn’t just about doing it for making a living: it’s about total submission to God, spreading conscience, and constant learning; it’s about living it as it is. Quoting from Serrano Sianturi, Pak Uki lives the arts to make a life.

LTTW: Acehnese arts are perhaps one among many of Indonesian roots arts that is still unfamiliar to the world; to begin to comprehend it, would you give us insight about the history of Acehnese arts?

Marzuki Hasan: There were, of course, the pre-Islamic Acehnese arts which I don’t have enough knowledge to elaborate. I heard little information about the rebab (traditional bowed string instrument) made of goat’s skin that no longer exists today.

In the beginning, Acehnese arts were developed by the magistrates and kings. After the arrival of Islam, these court arts were strongly challenged by the Ulama (Islamic religious expert and authority) and/or Teuku (the converted Acehnese Royals), particularly with regards to the negative excess of practices (one example would be the length of time one must spent to perform Saman’s dance routine, which considered to be conflicting with the Islamic prayers time—[Ed.]). The arts then were redeveloped by the Ulama, with the removal of some aspects that may cause such negative implications.

Historical records reveal that Saman is a dance form developed by the Ulama of Samaniah as Rapa’i dance originated by the Rapa’iah (a sect within the Sufism-[Ed.]). At later time, Rapa’iah doctrine became the roots of all Acehnese traditional folk dances.

So, if we speak about the Acehnese traditional dances, we must refer to the values of life, practiced by the Acehnese. Solidarity and living in harmony, for instance, are symbolized by the unison moves of Saman or Rapa’i dance. The dances may look entertaining with its beautiful motifs and colors, but they are loaded not only with symbolized values, but social criticism as well. The influences of Islamic spirituality and religious practice were also revealed in various moves, ones which adopted from the movement of Shalat (daily praying-[Ed.]) and Dzikr (praises to and remembrance of Allah-[Ed.]) rituals.

You mentioned about the Islamic influences within the Acehnese traditional dances; how did the Acehnese arts respond to Islam in the beginning? Were there any outside influences other than Islam?

The Acehnese arts and culture (that we know today, at some point along the way-[Ed.]) have been practiced and identified as a vehicle to cherish and promote the Islamic values. As such values carried by the arts were advancing throughout all regions of Aceh, it eventually had become the unique ‘belonging’ to the Acehnese.

Evidently, there are also Middle Eastern’s and Indian’s influence we can hear within the musical structure; the costume also reflects the Chinese influence that has been in Aceh since the pre-Islamic period. Acehnese unique instrument Serune Kalee (traditional double-reed woodwind instrument-[Ed.]) had also existed long before the arrival of Islam.

Serune Kalee
Serune Kalee, Acehnese’s flute instrument. Source: wacana

You have learned and mastered many forms of Acehnese arts, including Saman, Rapa’i, Seudati, Dike, etc. What are the common role(s) and function(s) one should be aware of?

So far, I have noticed there are at least three sheltering functions of Acehnese arts, and it depends on where we stand; above all is the religious values, from which it functioned as tools to evoke our inner path to God, to intimate ourselves with God. From the social standpoint, it clearly worked as a bond in social interaction, as does to foster harmony, solidarity, and unity. Then we have the artistry side that should be perceived and practiced as the voice of criticism, the medium for exercising our senses, and forms of deep-rooted entertainment.

Certainly, there are various elements and values of Acehness Arts, among them are: heroic spirit, self-control, dynamics, togetherness, discipline, creativeness, humble, melancholy, harmony, and humorous.

Within the context of religious values, the Acehnese “performing arts” were developed by the Ulama, and as far as we know, they were not intended to be treated as a show, weren’t they?

No, they had always been intended for God; as I mentioned before, the arts are basically a vehicle to intimate ourselves with God—‘to be in love’ with God. There is a popular expression among the Acehnese, which goes something like this: “even if the tongue were broken, the heart would remain speaking the words of Allah”.

Since Acehnese arts are very close to Islamic spirituality, many have associated me with the Sufism tradition; which I don’t quite agree with this. I’m still going for some earthly delights—friends, wealth, and such; I am nothing more than a sinner, let alone a Sufi, but I cannot control and determine what people think of me.

As for the influence of Islam, the Acehnese arts had indeed incorporated some of the Islamic traditions into its forms; such as gender roles, in which male and female performers must not perform in the same room/area. Inevitably, however, this has changed as time goes by.

So such ‘separation’ no longer exists?

No! As a matter of fact, many aspects have gone astray. In times when I was growing up learning Saman or Seudati, the Islamic traditions were strictly implemented during the process as part of the Islamic wisdoms that we must exercise within our lives. One example was regarding Meunasah, the learning center attached to the Mosque. The learning activities – mostly on the Quran, then followed by traditional art practices – for male and female apprentices were run under strict separation.

When the female apprentices rehearsed the Ratib Meuseukat dance, for instance, no male was allowed to be present. Such a strict rule, however, has been adjusted due to the ‘demands of times’. I need to mention, however, that the strict separation was not at all about discriminating the level of educational importance between and for the two genders; such importance was delivered in equal weight.

We mentioned about a couple forms of Acehnese arts, Saman and Seudati in particular. Could you elaborate on their unique features for us? And let’s start with Saman.

Aceh has several forms and/or style of Saman dance. There is one type that utilizing body parts as percussive instruments (Saman Gayo, Saman Luko and Ratoh Duek), then there is another that incorporating the traditional frame drum Rapa’i (Likok or Ratoh Pulo), and there is also one using ropes (Ratoh Meutalo). But as for the formation, all of these styles share the same approach; they are all done in a single and straight line sitting formation. This approach is derived from the straightened rows in Islamic mass praying ritual called shaf.

Marzuki Hasan – Body Percussion (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

The name Saman was taken from Syekh Saman, the man who invented the dance. The term Ratoh, as far as I know, originated from the word Ratib (or Dzikr in Arabic). The sitting formation, and also the moves in Saman, I think are also very much influenced by the sitting and moves when Moslems doing the Dzikr (remembrance of and praises to Allah-[Ed.]).

There are other features that differentiate one Saman dance from the other, and one of them is the characteristic on how the dance is executed. Saman Gayo, for example, emphasizes on softness and elasticity as opposed to the Ratoh Duek. This contrast has a lot to do with the difference in their geological settings; Saman Gayo is in the highland surrounding, while Ratoh Duek is situated in the coastal setting.

Various types of Saman dance. Left: Ratoh Duek, Right: Saman Gayo. Source: audi26tv.blogspot, atjehnewsletters

Marzuki Hasan – Saman (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

Would you elaborate more on the line-sitting formation? Why do you think it holds such similarity among regions of Aceh?

Well, if it’s not in straight line formation, then the energy neither can be developed nor emerged.

What do you mean by ‘energy’?

Aside from the body movements, Saman also requires highly coordinated singing and body clapping at once; so imagine doing all those in synchronicity, and adding it with the rushing tempo towards the end. The building up of energy of the dance depends on the level of synchronicity reached by the dancers. If one or two persons cannot keep up with others, then the energy will not develop, and no inner soul will be revealed and felt.

Power and tempo are two different things having great importance; it would trigger the energy or spirit of the dance. Nowadays, such sense of sacredness often absents since there is no harmony between those two.

I once discussed the Saman with the late Mr. Zainuddin of Jakarta Arts Council; he was a specialist on Ratoh by the way. I found out that most of the Saman moves developed by Ulama were derived from the symbols of Islamic alphabet (Alif, Baa, Taa, Tsaa, Jiim, Kha, and so on). So, all we need to do is to seek down to the very core, as the truth is there, and for us to find.

What a soothing statement for the heart and mind. Let’s move on to Seudati; is it the same everywhere on Aceh? And how different is it compared to Saman?

Seudati in general is the same everywhere on Aceh. The differences lie only on how each group leader, called Syekh, develops his own teaching and patterns of dances. Followings are the common rules of Seudati: it’s led by a Syekh (Sheikh); it consists of eight main performers; and there are specific parts required, including Salam (a brief greeting), Ba’ Saman, Salam Ulam, Likok, and Saman.

Compared to Saman’s formation, Seudati features more dynamic moves and more developed floor patterns; it often shapes a chain-like circle, consists of two rows of four performers facing each other. Similar to Saman, the energy is a great importance to Seudati as well, as the circling performers go dancing, singing and clapping in unison with each other. They also must be able to keep up with the quickening tempo toward the end.

Every Syekh has to master various songs and dance repertoires—from Likok to Saman—due to Seudati’s rules of competing or ‘battle’; for example, songs that have been sung by a Syekh, shouldn’t be followed by the opposing or contending Syekh. This is the reverse of Saman or Ratoh, in which the Syekh is challenged to follow every move done by the “opponent”.

Seudati dance. Source: wacana

Speaking of Syekh, as you are one, they seem very central to the creation and development of Seudati. What are the significant roles of a Syekh within the group? And what are the roles of other members of the group as well?

Ha ha ha…not so sure if I am one; I thought of myself as a student all this time. The term Syekh alone clearly states a vital meaning: a leader, or he who leads. This means that Syekh is the one who sings, dances, and governs the group at once; to do so, a Syekh shall have enough knowledge and experiences, both on aesthetic and management, along with creativity as well.

There are also terms for other members of the group, such as Apit Ui’ and Apit Ue’, referring to their position within the row (left, right, or backside). They are of course the Syekh’s supporting roles, perhaps equal to a ‘choir’ in Classical music.

What about the format of the “battle” itself? How do you go with it, and how do people respond to it?

First and foremost, the battle is intended for dialog building, but at the same time it is also the key entertaining subject to the audience. In the case of Seudati, most issues, especially those relevant to the societies like religion, education, and local-national development, are usually contested before the audience.

The excitement among audiences would also arise in sequence with the battle between the respected Syekhs; when this happens, the battle could go on until dawn. It is why each Syekh must possess a versatile vocabulary of pantun (Sumatran poetic form, similar to Hip Hop’s Rapping), also poems, poetry, verses, and such, to make the “show” alive. To me personally, we must all understand that what make the battle entertaining to the audience are the weights of artistry and intellectuality presented by the battling groups.

Acehnese arts are very much associated with poems, poetry, and often Quranic verses. How do those narrative creations go with the musical features of Seudati or Saman?

In my opinion, poetry is closely related with musical idioms, depends on how we would transmit it within specific rhythm, phrase, tempo, or anything needed at the time. Dynamics, spontaneity, and rich communicative language that make up the nature of poetry are also fit with the breath of Acehnese arts, as they are constantly changing and full of spontaneity. With regard to the poetry, however, it doesn’t really matter anymore once togetherness (in all aspects) has reached its determined level of harmony.

As you’ve mentioned before, Acehnese arts are indeed very thick with highly coordinated moves, rhythm, and singing—often called as rampak; why is that? And is rampak equivalent to the Western’s harmony?

Rampak” means ‘flourishing’ in Acehnese; it was inspired by religious aspects and values, as symbolized in every move (head and hand movement, sitting position, and so on), formation, lyrics, singing, and musical structure.

Harmony should definitely be “rampak”, and vice versa. Instead, we have to put much emphasis on the meanings of togetherness. As I stated before, togetherness is the determinant factor for reaching such high level of harmony; the level when speed or tempo is no longer relevant. If there is no togetherness, there would be no collective inner soul. It takes time to realize; I’m not sure if one could reach it in a month or two. I’ve always taught to my young apprentices about this issue.

Generally, there are three main components that determine what togetherness really is; first is togetherness among the performers, second is togetherness among the Syekh, Aneuk Dik and the performers, and third is togetherness between the performers and the audiences—how they would deeply express themselves before the audiences. Once achieved, the dance will speak louder, as does the stepping on the floor; even the hall would “resonate” this complete togetherness.

In this case, we believe that you have your senses all working to master such level; would you share with us how do you build the senses?

To begin with, I have to back to basics. We have got to seek for the roots first; after the roots are found, then we shall find the meanings. Sequentially, comprehending and absorbing the meanings will trigger our senses, and then the rest will follow. If we discover what is meant, what is felt, and what we want to share, all of your senses will be active accordingly. Without a required level of exercise, solidarity among us performers, and intense dialog, we would never be able to achieve this.

In doing the Acehnese dances, we first must find the meanings behind the contained values and symbols, and build our senses around them. Believe me, once you passed all those steps properly, you would really find the joy in dancing; never think that techniques, speed, and memorizing the routines are all you need. Furthermore, when you are wrong, don’t look at or cheat the performer next to you. Learn from your own mistakes, then improve yourself, and gain confident from it. I always believe that if others can, then why can’t I?

Another important aspect, but often left unnoticed, is the breathing technique. Every morning, I used to dive in the river, and screaming and singing underwater. This technique helped me stimulate and developed my senses, and at the same time expanded as well as deepened my perception toward nature. I actually grew up close to nature by doing this exercise.

Does spirituality, in that case, determine how you see and perceive things? And what does it take to reach such immense depth as yours?

In the context of arts, all performers are able to unify themselves with God, as long as they are in constant practice and exercise of Dzikr in life. The power of repetition in Dzikr is awesome, and therefore one should unleash it. In addition, the lyrical quality of poetry, poem, and Quranic verses should directly touch the heart—the inner energy the body possessed. We all actually have an incredibly immense inner energy that truly represents the power or greatness of the Divine, but I must say that it would take faith and patience to be aware of and to raise it to an applied level.

There is a known expression in the Islamic tradition: how close we are to Allah is as close as the distance between the strokes of our breath, but why can’t we find Him? The answer lies in the Dzikr; if we practiced Dzikr with intense concentration, we would eventually find Allah.

The concentration basically revolves around how we depart, from what, and what do we return to, and this should be put into practice with the right techniques, attitude, and discipline. Since Dzikr-based art form is all about interrelating the mundane and the sacred, then sincerity and modesty are essential. Again, Dzikr is not attuned merely to the speeding tempo; it should also rhyme with our conscience.

Music in general has transformed into a subject that is merely treated as entertaining and income generating activity. Its other roles and functions, along with its spiritual side, continue to disappear. Does this happen to Acehnese arts as well? And how does the young Acehnese respond to this situation?

By doing what we believe, those roles and functions can actually be regained. Nowadays, however, arts have been positioned as an economic commodity. So we need to remind ourselves that art is the human’s deepest expression coming out from the heart; therefore, we ought to protect our heart from narrow and misguided perceptions. We shouldn’t be afraid of whatever may come if we practice art the way it should be practiced.

Dispirited art is actually the mirror of reality’s confusion. Such confusion not only could leave scars on the skin, but also stab and wound the hearts of humanity. But if only we could observe, analyze, and perceive the art the way we should, the roles and functions of art would self-heal. Unfortunately, only a few have the desire to walk this path, and run for the extra miles.

I think the young generation should be aware of the situation and also willing to know, care and do more about it; but I can hardly find one who does. I won’t give up on this though. I, myself still want to know more, to learn more, and to ask more to anyone, anyhow.

You have delved into Acehnese arts since childhood, and never once turned to different directions; what makes you believe that this is your life?

Perhaps it is inherited from my mother. Although I went to the School of Sport Education instead of art school, and wandered out of Aceh into Yogyakarta before I moved to Jakarta in 1965, I never lost my roots, and never want to. I have no idea why; my passion for singing and dancing never decreases, not even a little. Art has been the world I want to live in all along, never think of any other way.

Over the course of my life, I really enjoy making friends, not only with fellow Acehnese, but with everybody. I love asking questions about anything and gaining knowledge from anyone as much as possible. I think the joy in doing so has made me the person I am today. Up to this very day, I never thought of doing anything else but singing, dancing, and sharing all I know with others. I believe this is strongly related to the Islamic values attached to Acehnese arts. As a Moslem, I consider all my action, including doing the arts, as part of my devotion to Allah.

Last but not least, Pak Uki, we greatly appreciate your willingness to accept our “Endurance Awards” just recently, and also our request to do this interview; do you have any words for

Oh yes, I was deeply moved and very surprised by the award. To be honest, what I’ve done all this time is so little compared to others. I’m no more than a traditional artist with very limited knowledge; many of those I even gained from Sacred Bridge Foundation. So, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to friends and families at the Sacred Bridge Foundation.


The UNESCO’s Cities of Music

[, LTTW] We heard music on every city throughout the world; be it performed in cafes or bars or concert halls, or played at homes, streets, bus station or airports. Every city is a playground for music, yet not many of them are regarded as the ‘City of Music’. In fact, of the total 2.4 million cities spotted all over the globe, perhaps less than 20 cities who dare to bear the title. And among those few, six of them were already chosen by the UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)—under the criteria of its Creative Cities Network, in which ‘City of Music’ is one of its thematic networks.

Here’s the list of UNESCO’s City of Music…

1. Seville, Spain

Seville is the perfect place to see the Flamenco (CHRIS VAN HOFE / BBC.DOC)

The city of Seville, Spain was appointed UNESCO’s first City of Music on 30 March 2006. Not only is the city of Seville a highly recognized center of creativity and musical activity, but it is also a rich reflection of centuries of musical tradition and influence on a global scale.  Extraordinary musical events bring together artists from all walks of life, attracting quality, passion and diversity to a city that continues to support and boost its industry with great pride.

In Seville, music is everywhere and above all engages everyone.  From symphonies, operas and public open spaces dedicated to music, to foundations, youth organizations, schools and conservatories, the city offers all of its citizens a way to become involved in creating and appreciating music.

2. Bologna, Italy

In line with the city’s glorious past, music plays an important role in Bologna (IPERBOLE.DOC)

Appointed a UNESCO City of Music on 29 May 2006, the city of Bologna, Italy, has long practiced a musical tradition that is continuing to evolve as a vibrant factor of contemporary life and creation. It traces its origin back to the 13th Century, when the city was become one of the performance and education centers for Classical music in Italy. The rise of Accademia Filarmonica in 1666, in where the fourteen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart took his composition test, has confirmed the city’s significance as a point of reference in European musical life—even until today.

Also a member of UNESCO’s International Coalition of Cities against Racism, Bologna is reaping the universal nature of music as a vehicle for communication, reinventing the way in which people from all walks of life, young and old, are living and interacting with one another. Orchestra do Mundo, an international musical collaboration between the Italian city and the favelas of Sao Paulo, is another example of how Bologna is engaging communities well beyond its borders not only to reinterpret indigenous music in the electronic form but also to help break the cycle of poverty by giving voice to those who are rarely heard.

3. Glasgow, Scotland

Street performers create a vibrant atmosphere all across Glasgow (GUTTERMAGAZINE.DOC)
Street performers create a vibrant atmosphere all across Glasgow (GUTTERMAGAZINE.DOC)

Hosts an average of 130 music events each week, Glasgow was named UNESCO City of Music in August 2008. Glasgow’s legendary music scene stretches across the whole spectrum from Contemporary and Classical to Celtic and Country. Its venues are equally varied and include King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (consistently voted the top live music venue in the UK), the Barrowlands, O2 Academy, the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Glasgow Royal Concert Halls and many pub and clubs throughout the city.

Glasgow is home to four of the five National Companies (including Scottish Opera and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) alongside other national organizations including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) and the Scottish ensemble. Among the musicians/bands hailing from the city are Franz Ferdinand, Travis, Belle and Sebastian and Glasvegas, while DJ’s such as Naeem, Paul N’Jie, the Optimo duo JD Twitch and JG Wilkes, Ray Woods, and Gavin Sommerville have pushed the urban sound for years and opened Glaswegian ears to the possibilities of the genre.

4. Ghent, Belgium

During its four decades, Flanders Festival has become a major forum for living culture (IVAN MALY.DOC)
During its four decades, Flanders Festival has become a major forum for living culture (IVAN MALY.DOC)

The city of Ghent, Belgium was appointed UNESCO City of Music on the 8th of June 2009. The city of Ghent has a reputation as a well-established centre for music with a rich tradition and inclusive approach to culture. The city possesses a complete infrastructure of creative and performing activities, with an impressive number of concert halls, education facilities and research centers.

There is a solid support given to a variety of music genres, through a wide range of festivals such as the Festival of Flanders and different organizations, including the Federation of Music Festivals in Flanders (FMiV) and the European Festivals Association (EFA). In addition, training and research activities are considered of core importance to the city with diverse education possibilities for local young artists, enabling them to develop their interest and career in the music field.

5. Bogota, Colombia

Rock al Parque, one of the most important Rock Festival in Latin America (ANON.)
Rock al Parque, one of the most important Rock Festival in Latin America (ANON.)

Designated as City of Music on 7 March 2012, as part of the Organization’s Creative Cities Network, Bogota is recognized foremost for its fast growing musical sector and dynamic music scene as a major centre of musical creation and activity in Latin America. In accordance with the mission of the Creative Cities Network, the city promotes music as a tool for socio-economic improvement and cultural diversity. With its unique profile as a cultural exchange hub on a national and regional level, Bogota is expected to strongly increase international cooperation opportunities for the Network.

In addition, the city boasts an outstanding infrastructure for the creation and promotion of all music genres from classical music to popular music as well as the many public and private cultural spaces provided for performing music. It demonstrates solid experience in hosting a wide range of events from festivals to international business meetings for music professionals equally engaging the public and private sectors in the music industry.

6. Brazzaville, Congo

The Pan-African Music Festival hits the streets of Brazzaville (WORLDFOLIO.DOC)
The Pan-African Music Festival hits the streets of Brazzaville (WORLDFOLIO.DOC)

The city of Brazzaville was named the sixth UNESCO’s City of Music on October 18, 2013. It is also the first African member of the Creative Cities Network. Brazzaville (along with the city of Kinshasa) is the home for the Congolese Rumba, a music born of syncretism between the traditional rhythms of Central Africa and Afro-Cuban music. As part of the African culture, music is an essential component of all stages that mark the Brazzaville’s social life: from baptisms, weddings, funerals, initiation rites character, religious practices.

The centrality of music in the identity of the city is celebrated through major events. The capital of Congo hosts the headquarters of the Pan-African Music Festival (FESPAM) initiated in 1996 under the auspices of the African Union. Held every two years in Brazzaville, FESPAM is one of the major events dedicated to African music. Brazzaville has also numerous private and community initiatives such as the lights festival Brazza biennial dedicated to traditional music from Congo and Africa.

Other Cities of Music outside the UNESCO’s

Aside from those cities commended by the UNESCO, there are ones that had been acknowledged by societies across the globe as the city of music because of their celebrated musical histories, healthy facilities, and nonstop music events that occur in those cities, ones such as Vienna (Austria), New York (USA), Liverpool (UK), Berlin (Germany), and Tokyo (Japan). Then there are self-declared cities of music due to the similar reasons, like Nashville (USA), Seattle (USA), and Melbourne (Australia).

Along with those ‘economically sound’ cities, there are also cities like Detroit (USA), Kingston (Jamaica), Havana (Cuba), and Mali (Bamako), which are still fully functioning as the source of musical inspiration and creativity among its societies, and continuously able to bring out many great music and musicians, regardless of the socio-economic and/or political circumstances they face.

So, what makes a city a city of music? If we look at the criteria of the UNESCO’s, then cities like Vienna, London, New York, and Tokyo, can easily meet those requirements; yet they did not seem to be bothered by such official recognition as the title had already been gained by their own, and acknowledged by societies around the world. On the other hand, there are cities that may have not yet met the requirements, such as Detroit, Salvador (Brazil) and Caracas (Venezuela), but already have proven themselves as one by being one of the centers for human development through the power of music.

Then, how about your city?


Obituary, Arie Syachri

(JAKARTA, SBF, LTTW) A pioneer in Indonesia’s live performance management and recipient of LTTW’s 2013 Endurance Award, Arie Syachri has passed away of heart failure on Thursday morning at the age of 65. Arie Syachri, who was the first-generation student of Jakarta Institute of Arts (IKJ) in 1974, was much loved and will always be remembered for his untiring efforts and selfless support to the betterment of arts management in Indonesia.

Having lived in the arts world for more than four decades, Arie Syachri’s accomplishments were staggering, yet hardly ever exposed. When he took the job as the Program Manager at the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) Arts Center in the 70’s, he successfully turned the place as the most vibrant cultural center in Indonesia, with lineup artists during his term there included giants of the performing arts world like Martha Graham and Duke Ellington. With his own pioneering arts production company outside the Arts Center, he handled most major events in Indonesia including the New York Philharmonic concert with Zubin Mehta as the Conductor.

In 1998, Arie Syachri joined Sacred Bridge Foundation, where he was faced with many new challenges; and his response was clear. Since then, he had been the person in charge for stage management to all events organized by Sacred Bridge, from the Sacred Rhythm: the Millennial Percussion Festival in Bali (1999) to INTRASIA: A Cross-Cultural Music Clinic in Jakarta (2013), while handled more diverse performances from artists such as Amy Knoles, Glen Velez, Vikku Vinayakram, Farafina, I Wayan Sadra, Marzuki Hassan, and many more; an energy and commitment that spanned for 15 years.

However, body had its limits. Illnesses began to attack him in the last few years. Even so, such illnesses rarely bothered him. In fact, he answered this mostly with a smile and a very good sense of humor, as he often did within any situation.

Now, after many curtains he had opened and closed for many artists, Arie Syachri has closed the curtain of his own. And his journey to the divine began.


Is Cave Painting Art?

by Aryo Adhianto

[Jakarta, LttW] A few months ago LTTW raised an issue of cave painting’s management being differently practiced both in the Caves of Altamira, Spain, and in other parts of the world, such as in Indonesia—a region rich of cave paintings that are spread from Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, to Papua.

As one of cultural heritages to be preserved, we need to understand that the responsibility of cave painting’s preservation will always be uppermost in the hand of archaeologists; although everyone at all levels each has important roles in contributing to the archaeological literacy’s enrichment—including artists. Unfortunately, with hundreds—or even more—neighboring cave paintings, only a handful of Indonesian artists who had done a thorough study on this subject, while in fact, there are still much undiscovered territories archaeologists may learn from the arts’ point of view—particularly from the visual arts.

To gain adequate perspectives, I recently interviewed Adikara Rachman, a visual art lecturer at Universitas Trisakti, Jakarta, also the Founder of Maros, an organization he initiated to participate in the development of visual culture in Indonesia. I believe he can help us out throughout the entire discussion on this matter.

So, I will begin with simple questions: how does art respond to cave painting?

Palm hands drawing in the Leang-Leang Cave, Maros Regency, South Sulawesi.
Palm hands drawing in the Leang-Leang Cave, Maros Regency, South Sulawesi.

Cave “painting”, cave “drawing”, or cave “writing”?

Historical facts told us that cave painting has been with us for at least tens of thousands of years. Archaeological findings such as found in Leang-Leang Cave in Maros Regency, South Sulawesi, Indonesia—famous for their hand prints—put their age in the range of 10,000 years old; long before the term “painting” or “art” were even revealed. Yet, we already seem to be comfortable with terms such as “cave painting” or “rock art” when referring to such wonderful creations; but not to Adikara Rachman.

“First of all, I am more comfortable in viewing this subject through the eye of visual culture, rather than visual art alone, for the reason of comprehensiveness.” He stated, “In my opinion, such creations are derived from mechanism of living being practiced at the time. I must, therefore, question the process of naming them, which ‘cave painting’ is an identity being given by the West and from the Western art’s point of view, in much later times. Acknowledging that the term ‘cave painting’ is not self-defined, so the next question is, did our ancestors really make painting, or rather something else?”

Having studied Fine Arts and experiencing as both artist and lecturer within the domain of Western visual art, especially drawing, Adikara explained further, “Based upon the Western art’s principles alone, I would argue that cave painting is more suitably termed as drawing. There are at least two interconnecting approaches I will use in my argument, both historical and technical.”

“First, such visual creations are tens of thousands years old—perhaps the earliest ones ever done by man, at least from what historians had proven so far—and at that time, I assume that our ancestors were at the very first steps of building visual languages of their own, which according to the set of histories that given birth to the Western art itself, drawing, or even writing, is a logical step prior to painting.”

“Secondly, based upon its developed techniques, the majority of ‘cave painting’ across the globe uses a basic visual elements of lines and color; and these two elements are the very breath of drawing techniques—compare to volume and color are to painting. Thusly speak, I suppose ‘cave painting’s’ techniques are far more closely related to drawing, rather than painting.”

Would there be 10,000 years old art?

Cave painting’s terminology as argued by Adikara has pushed me to go further back in time, the prehistoric Indonesia, when Islands located in the central part of Indonesia as Sulawesi and Maluku—used to called the Wallacean Islands—are having rarely connected via land bridges. This longstanding separation from the surrounding continents has limited the ability of animal species, particularly mammals, to travel either into or away from it†. Within this occurred—perhaps ‘harsh’—environment, the question is, could the cave painting meant to be art?

“Responding to archaeological discoveries that exist today, I do not dare to conclude that cave painting is art. In fact, no one really knows the exact meaning and purpose of those visual objects, either as symbols, patterns, or visions,” he said. “Even if it is commonly referred to as an art, that is, again, departing from the contemporary language; or in this case, from when the history of art began as an academic discipline in Europe in the nineteenth century.”

Certainly, there are diverse comments upon where cave paintings should be positioned, but since this article seeks to enrich the discussion of cave paintings in a more wider context, a view from visual culture is greatly needed, which Adikara gave his own, “In my opinion, cave painting is a signified human’s struggle, exploration, and conquest toward life during that time, in the forms of visual culture objects.”

However, despite Adikara’s attempt to find a proportion between cave paintings as interpreted artistically and culturally, it is necessary to take issue on Serrano Sianturi’s analysis at the wealth of a cultural manifestation such as cave painting, whose purpose remained inconclusive. According to him, it is the purpose that differentiates the nature of any cultural creation, and therefore, determines whether it can be considered an aesthetic creation—from where arts belong—or a functional creation (Serrano Sianturi). In this context it seems to become even harder to retain a common identification of cave painting as an art.

In many respects, Adikara has drawn on Serrano Sianturi’s view and self-reflexively posed an illustration, “The palm hands drawings in the Leang-Leang Cave are indeed rich with artistic values, as seen on the developed mouth-sprayed paint technique (equivalent to today’s stencil art technique) and the use of layered spatial dimensions—which is highly advanced during that time.” He continued, “But, again, I am not sure what the drawings were made for. There are plenty of possibilities and questions I need to find out first. At the moment, therefore, it is impossible to answer whether cave painting is a 10,000 years old art.”

Hand palms of Leang-Leang: more than just an art?


The debate over identifying cave painting an art or not, strangely enough, may not have been much discussed among actors in the arts sector in Indonesia. In fact, this does seem to contribute problems—rather than solutions—to the unsolved puzzle faced by archaeologists (and other related stakeholders). Because in effect, perceiving cave painting only from the domain of (Western) art as commonly practiced in Indonesia, tends to confuse and limit our imagination and understanding on its true values along with its tangible visual aspects. To tackle such confusion, Adikara chose to depart from the angles of visual culture, and explained why it should have triggered further responses.

“Although the purpose of cave painting is still unclear, there are many interesting subjects visual culture can explore and draw more possibilities from one, at least one such as in the Leang-Leang’s.” He elaborated, “The palm hands drawings, I assume, are a response to economic, technological, social, and spiritual context at the time. Having lived coexist with such unimaginable wilderness, those repetitive palm hands could be indicated either as a mark intended to declare their territorial conquest, a form of letter—or number—to record their hunting experiences or calculate their cycle of time, or it could be an integral part of ceremonial worship to Gods.”

“From technological aspect, they managed to not only deliver color pigments from nature, but also noticed its weaknesses. By drawing it deep in the cave, I assume, they had found a way to prevent the color degrading from natural erosion. Also not to mention the invention of paint blow-sprayer and its distinctive technique, which could be another prove of man’s ability of problem solving through technology.” He shortly added, “When we carefully observed, there are differences in the size of the palm of the hands; there are bigger and smaller ones. In this case, these sizes can be interpreted as part of the communication between the adults and children, either as a training method of spraying technique, or an ‘abstraction’ to the reality each children must encountered.”

“Based upon my desk observation by far,” he continued, “I suppose cave painting is more than just an art; it is more appropriate to be positioned as an aesthetic creation, interpreting from its most universal sense. We probably will not be able to see, moreover to extend, the possibilities one can gain from such incredible heritage, if, in contrast, our mind has been practically grounded in a partial understanding of Western art. At this instant, enriching archaeological horizon is quite impractical.” He ended.

Although a further research and study on this subject is greatly required, but Adikara has made a valid point. Cave painting, however, is still an ongoing riddle to be solved; yet, there is an urgency of both preservation and cultivation, knowing that they are facing both natural deterioration and ‘unnatural’ degradation caused by the societies’ collective ignorance.


Cave paintings, archaeologists, artists, and us

Preserving cave painting may not be the responsibility of the arts and artists; but ignoring it completely is not a very wise move either. Here in Indonesia, the branches of ‘problems’ faced by archaeologists (and other related stakeholders) may root in our own struggle as a nation in comprehending such cultural heritages. Behind the simple term of ‘comprehending’, however, there lurk a wide range of potentials and prejudices, which can only be managed by dialoging it under a multidisciplinary atmosphere.

While heritages such as cave paintings could be interpreted in various ways and in mutual concerns, such possibilities are indeed limited by a single direction towards particular meanings—ones that often drawn from partial and separate perspectives. The authorities, in many respects as the ones we rely the most, then have to adopt particular strategies in relation to this; one of which is to begin to stimulate and facilitate multidisciplinary practices, so that the societies could have multi-direction towards the heritages’ values cultivation*, or develop an independent interpretation, as was done by Adikara Rachman.

In the end, after gaining more insights particularly on the standpoint of visual culture, cave painting isn’t as ‘outdated’ as it appears; in fact, there are many values attached on every object which still relevance to today’s thinking and behaving, or even goes far beyond. I am making this point by referring to Serrano Sianturi’s thought, with which I would like to end this article. He has written that ‘a thing of the past (especially the thousands years old ones) does not always mean outdated, irrelevance, uninspiring or worth nothing. To the contrary, heritages, in relation to its surrounding contexts, often contain logics and ideals that are healthier than we have today. Our inability to comprehend heritages is a result and evidence of our very little understanding of contexts, coupled with the disconnection between the current and the past logics and ideals’ (Serrano Sianturi).


*Sacred Bridge Foundation

On WhatsApp Deal: Who Dares to Be A (Young) Billionaire?

[THE NEW YORK TIMES, FORBES, LTTW, SAN FRANCISCO] Every one of us perhaps ever dreamed of success at relatively young age, by doing what we love. In today’s climate, having our own car, house, and years of savings might suit the dream perfectly. For some, dreams do come true; but what if it turns out to be much, much more than we expected? What if we’re talking millions to billions of dollars here? What if we’re talking seven generations of savings? Who dares to dream the dream anyway?

Speaking of whom, the WhatsApp pair of Brian Acton (at 42) and Jan Koum (at 40) are ones who dare. On recent news, the pair were selling their 5 year old mobile messaging company to Facebook for $19 billion!—a number worth more than long-established companies such as Gap, Harley-Davidson, and Xerox, to name a few. As expected, the Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp has freshly been discussed around the globe, from the suit-and-ties to the casuals, from the hardcore users to the non-users.

In a recent Forbes article, contributor Reuven Cohen stressed to one question: why? If Facebook already has a significant portion of the global instant messaging market through its own Facebook Messenger, what’s driving the gigantic valuation? Mr. Cohen analyzed this by emphasizing people’s ‘attention’ as the hard currency of cyberspace, which he quotes from Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun in their 1996 book Rules of the Net. At 450 million global users and growing, WhatsApp’s users—unlike many other mobile apps usage—actually use this service on a daily or even hourly basis.

To be brief, Mr. Cohen pointed out like this: the better Facebook gets at keeping your attention, the more valuable it become. Accordingly, this may very well be the fundamental value behind Facebook’s purchase—and yes, it worth billions of dollars.

On a different angle, a New York Times article by Nick Bilton was stressing out the deal’s correlation to the behavior among the Silicon Valley newly billionaires; as he wrote, “…these are heady times in technology — and everyone, it seems, is rethinking his or her number.” The mentioned number refers to how much money it would take for them to sell their start-up, quit their job or close their venture capital fund — or in some cases, just turn their back from it all.

Getting rich is somewhat common in circle of technology nowadays; and WhatsApp’s Brian Acton and Jan Koum are adding to the list of names of the people who become millionaire and billionaire at young age. We already have Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both at 40 year-old, whose net worth is about $24.4 and $24.9 billion; the wonderboy Mark Zuckerberg (at 29), co-founder and CEO of Facebook, whose net worth is about $19 billion as of September 2013; and Tumblr’s founder and CEO David Karp, a 27 year-old whose net worth exceeds $200 million.

For most of us who don’t live under the US dollar currency—far below in this case, the above numbers are almost unreal, even perhaps unimaginable. However, the big gasp also belong to the Americans such as John Gabbert, chief executive of Pitchbook Data (a database of private equity deals and industry players), who said that 10 years ago, entrepreneurs were more down to earth about their numbers. The founders of Plumtree (Software) probably made $5 to $10 million each from the I.P.O.,” Mr. Gabbert said. “That looked like success back then. That’s pretty good money. You could live forever on that.”

Mr. Bilton use Mr. Gabbert’s opinion to notify the possibility of changing behavior among today’s entrepreneurs, as WhatsApp’s Jan Koum will personally make about $6.8 billion on the deal— the rough equivalent of San Francisco’s annual budget—and how does he go about earning such ‘superwealth’ at young age, how would he make use of it, and how does it affect the people close to him and the rest of young generation worldwide.

If a large sum of money is considered as power, and such power to be possessed by individuals at young age, then how does the ‘youth culture’ around the world respond to this matter? On top of this, does culture matters in managing of money?