May ’98 will go down in Indonesia’s history as the start of the country’s long march towards demokrasi. For we expats here at the time, it was a few weeks of mild paranoia.
There was no internet in Jakartass Towers, and we relied on snail mail and landlines for telephones. Before mayhem broke out, I had started a letter to my English son who was studying in the USA and visiting blues bars for recreation and his thesis. My letter turned into a diary and I’ve typed it up and put it into a pdf file which is in the folder containing the music you’re about to download from here.
I wrote these ‘sleeve notes’ in July 1998 to accompany the compilation to be played whilst reading the letter.
01. Robert Wyatt: East Timor (Indonesia) fr. Old Rottenhat
I’ve been a long-term fan, from his early days with Soft Machine and Matching Mole, and through his solo career, so I was very pleased to find this album as a pirate cassette in 1988 when I first arrived in Indonesia. The Suharto regime was obviously unable to understand his sentiments and was certainly unaware of his involvement with the British Communist Party.
East Timor has remained an important focus of Indonesia’s pariah status, both locally and internationally. There may yet be a solution: self-autonomy. A federation of states within the Republic of Indonesia may prove viable and appropriate.
(We all know what was about to burst upon the world with Timor Leste the result. But who’s to say I wasn’t prescient with my notion of a federal state. Is Aceh to be the only semi-autonomous province?)
02. Moebius: Money.
The sentiments of the song seem to encapsulate the ‘yuppie’ mentality engendered by the ‘fruits’ of Soeharto’s grand development design. He seemed to have a kinship with Mrs. Thatcher. Indonesia was his fiefdom; he was a village chief, albeit of a very large one.
03. Thomas Mapfumo: Corruption
A reminder that vices are universal. I bought this CD at my favourite second-hand stall for Rp.20,000 – which was about 80p in July 1998, and is about £1.25 in January 2015.
04. Peter Gabriel: We Do What We’re Told
Severely slapped wrists, or a bullet in the back of the head, for any dissidents since they were surely anti-Pancasila, the state philosophy which emphasised ‘One Family’.
05. Iwan Fals: Besar dan Kecil? (Big and Small)
A mega musician here. Although a general’s son, his songs are about the ‘little people’, those who are unable to do more than just survive, if barely. He has rarely performed recently because of his vast popularity and the reluctance of the police authorities, due to political pressure, to issue permits. His public persona of personal integrity has not been compromised in spite of the death of his 17 year old son from a heroin overdose a year or so ago, His concerts have often degenerated into riots as, indeed, happened just last week. If he sang in English, I’m certain he’d be an international super-star.
06. Dagmar Krause: Song of the Whitewash fr. Tank Battles
This is an album of pre-World War II songs which were definitely not acceptable to Hitler. Songs of decadence and decay.
This particular song seems to mirror the paternalistic ramblings of the regime, which acknowledged that mistakes had been made but trust us because we’re with you and are the best people to get you out of the mess. After all, we got us into it. And it’s not so bad anyway.
07. Bob Marley: Burnin’ and Lootin’ fr. Live at the Lyceum
This was the consequence of the shootings of students at Trisakti University which followed several weeks of protests and demonstrations against the government, which had rapidly lost touch with the populace. Talk at this time was openly wondering when Soeharto would step down. So, who shot the students? There are two policemen currently on trial, but popular conjecture is that there was a ‘hidden hand’, close to the regime and, therefore, the army. Another whitewash.
It was this day that terrified the Chinese community, in particular, as they and their businesses were the targets. Ex-pats became targets of highway robbers on the way to the airport, but I do feel that there was an element of racism in succumbing to the quite natural fear. After all, any slightly informed observer here would have known that the people’s wrath was essentially aimed at the regime.
08. Rickie Lee Jones: Scary Chinese Movie fr. Ghostyhead
I love the album and the song title seems appropriate. 168 women, mainly Chinese, were reportedly gang raped during the days of rioting. Yet Chinese kung-fu movies are on every TV channel, seemingly every evening.
09. Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
A seriously considered question. We stayed, others went. The decision we made for ourselves – there was insufficient money to get us out the country, though we did consider Bali – exactly mirrored the advice given by the British Embassy here, who, many of us feel, were unjustly criticised by those with more money than sense.
10. Pat Metheny: Roots of Coincidence fr. Imaginary Days
This one track portrays the weird mood swings of our ‘siege’. Private thoughts and personal networking, paranoia and languor, excitement and laziness. Ten days that changed our world. But to what and how, few have a clear idea.
11. XTC: Merely A Man fr. Oranges and Lemons
On 29th August 1998, President Habibie said, “I am not God.” Or a mere ‘photocopy’ of Soeharto. Indeed. He was too populist to achieve credibility.