Saturday, 22 August 2009

"The Sea of Veils"

If you have enjoyed The Silent Pilgrimage, you might be interested to see the new blog, "The Sea of Veils", which is dedicated to the translation of Emha's works:

Emha Ainun Nadjib: "The Sea of Veils"
This blog deals with the work of Emha Ainun Nadjib and is a companion to The Silent Pilgrimage []. Both tell the story of Indonesian writer and touring artist Emha Ainun Nadjib. The Silent Pilgrimage gathers materials on his life and work. This blog will carry translations of his work for readers all over the world and for the promotion of tours. "The Sea of Veils" is one of Emha's best known works in Indonesia. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you, Ian L. Betts.

Friday, 22 May 2009

An extremely creative teacher, friend and brother

For me Cak Nun is a travelling library. He is an extremely creative teacher, friend and brother. His understanding of politics, social affairs, the economy and culture is as broad as his understanding of sport, especially football. And his grasp of diversity is unique and authentic.
As well as being an intellectual and cultural expert, as a poet Cak Nun occupies a very special position. In the 70s people were shocked at his performance poetry, which was conducted with gamelan onstage. And then, the performances of “Syair Lautan Jilbab”[1] in Makassar (Sulawesi, or the Celebes), attended by audiences of 15,000.
And what makes me so respectful is his consistency in defending the marginalised and the poor. His loyalty and solidarity stand out. I was once stuck for words during a discussion in 1990 in Yogyakarta and Cak Nun helped me with his intelligent contribution, full of wisdom.

[1] Verses from The Sea of Veils
By Jose Rizal Manua, award-winning dramatist, cultural observer and writer.
Translated by Ian L. Betts

As authentic today as when he first spoke

This figure is one of only a few who have managed to engage my inner being. His courage to differ in a difficult and turbulent environment makes me sure that he has something inside.

His empathy with the masses and his capacity for communication with them on abstract themes in their own language style amazes me, because he is also highly thought of by the elite. Cak Nun’s words are as authentic today as they were when he first spoke. This is the important thing to note in a ‘true’ leader. God willing, Cak Nun is included among them.

For me, until this day, Cak Nun is identified with the song "Tombo Ati," which always soothes my heart and brings tears to my eyes.
Tony B. Trihartanto
Head of the Perbanas College for Economics, Jakarta
Tony appeared and spoke at a Kenduri Cinta gathering late in 2005 at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Cikini, Jakarta, the night that we were joined by the whirling sufi dancers who, seated at random among the crowd, would rise whirling with the music .
For "Tombo Ati", please see post entitled "Poetry ...Tombo Ati, The Heart's Ease" below.
Translated by Ian L. Betts

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A Voice of Accusation and an Icon of Cultural Creativity

The existence of Cak Nun[1] has given renewed hope to an appreciation of arts and culture in a dimension that liberates man from the schackles of various forms of oppression, ignorance and injustice.
Cak Nun serves as the well-spring which frees people from the snares of fearfulness, allowing the development of a cultural stream which variosu aspects whereby socio-reality is raised to become transcendental, returning to earth in a form of artistic creativity encompassing the whole of humanity.
Consequently, I believe that the struggle taken by Cak Nun involves not only the fundamentals of culture as a condition for the creation of an awareness that will free those who are marginalised, but also offers hope for the ascendance of creativity as a God-given gift, which only has meaning if a way can be found for the struggle to overcome all forms of ignorance, injustice and all that preys on the dignity of man, including a review of the cultural system of Indonesia.
Seen from the political dimension, what Cak Nun does comprises the integration of “individualism in culture” as one aspect of the three-seats of power of Bung Karno[2], where religion is the fundament.
I hope that Cak Nun, as a figure, will always grow, until he is not only an icon of artistic and cultural creativity, but becomes a voice of accusation arising from all forms of matters concerning this country. I am proud, because Cak Nun belongs not only to the Muslim community, but has symbiotically interpreted the meaning of the diversity of Indonesia in the frame of the Unitary Republic.

[1] As Emha is affectionately known
[2] Affectionate term for Indonesia’s first President, Soekarno.
By Choirul Sholeh Rasyid Member of the People’s Representative Assembly for the National Awakening Party (PKB)
Translated by Ian L. Betts

An architect of the now...

He is a Wali[1] of architect of "the now" with both a sense of history and a vision of the future of humanity. His informal "love" offers a solidity both courageous and ”thankful.”

[1] Wali: Islamic religious term denoting a spiritual guide, guardian, holy person, saint, or one endowed with the highest spiritual values, most often associated also with leadership, such as the legendary Wali Songo of Java who are thought to have promulgated Islam throughout Indonesia.
By Gus Mono, a respected Muslim cleric from Magelang, Java
Translated by Ian L. Betts

Steps on the Journey

Praise be to God for His mercy and guidance. All praise and greetings to our Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his companions, followers and descendants.

One’s history, and the background to it, influences a person’s individuality. With one’s individuality, a person can make history.

From what I know of Emha Ainun Nadjib, without any embellishment whatsoever, he is a figure who has carved out a role in the centre of the plural peoples, based on his strong individuality.

Strong in his principles, he is able to endure facing the trials of life, however bitter they may be.

Fearful only of Allah, and hopeful only of His grace, he is inclusive without exception, especially with regard to the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised.

The development of his most important thought is in accord with his passion for leading the Qu’ran recitals at Pondokan Modern Daarussalam Gontor. He is sensitive towards all and dislikes the use of force by or against anyone.

Everyone has an interest in self-promotion, but the degree and extent of this varies from one to another. I see that Emha’s interest in self-promotion and the process involved in gaining it is minimal, but he achieves maximum results.

I predict that the contents of this book are among the steps in Emha’s journey towards positioning himself on the world's stage, with the blessing of his wisdom.
[1] A renowned Islamic Madrassah-style boarding school
By Hasan Abdullah Sahal
Leader of Pondok Modern “Darussalam” Gontor Ponorogo[1]
March 12th 2006
Translated by Ian L. Betts

Discourse flavoured with Islam, and a spirit at once local and global

I love his poetic works, especially Muhammadkan Hamba, which causes the adrenalin to flow in the middle of the frozen socio-political situation at this time. The spirit of Cak Nun’s thought represents the "Awakening of Majapahit/Nusantara[1]” with a discourse flavoured with Islam, and a spirit at once local and global, indicating the enthusiasm for Allah’s mercy on earth as well as unity in diversity. That’s unlike me, who represents Sunda[2] with the language of a Liberal ’disbeliever’ (kafir). It’s clear that the audience at Kenduri Cinta, who share different religions and ideologies, also respect communities outside of the mainstream, such as Jakar (Jaringan Kafir Liberal – Liberal Kafir Network), and that these can be bridged by Cak Nun. It’s time for Cak Nun, via your Success Team, to go for National Leadership, because this country needs Alternative Leaders, Progressive, Artistic and Liberal, not the normative, standard, ignorant and permanently hypocritical.

[1] Ancient maritime and archipelago-based empire based on the territory of what is now much of present-day Indonesia
[2] Sunda, a people, territory and language of West Java
Kenduri Cinta: literally the feast of love; the name of the monthly gathering (or Maiyah) held since 2000 in Jakarta on the evening of the second Friday of each month at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Cikini, Central Jakarta
By Dadang Ismawan, Painter and theologian, Jakar (Jaringan Kafir Liberal – Liberal Kafir Network)
Translated by Ian L. Betts

A humanist with a sound vision of the nation

I have known Emha Ainun Nadjib well for a long time. For sure, I want to say that Indonesia needs a figure, a character and an individual who understands culture like Cak Nun. He is able to smoothly express ideas and criticisms both religious and political. I also know him to be a humanist who quickly responds to the problems faced by people. I know him to possess a sound vision of the nation, a man who dares to state the truth with wisdom. I also know Cak Nun to be consistent and constant on behalf of the religious community. Cak Nun has a theory of mass leadership which every bocah angon[1] of the nation would do well to study, as I have. Congratulations and success.

[1] Reference to the lyrics of Illir-ilir (one of Emha's most well-known songs, written by Sunan Kailjaga, one of Java's legendary Wali Songo saints of Islam), bocah angon, a cattle-herd boy.
By H. Ali Mocthar Ngabalin, MA (Defence Commission, People’s Representative Assembly and former leader of Indonesian Muslim Student Group Pelajar Islam-PII 1994-1996)

Translated by Ian L. Betts

A man of the people

Emha is a man of the people, and an original in his ideas and style. He is a free man who is able to pass all barriers unrestricted, expressing the hearts of the people in a spirit which respects the values of worshippers as they bow before the calls of the worldly. We embrace Emha as our spokesman for common sense in this collective confusion of a nation which results in poverty in the midst of an enormous wealth of resources, and unemployment that rises in proportion with growth in the economy and investment. May Emha always be a loyal guardian and spokesman for the heart of the nation. Salam.
By Adi Sasono (Former Minister of Cooperatives, leading member of the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals, ICMI).
Translated by Ian L. Betts

Monday, 18 May 2009

"Silence More Evident in the Commotion that he Makes"

The Emha Ainun Najib That I Know

Contributed by Hidayat Nur Wahid, Leader of the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly

I have known this figure for a long time, since I was a santri[1] student at the Pondok Modern Gontor Ponorogo, where Mas[2] Emha Ainun Najib once studied. I am quite familiar with his writings in various influential media, such as Tempo magazine and others. He has long been considered to have a far-reaching outlook, a depth of knowledge, a commitment to arriving at a deep level of correction and improvement, but it seems that there is also something else; something that is not too common, in the context of that people often term a certain mischievousness of thought. Of course I can understand that in the context of the tradition that comprises his background, as a son of Jombang with all that accompanies that, and then growing up in Pesantren Gontor with all its dynamics, and then living outside of the pesantren and the communities that he met there, he continues to present various alternatives and a variety of other activities, which naturally indicate that this person, Emha Ainun Najib, is indeed embarked upon a journey that identifies ways in which we can achieve more; achievements that bring us to the light, that steers us away from all that which makes us resistant to change. His skill with holy verses is as well-developed as his ability to take flying leaps with accepted logic.

I grew to know Mas Emha Ainun Najib more directly when we were alumni together at Pondok Pesantren Modern Gontor during the era of Gus Dur[3], another son of Jombang who became the President. We often met and debated in forums that were extremely limited. There was Mas Emha Ainun Najib, the late Cak Nur[4], Kiai Haji Hasyim Muzadi[5], Dien Syamsudin[6], Pak Kiai Syukri from Pondok Pesantren Gontor, Pak Kholil Ridwan, leader of the All-Indonesia Institute for Co-operation among Pondok Pesantren, and myself. The meetings illustrated the extent of Mas Emha Ainun Najib’s friendships, which while stemming from one pesantren, were actually very varied in their activities. As usual, Mas Emha Ainun Najib was in the midst of us all, creating the conditions for lightheartedness, but at the same time making a commitment whereby these communities worked towards a solution and did not worsen existing conditions, because we were all working within the framework of one great commitment, namely Ukhuwah Islamiyah, the brotherhood that brings peace, that brings a commitment to work towards something that will give rise to a solution; these are avlues that have long been sown in the lives of us that have studied at Pondok Modern Gontor Ponorogo.

Since that time, Mas Emha Ainun Najib has made his own place in being mindful of the inner life, also in my understanding of how an activity should be managed, how an idea should be communicated, how a commitment can be struggled for together, and then, though we may not share his understanding, accepting that differences need not disturb our togetherness to work towards the good, with fresher criticisms and commitments.

It has happened that, while not of one understanding, though still joined in the path of friendship, we maintained a dialogue via telephone from Jogja to Jakarta, during which we discussed the first round of the presidential elections (2004) and then later the second. Of course I respect the political choices of Mas Emha Ainun Najib, who is proof of where an artist does not have to make a taboo of plunging himself into the world of practical politics, and of course he also respects the political choices that I have made, and so we learn that those differences do not mean that we have to be ”enemies” or end our silaturahim[7] and friendly communications, we have remained friends until now.

And so, when I was asked to make some comments about him for this book that is to be published, I took it as a great honour, but I feel that what he has done is not a ”Silent Pilgrimage” as the title indicates, a pilgrim’s journey that gives rise to quietness or which is made quietly. As far as I know, the journey of Mas Emha Ainun Najib is a journey made in the true sense of the word ’Pilgrimage’, in journeying towards Allah, towards God in His Abode. In the House of God The Allmighty, what Mas Emha does in the the context of ”silent” is not apparent, but is rather more evident in the commotion that he makes. His journey in life is just as full of commotion. From the Pondok Pesantren Modern Gontor to Padang Bulan in Jakarta and other places, it has always been the commotion that causes us to return to the essence of ourselves as people who must think and be of good character, people who must continue to improve upon our commitments, people who do not merely enage in Thowaf[8], not just being present at Arafah[9], not merely stoning the Jumroh[10], but also to become that which is written in the traditions (of the Prophet Muhammad) of the Haj Pilgrimage, and that is Mabrur[11]. To become Mabrur is of course not to become Mablul. Mablul means to become wet through perspiring in exhaustion, in fear, or by the crush of other pilgrims or even by having been doused in the waters of Zamzam[12]. Mabrur is not about flying off in a plane[13] far from Indonesia and one’s village for who knows where, only to fly home without any positive or constructive changes resulting from one’s long flight and contemplation in the Holy Land. Mabrur is a state whereby those who have made a long journey always ensure that the positive things they have achieved do not end when they end their pilgrimage to Mecca, but are held close and developed further upon returning home, whether home is Jombang, Jogja or Jakarta; wherever they go, their enthusiasm goes with them. And I hope that it is the enthusiasm that stems from Mabrur and not the mere wetness that stems from Mablul (and certainly not the mere act of taking the journey) that will always ensure that the journey of Mas Emha Ainun Najib will go on as if it were a Pilgrimage which will end in the company of the Syuhada, the Shiddiqin, the Aulia[14], and that this state of Mabrur will lead to brightness and happiness for himself and for others in this world and in the next.

Amin Ya Rabbal Alamiin[15].

[1] Santri; student at an Islamic boarding school (pesantren or madrassah)
[2] Mas; a Javanese term to denote a brother, someone perceived by the speaker to be of equal social status with the speaker.
[3] An affectionate name for Indonesia’s fourth president, and prominent NU figure, Abdurrahman Wahid.
[4] An affectionate name for Nurcholish Madjid, who founded the influential Paramadina Institute (and later a university). The ‘father’ of Islamic pluralism in Indonesia.
[5] Current leader of NU.
[6] Current leader of Muhammdiyah.
[7] An Islamic term for meetings among (esp. Muslim) friends.
[8] An Islamic term denoting the encircling of the Kaaba at the centre of Mecca; an element of the Haj.
[9] One element of the Haj Pilgrimage is to stand for many hours on the Plain of Arafah.
[10] Another element is to stone a number of pillars, which represent the devil.
[11] An Islamic term denoting a state whereby one’s pilgrimage is accepted by Allah, a state that every pilgrim obviously hopes to attain.
[12] Waters from a spring in Mecca thought to be imbued with special powers.
[13] In the original Indonesia this is a play on words whereby mabur, a term for flying, sounds similar to Mabrur.
[14] The Martyrs.
[15] An Islamic term used in closing an address or speech.
Translated by Ian L. Betts

The Silent Pilgrim

The Silent Pilgrim, Emha Ainun Nadjib, has travelled alone in full circle through tradition and modernity: Islamic ritualism, Western and Islamic rational philosophy, Javanese and Islamic spirituality. In the beginning of his journey he wrote an anthology of verse entitled “99 For My Lord”, referring to the 99 Names of Allah, the Asma al-Husna. At the end of his spiritually exhaustive, turbulent pilgrimage, this enigmatic Silent Pilgrim has come to understand the 100th Name of Allah: endless devotion to his fellow creatures, and his country.
Contributed by Hasyim Wahid (known affectionately as as Gus Im, the younger brother of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur).
Translated by Ian L. Betts

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Poetry…Tombo Ati, The Heart’s Ease…

One chapter of "The Silent Pilgrimage" is dedicated to Emha’s poetry. Following is an extract from the draft of that chapter. It concerns "Tombo Ati", the Heart's Ease, written hundreds of years ago by Sunan Bonang, one of Java’s nine Wali Songo, the early saints of Islam.

…Finally, a word on the poem, or lyric, which for many people is the first of Emha’s works that they encounter, though it was not written by him. Tombo Ati…

Tombo Ati

Original Javanese version:

Tombo ati iku ono limang perkoro
Kaping pisan, moco Qur'an sa'maknane
Kaping pindo, sholat wengi lakononoKaping telu, wong kang sholeh kumpulono
Kaping papat, wetengiro ingkang luwe
Kaping limo, dzikir wengi ingkang suwe
Salah akwijine sopo biso ngelakoni
Insya Allah Gusti Pangeran ngijabahi

Modern Bahasa Indonesia version:

Ada lima obat penentram jiwa
Cinta Qur'an dengan menyelami maknanya
Sujudkan jiwa raga di tengah sunyi malam
Kepada orang sholeh dirimu senantiasa dekatkan
Adapun terhadap rasa lapar upayakan bertahan
Dan atas keasyikan zhikir jangan pernah bosan
Salah satu saja engkau khusyu' melakukannya
Insya Allah nasibmu akan dirawat oleh Yang Maha Kuasa

English translation:

There are five ways to ease the heart
Love the Qur’an by deepening your understanding of its meaning
Bow in prayer in the silent dead of night
Keep the company of good people
Learn to withstand the pangs of hunger
And never tire of the remembrance of Allah

If you can achieve but one of these…
Surely, God Willing, your fate will be assured by the Allmighty.

In recent times Emha has produced other translations of Tombo Ati in the Sunda, Mandar and other regional dialects. However, as other commercially popular artists and performers have begun to cover the song, it has slipped from Kiai Kanjeng’s repertoire.
In its best-known recorded form; a live version on the album "Kado Muhammad", the song has a lengthy spoken introduction and a large crowd are heard singing the Shalawat Badr. Then Emha, in a long spoken introduction, calls upon all present to free themselves from the pressures they may be facing at home, at work, at the office. He tells the assembled audience to ‘rileks’ (relax), as Kiai Kanjeng’s instruments are heard taking up the refrain to Tombo Ati.

The UK, Germany and Italy: Tolerance, Democracy and Creativity

“Indonesia in Disorder” and “Islamophobia”

During the European and other tours, Kiai Kanjeng and Emha Ainun Nadjib have faced questions and even resistance with regard to their identity as Muslims. At times they felt challenged by what they described as two overriding “obstructions to communication,” namely the image of Indonesia as a “country in disorder” and the problem of “Islamophobia”, particularly as Kiai Kanjeng were very closely identified with Islam.

However, when Kiai Kanjeng were in front of an audience, things were very different. When the Australian audiences were presented with contemporary western music plus one or two Australian popular songs arranged in “gamelan” style, they promptly asked: “where is the Islamic music?” In a show specifically for high school students at Saint Richi, Kiai Kanjeng gave a simple gamelan version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The students were openly demanding: “Give us the Islamic songs”, they cried. Kiai Kanjeng responded by playing a number of shalawat (songs in praise to the Prophet Muhammad), and the students spontaneously got up from their seats and danced. This event is captured on video and can be seen on the 2005 compilation release Kiai Kanjeng Greets UK.

In Aberdeen Kiai Kanjeng played an extended number from Lebanon. This was a piece of traditional Arabic music which, at certain points, they would change suddenly, breaking into ‘western’ sounding music without altering the note or the instrumental accompaniment. Then the ensemble would faithfully return to the original Arabic style. In these cases, the Arabic lyrics would be sung by Kiai Kanjeng vocalist, Yuli, and the English language version by Novia.

Amazing Grace had been played on the bagpipes by well-known Rowett Piper Duncan McPherson. He was given a background accompaniment on the saron and bonang (Javanese percussion instruments). The song was almost imperceptibly taken up by Kiai Kanjeng who introduced a medley of songs from Madura, Aceh and Timor with virtually no change in the melody. One observer wrote that “the melodies from various countries are connected to each other beautifully ‘in love’ even though the countries may be at odds with each other politically and economically and are “compartmentalised by walls.”

Community Music, Cultural Group

The audiences for Kiai Kanjeng performances overseas may consist of any of four main categories. The first category comprises the indigenous population. The second is formed of people of various other nationalities residing in or visiting a particular town where a performance is taking place. The third category consists of Indonesians residing or visiting the town and the fourth, non-Indonesian Muslims.

In Aberdeen the two shows at the Rowett Institute were largely attended by Scots. The Indonesians there were on the whole serving as members of the organising committee. On university campuses, such as that of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and those in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds during the first tour of November 2004, the audiences had consisted of many different nationalities. The same had been true in Melbourne, while in Sydney and Canberra the audiences mainly comprised the children of junior and senior high schools, elementary schools and kindergartens, even playgroups. This is well-represented on the Kiai Kanjeng Greets UK (Video CD).

On the two UK and European tours the set list prepared by Kiai Kanjeng remained largely constant. There were original songs by Kiai Kanjeng. There were reworkings of modern and contemporary selections that had been given an “ethnic slant” as well as traditional and other ethnic Indonesian songs and “gamelanised” Western pop songs. For Britain the repertoire included Cat Steven’s Wild World and Morning Has Broken, Rod Steward’s Sailing, Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do and The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There.

Kiai Kanjeng’s tour of six Egyptian provinces in 2002 featured the “gamelanisation” of legendary Egyptian singer Ummi Kultsum’s songs. Since Egypt is familiar with French culture, particularly Alexandria, Kiai Kanjeng was ready with Alein, for example. For their tour of Germany and Italy, Kiai Kanjeng played in Berlin, Rome, Naples and Teramo, featuring gamelan versions of Eine Seefahrt, Grosser Gott, Guter Mond, Lucia, Sara and Solo Mio.

All of this was conducted in the spirit of inter-cultural communication. Discussions with Emha will quickly reveal that Kiai Kanjeng does not consider itself primarily a musical group, nor an arts group, but rather, first and foremost, a cultural group.

Though many recordings have been made over the years and cassettes and CDs made widely available in their native Indonesia, Emha and Kiai Kanjeng have made relatively few forays into the recording studio, considering the amount of time they spend performing as well as their vast musical output and repertoire. Instead they consider their music to be “community music”, to be presented at public performances, largely by invitation, to people of various ethnicities and nationalities, in various countries, to people of any religion, culture or of any identity.

During the last few years a number of recordings have been made but they have not received commercial distribution and are therefore in extremely limited supply. Nevertheless they are often remarkably stunning examples of Indonesian and world music and deserve the attention of academics, world music enthusiasts and collectors.

Kiai Kanjeng neither seek nor maintain links with the Indonesian government or business and industry. They perform generally only when invited by the public. Kiai Kanjeng believe that they are not considered particularly important by the Indonesian government. They also believe that the recording industry considers them a very poor prospect in terms of sales potential. Their success is based on the sheer numbers of people who enthusiastically buy cassettes and CDs, whenever they are available.

Kiai Kanjeng are always busy nonetheless simply because they receive so many invitations to perform. In the last seven years Kiai Kanjeng have been invited to perform at more than 1,000 events for various groups (and sometimes two or three performances are necessary), literally criss-crossing the vast territory of Indonesia by road and plane and requiring an intricately-balanced schedule. A dedicated team is required to coordinate these activities and ensure that all runs smoothly. A core team of three or four people, assisted by regional representatives and volunteers provides for and arranges this crucial logistical support.

For Kiai Kanjeng, music is just one element in cultural communications. Through music they say, many kinds of human communication can be explored including cultural dialogue, political discussion, spiritual enlightenment or simply giving oneself to the music in dance and spontaneous movement, free of any ties.

“Do we look Like Terrorists?”

In recent years, due to the economic crisis, political unrest and the outbreak of terrorism that began with the Bali bombings of October 2002, Indonesia has suffered from a relatively bad press, and in general Islamophobia can be said to have increased. Kiai Kanjeng have to able to assess the mood and psychology of an audience, working to immediately eliminate any negativity. In many major cities of the world, they ask the audience: “Please look carefully at our faces. Do we look like terrorists?” The response was always a roar of laughter.

Kiai Kanjeng’s view is that human and cultural openness can do away with political blocks between people. Any Islamophobia in their audience quickly became unimportant when they were greeted with Kiai Kanjeng’s faces, full of genuine smiles and laughter, and certainly not those associated with puritan or militant theologians. Kiai Kanjeng’s approach is one of universal friendship based on love between people and peoples, as reflected in the name given to the regular Jakarta event, Kenduri Cinta or Feast of Love, a theme to which Emha is constantly returning in his work.

Indonesian diplomats in the countries visited by Kiai Kanjeng generally say that in the last several years they have had difficulties in maintaining a good image of the country because of various events that have served to stigmatise Indonesia. Kiai Kanjeng, they say, helps to convey to the world the friendly and creative qualities of Indonesians.

What Kiai Kanjeng have done is most needed these days: cultural diplomacy. With just one or two hours on stage Kiai Kanjeng have succeeded in “touching” the communities and the media in the countries where they are performing. They are able to enter any segment of society - a feat that cannot be equalled via the formal functions of diplomats.

Kiai Kanjeng and Emha Ainun Nadjib have an international language in their music that affords them the ability to communicate where political phraseology has no opportunity to compete.

Berlin, Wednesday & Thursday, March 30th – 31st, 2005
Joking In Berlin, and National Leadership

Kiai Kanjeng had prepared 113 compositions for their second European tour. These spanned conventional pieces as well as karya-karya sapaan or popular local numbers presented in a gamelan style as a gesture of friendliness. Each show however, typically lasting 1.5 hours, afforded the opportunity to play only around ten numbers. In Indonesia a typical performance may last up to five hours.

For the first day’s performance in Berlin Kiai Kanjeng adopted the same approach seen elsewhere – there were jokes and the theme shifted repeatedly from arts to politics and other topics, and vice versa.

The performance would at times appear to be like any other musical performance, and then, as in Indonesia, it would be transformed into a platform for political and social oration, for spiritual contemplation and on to philosophical exposition before launching into biting satire.

But the audience was not allowed to dwell on the satire for long. They might suddenly find themselves mid in a discussion of a key concept such as national leadership – such as in Berlin where Cak Nun suddenly broke into Gundul-gundul Pacul to open a discussion on national leadership.

The next day, March 31st, saw the second Berlin performance, which one observer described as “orations interspersed with musical selections calculated to make the show accountable to the audience”. Again, the performance lasted approximately 1.5 hours and was “interrupted with roars of delight from the audience.”

This performance, held at the German Foreign Ministry’s “World Hall” was attended by German high officials and members of parliament, and ambassadors of various countries. It was hosted by the Indonesian Embassy in Germany in cooperation with the German Foreign Ministry. For Kiai Kanjeng and the embassy it was a forum where “the image of Indonesia was at stake”.

Kiai Kanjeng bore the mission of conveying the good image of Indonesia both politically and culturally. More precisely, they took it upon themselves to “submit a good account” of Indonesia and Islam in an international forum. Kiai Kanjeng were met with a roar of applause after each number and at the end of the show the audience gave them a standing ovation.

The official press release from the embassy stated that the Ambassador and the Indonesian community in Germany were very satisfied with the manner in which Kiai Kanjeng had successfully elevated the ‘good name’ of Indonesia and presented an “Islam that is friendly” to the international community.

Most of the audience for the first night of Kiai Kanjeng’s Berlin shows were Indonesians, while only a few were German. The second night’s show was a more formal event attended by 350 invited German government officials, ambassadors and 100 selected Indonesians.

Approaching the performance as if it had been a Maiyah gathering in Indonesia, the first show presented a very cultural atmosphere, full of laughter and jokes. There was the popular Indonesian dangdut music and many comical references to Indonesia’s wayang stories and legends. While Kiai Kanjeng made several artistic gamelan demonstrations, the evening was given over largely to “cultural delights” that were quite typically Indonesia and there was much laughter.

Topics covered on that first night included the earthquake in Nias, the havoc left by the tsunami in Aceh and fuel price increases. All were conveyed and understood with typical Indonesian wisdom. Many topical problems in Indonesia, the complications of which would appear to be almost unbearable, were made light of. There was a sense of optimism in Indonesian nationalism, in its “red-and-white” patriotism and the spirit and resolve to look forward and affirm that Indonesia could become the beacon of the world!

Emha was able to allude to complex political affairs and make them the material of his commentary to revive Indonesia’s faith in its “historical potential.” Emha spoke of “the wings of historical power flying to the beauty of the future.” He spoke of the unshakable spirit of Indonesians, struck by devastating tsunami, earthquakes, a thousand other disasters and other terrible things, natural disasters, technological disasters as well as human disasters.

Kiai Kanjeng had been very busy in Berlin. They had arrived from London in the morning and immediately had to prepare the equipment and the stage for that evening’s performance. The next morning they had a brief opportunity to go sightseeing but in the afternoon they had to prepare the stage at the Foreign Ministry building for that night’s performance. If the first night was an occasion for a light gathering, this second night would be one of cultural diplomacy.

Kiai Kanjeng were firm in their resolve to use their music and poetry to do all they could to restore a positive image of Indonesia in the eyes of the international community; to show the world that Indonesia is rich in natural, human and cultural resources. Until this point it was felt that the world had viewed Indonesia from a very narrow perspective. Now, through Kiai Kanjeng, the world could view Indonesia from a broader perspective.

Similarly, Kiai Kanjeng wished to encourage the world to find an Islam that would be synonymous with peace, an Islam that would contribute to feelings of greater safety among the peoples of the world. Novia would repeat in Berlin her recital of the same poems that she had read at The Moslem News Award of Islamic Excellence the previous week in London; poems that offered an interpretation of Islam as a religion of love and peace with a musical accompaniment arrangement by Kiai Kanjeng.

Nia and Yuli, who on the last day in London had been interviewed by the BBC and whose Qur’anic recital was recorded for a programme on Siti Khadijah (the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad), were again on hand to support Novia’s recital.

Indonesia’s Antara News Agency reported from Berlin that the strength of Novia did not lie merely in her mastery of language and management, but also in the very fact of her being a woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy. In the eyes of those who worked to promote gender equality and women’s emancipation, Novia’s leadership swept away any doubts about women’s capabilities and helped to dispel negative views of Islam and its treatment of women. Her prominence onstage and her leadership of the performance worked to confront the views of conservative clerics whose interpretation of Islam made the presence of women on stage taboo.

Among the foreign ambassadors attending Kiai Kanjeng’s performance on March 31st were those of Afghanistan, Bolivia, Burundi and Jordan. The Indonesian diplomats attending the show included those from the consulates in both Hamburg and Frankfurt.

The Kiai Kanjeng gamelan orchestra comprised 23 members in addition to Emha and Novia Kolopaking. Once again they treated audiences to Cat Stevens’ Wild World, Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do as well as Al-Athal and Hijrah Rasul by Egypt’s Ummi Kultsum and Kalimah by Majdah Rumi of Lebanon. Kiai Kanjeng worked to present a microcosm of Indonesia’s diversity by adopting a tonal system that created a fusion of atmospheres: Chinese, Western, Malay and Arabian music.

In his comments in the embassy press release, Indonesian Ambassador to Germany, Makmur Widodo, talked highly of the Kiai Kanjeng Orchestra and its place in the arts, and that their appearance and that of Emha was the fruit of an effort of the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin to introduce to the German public the Islam of Indonesia; an Islam which is friendly, through an intercultural concert.

Kiai Kanjeng in Rome, Friday, April 1st, 2005:
Tolerance, Democracy and Creativity

Kiai Kanjeng’s first show in Rome was a performance before the students of the University of La Sapienza, their teachers and rector, Prof. Renato Guarini, and the Indonesian community in Rome. Prior to the performance Emha had been plagued by doubts and a feeling that the timing was inappropriate. They had arrived just as Pope John Paul II had been taken seriously ill. It would be an affront if they were to perform in at atmosphere of levity. So, before the show Emha and Kiai Kanjeng held an internal meeting to analyse the situation and to prepare the right scenario for the performance. Fortunately their creativity allowed them to compose and arrange music appropriately adapted to the prevailing seriousness of the atmosphere.

Workshop at Rome International School, Monday, April 4th, 2005

During the 2003 tour of Australia, universities and schools in Canberra and Melbourne had invited Kiai Kanjeng to conduct workshops with their students. In Rome too Kiai Kanjeng were invited to hold workshops at the International School. The school building is located in the Campus di Parioli, a residential district. The school teaches almost all cultures of the world including Java and the gamelan.

Jijid, Joko Kamto, Bayu, Ardani, Joko SP and Kiai Kanjeng’s founder and leader Novi Budianto demonstrated how to play the saron, demung, boning, rebana and kendang. The 8th and 9th grade students were accustomed to exposure to various cultures and were very enthusiastic about the workshop, learning several Javanese children songs and playing the instruments. Just as in Australia, the young students danced and sung when Kiai Kanjeng played popular Italian children’s’ songs.

Rome, Tuesday, April 5th, 2005
“Poesia Per Un Grande”: Kiai Kanjeng’s Arrangement for Il-Papa

Kiai Kanjeng had been given approval by the Commune di Roma – the Mayor of Rome - to perform at Teatro Dalmazia at Municippio Due. However, the group were requested to play primarily spiritual numbers as the Italians were by then mourning the death of Pope John Paul II. “Niente Sole Mio, please,” no Sole Mio, please, said the mayor.

“Sole Mio”, My Sun, a love song, had been one of a number of well-known Italian songs that Kiai Kanjeng had prepared in gamelan arrangements for performances in several Italian cities. If it could not be played in Rome, could it be played in other cities like Teramo and Naples during this time of mourning? Emha waited for the development of the situation and the advice of the organizing committee.

Kiai Kanjeng understood the situation very well and they tried therefore to compose two new numbers specifically for the occasion, namely Obituary and Adagio. The latter was played in the accompaniment of the recital the poem Heart of Gold that was translated into Italian.

The initial publicity material for the April 5th show in Rome indicated that Kiai Kanjeng’s music is “known for its high dynamism, is very spirited and sometimes very wild”. But in the atmosphere of mourning in the wake of the passing of Pope John Paul II Emha and Kiai Kanjeng prepared a performance that focused more on the spiritual dimension, the human sadness experienced as a result of the death of the beloved Pope.

Although all members of Kiai Kanjeng are Muslims they had a high respect for the commitment of Pope John Paul II to the development of the sacred values of humanity and world peace. They expected that the world would receive a new pope who would fight together with everyone in the world against anything destructive to human life.

The Deputy Mayor of Rome, who had attended the show, was very enthusiastic about it and had enjoyed the performance immensely. The artistic setting for the concert, held in the Teatro Dalmazia, as well as the changes effected as a result of the mourning for the Pope meant that Emha and Kiai Kanjeng really had to exploit their talents to the utmost, arranging their musical numbers and presentation in a very different manner than that applied to earlier concerts in England and Scotland.

Once again, Emha made only one appearance on stage, namely to sing a Minang (West Sumatran) song. Unlike the performance at the University of La Sapienza, Emha made no orations or speeches at the Dalmazia performance. The songs were presented one by one and conducted throughout with a strict discipline, as well as an Italian commentary.

The nuns and churchgoers attending the show expressed their thanks and sincere appreciation. The performance had been very moving for the Catholics, mourning their Pope. The audience applauded the recital of Poem of Heart of Gold in Italian with a very long period of applause. The three first numbers, Obituary, Adagio and Duh Gusti (Oh, Lord), though “substantively” not Christian hymns, had been given “nuances and aesthetical formula” that could be perceived as having been intended to express condolences to the mourning hosts, the Italians. The choir of Imam Fatawi, Islamiyanto, Seteng, Nia and Yuli sounded as solemn as that of any church choir.

Ihab Hashem, a senior journalist from Palestine, said “This kind of group is very much needed by Europe or any other Western community elsewhere. By witnessing the performance of Kiai Kanjeng they can begin to know that Muslims can do more than just live in tolerance and democracy, but that they are also capable of a “cultural creativity” that might not even be possible in the West.

Teramo, Italy, Wednesday, April 6th, 2005
Sophisticated but Uncomplicated

The Teramo show was entitled “Grazie Italia” and was produced in cooperation with the organizing committee of “Festival Teramo Citta Apperta Almondo”. The programme commenced with an Italian band who played three Blues & Jazz numbers. Kiai Kanjeng followed with a performance lasting one and a half hours of their best songs. The audience applauded enthusiastically after each number and gave the group a standing ovation at the end of the performance.

Many other groups from Argentine, Italy, the United States, Germany and several other countries were participating in the festival. Kiai Kanjeng was accorded special treatment. The company had been invited, and played free of charge. The other groups participating had to pay and to register themselves one year in advance.

Furthermore, while Teramo and all other places throughout Italy had suspended many of their regional and national cultural and sports events out of respect for the deceased Pope John Paul II, Kiai Kanjeng was asked to perform in the festival. They played Pambuko I and II (Introduction), Recital of Emha Ainun Nadjib’s poems by Luluk, Gundul Pacul, Rampak Terbang, Tarian Rembulan (Moon Dance), O Sole Mio, Kalimah and Rampak Osing.

The Mayor of Teramo admired the arrangement of Kalimah with its “tiers of creativity”; sophisticated but not complicated. “I really appreciate it very much. The music of Kiai Kanjeng is very different from any music I have known. This is new for the Italians,” he said, promising further “cooperation” between Kiai Kanjeng and Teramo.

Naples, Thursday, April 7th, 2005
Flying the Red-And-White: From The Sumit of Imam Busyiri’s Shalawat to the “Mecca” of Classical Music

The concert at the Conservatorio Di Musica San Pietro A Majella, Naples, can be said to have been the “culmination of the achievement” of Kiai Kanjeng in their second tour of Europe. In London the company had successfully demonstrated their international values and cultural diplomacy.

In Aberdeen they “served the purpose of human and cultural relationship between the Indonesians and the Scots”. In the “World Hall” of the German Foreign Ministry “they presented their music to be woven obediently in the interests of political and cultural diplomacy”. In Rome they “presented their creativity for the beauty of inter-religious tolerance, particularly to accommodate the solemnity and mourning following the death of Pope John Paul II.”

Later, on April 9th, Emha would write in one of his frequent reports that in Naples he and Kiai Kanjeng had experienced a “great freedom” and had produced a “tremendous feast” establishing themselves as artists, creators, explorers of the aesthetic world, adventurers in melodies and lyrics, spiritual wanderers who could “fly” without the constraints of culture, politics or anything else.

Kiai Kanjeng had staged their music where the great masters of the world’s classical music once staged their works: Guiseppe Verdi, Robert Wagner, Guiseppe Tartini and Antonio Vivaldi. After staging their concerts these great masters left their musical instruments to be made museum items and thereby immortalized. The complex contains a museum that keeps these precious historic musical instruments that so attest to the musical creativity experienced there. Kiai Kanjeng too left their own artistic souvenirs in the form of the manuscript notations of their two well-known works, Pambuko I and Pambuko II (Overtures I and II) and the Demung written in gold ink.

Naples is one of the world’s centres of classical music. If you study classical music, wrote Emha in his report, you have to master the meanings of hundreds of Italian words and terms. Kiai Kanjeng have set their footprints on the summit of the highest peak in classical music, and flown the Red-and-White (the merah-putih or national flag of Indonesia) there.

Among the audience in Naples were Italian generals, intellectuals and businessmen. They applauded Emha and Kiai Kanjeng with cries of ‘Complimente, Complimente Maestro, Grazia Maestro!’ Emha later conceded that actually he had been embarrassed at being called ‘Maestro’ as he could not play in fact play any of the instruments of the true, classical maestros.

The concert in Naples was very formal, held in strict state protocol, as had been the performance in the Hall of the World at the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin. Neither Emha nor Kiai Kanjeng actually sang for this concert, performing instead a series of compositions especially composed and arranged for the occasion, of which the primary composition had never been played on the tour. The applause they received from this formal audience was the most enthusiastic of the entire tour. The generals appeared to lose all restraint, shouting, abandoning the etiquette of concert audiences.

Emha had understood that to be called “Maestro” was indeed an accolade to be taken seriously, since it had been expressed by professional musicians and special guests with an expert knowledge of music. One senior pianist asked Emha to come back to Naples “to process the creation of a composition” and to hold a concert with the local musicians”.

“Now I’m done for!” said Emha, acknowledging that the challenge was far beyond his capability.

This tour experience has been beyond the wildest imaginations of Emha and Kiai Kanjeng. Only two years earlier, they had toured six provinces of Egypt and they reached there the Summit of Mount Shalawat, the Mosque of Imam Bushiri of Alexandria, the composer of shalawat Burdah, which is widely sung with lyrics known by many of the Muslims of Indonesia. There, Kiai Kanjeng succeeded in meeting the Sheikh of the Mosque of Imam Bushiri. Kiai Kanjeng’s shalawat were greeted by the shalawat sung by the Sheikh. Kiai Kanjeng and the Sheikh then conversed in shalawat, and then they sang together several more shalawat.

The tours of Egypt, the UK and Europe had each culminated in their own particular peaks, be it the pinnacle of classical music, the heights of cultural diplomacy or the summit of Islamic shalawat. Each of the tours, in fact each of the individual performances, had each been different in terms of the composition of the audiences and their expectations. However, they all showed a common thread in that Emha Ainun Nadjib and Kiai Kanjeng have a universal appeal to all audiences.
A version of this text is due for inclusion in the book, "The Silent Pilgrimage", by Ian L Betts

Friday, 15 May 2009

Reflections on the UK Tours..."universal humanistic values"

Audiences outside Indonesia may not be aware of the wide variety of music performed by Emha and Kiai Kanjeng. On their recent UK and European tours they performed a range of traditional Javanese and Indonesian songs, Arabic songs of religious devotion as well as playful takes on Western hits including the Beatles. They also covered a number of Cat Stevens songs including Wild World and their own versions of traditional Muslim songs such as Shalawat Badr set to the tune of Silent Night and Rod Stewart’s Sailing.

Part of the following text was published in the Indonesian language version of the "The Silent Pilgrimage" in June 2006 by Kompas Gramedia. We are indebted to Aidinal Alrashid for his comments.
The covers of Cat Stevens’ songs were an important part of the repertoire for various reasons. Emha and Kiai Kanjeng have long maintained a respect for Yusuf Islam and their performances in 2004 often included a rendition of Wild World, sung by Ananto Wibowo, who was then Kiai Kanjeng’s lead vocalist. The group harboured hopes that Yusuf Islam would attend at least one of their performances in the UK. Emha himself, in one email report back to Indonesia from the tour, wrote “Oh Allah, please just bring me Yusuf Islam.”
Their prayers were answered when during a key performance at SOAS[1] in London Yusuf Islam and his wife were observed in the audience. After the performance, Yusuf and Emha met and quickly struck up a friendship. Aidinal Alrashid is Indonesian and an officer at the British Council, London. He is a supporter of Emha and Kiai Kanjeng and assisted with arrangements for the UK tours. Aidinal has particularly interesting insights into the concert at SOAS and Emha’s first meeting with Yusuf Islam. The respect between these two artists and Islamic figures was mutual. Following is an account of the evening that Aidinal sent to long after the event in December 2006:

…Kyai Kanjeng and Cak Nun have surpassed expectations as usual, outstanding! I still remember on their two visits to the UK, how they were able to totally captivate the audience and mesmerised them into harmony with their enchanting music just as a snake-charmer would bewitch and totally hypnotise/entrance a snake to sway to his music. During their first tour in November 2004, their first concert was to a packed audience at SOAS, University of London. During the concert Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), was so taken in by the charismatic performance of Kyai Kanjeng and Cak Nun that he was swaying and moving to the music, and asked me to take him backstage to meet Cak Nun during the interval, which I did. Yusuf Islam was totally enchanted and impressed by the performance that he was discussing so many points on music and Islam with Cak Nun during the interval and after the show.
During the second tour of the UK in March 2005, Cak Nun and Kyai Kanjeng performed at the most prestigious event for Muslims in the UK, The Muslim News Awards of Excellence, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, attended as a guest of honour and gave a speech. Cak Nun and Kyai Kanjeng totally enchanted the distinguished Muslim and non-Muslim audience, that you could see how they thoroughly enjoyed the show, which proved that Islamic music need not be as dry and boring as what is normally shown and understood amongst Muslims in the UK. There were the Qariah who beautifully recited the Holy Qur’an, followed by the group singing the salawat and also contemporary songs that harmoniously weaved its way into a very universal and spiritual sequence that gave messages on the greatness and compassion of Allah and universal humanistic values.
It is important to note that Gordon Brown, Prime Minister in waiting, was so enchanted by the performance that he made a mention in his speech of how humbled he felt and how amazed he was at the outstanding performance by Kyai Kanjeng, especially as he did not realise before this that Islamic music could be so interesting, uplifting and enchanting, and that it was good to see women taking active part in the performance. Everywhere they went in the UK whether it was in England or Scotland, Cak Nun & Kyai Kanjeng captivated the hearts and soul of the audience, majority of whom were not Muslims, and whether they were singing Silent Night that wove into the Salawat, or contemporary songs that became universal and spiritual in theme, the audience were always involved, and in this inclusiveness they all became one in unity and in harmony, a testament to universal humanity and God’s love and compassion. Cak Nun and Kyai Kanjeng have achieved in one performance what would take the Indonesian Embassy years to achieve in terms of Indonesian public/cultural diplomacy. March on Cak Nun and Kyai Kanjeng, the de facto cultural Ambassador of Indonesia and Islam!

Thanks very much.


Aidinal Alrashid
[1] The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

The Second UK Tour & Europe…“Cultural Diplomacy”

March 21st – April 12th, 2005

This second visit of Emha Ainun Nadjib and Kiai Kanjeng to the United Kingdom was on the invitation of The Muslim News to lend a unique cultural performance to the presentation of awards to Muslim achievers of excellence in various fields that included medical science, sports, the sciences, economics and the arts in Europe.

The Muslim News Awards for Islamic Excellence
London, Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2005 were held before an audience of about 600 special invitees at the Ball Room of the Inter-continental Hotel London. In attendance were three leaders of Muslims of Europe, three British cabinet ministers, a number of ambassadors, the award winners themselves and Chancellor Gordon Brown. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown is second in importance in the UK only to Prime Minister Tony Blair. Following opening comments, which were made by several speakers, and the presentation of the awards, Novia Kolopaking led a stunning performance by Kiai Kanjeng.

Kiai Kanjeng had arranged their music specifically for the occasion. The Awards Committee had asked Kiai Kanjeng to present two Qur’anic recitalists to open the concert. Two of their vocalists, Nia Kurniawati and Yuli Astutik, complied with the request. Yuli recited a passage from Islam’s Holy Book prosaically in the murattal style, while Nia recited hers beautifully in the qiroah style, poetically, befitting her status as the Second National Champion.

Immediately thereafter Kiai Kanjeng started their performance with a long musical composition entitled Tasbih Music. A tasbih is a set of prayer beads, much like a rosary, used by Muslims to count their repetitions of dzikir phrases, or utterances in remembrance of Allah. The music comprehensively explored various phenomena: musical elements from the east and the west, from both the traditional and the modern. There were also poetry readings in English by Novia Kolopaking, a number of wirid (chants), several shalawat (songs in praise of the Prophet Muhammad) and a section of terbang rancak (music with tambourine-like instruments). Kiai Kanjeng’s performance also included excerpts from the dynamic songs of legendary Egyptian songstress Ummi Kultsum, the adzan (or Islamic call to prayer) and other mucsical numbers. The vocalists for the performance consisted of Islamiyanto, Imam Fatawi, Nia Kurniawati and Yuli Astutik.

Novia Kolopaking read the poems Bow to Allah, If a Stone is Laying on the Street and Prostrate Yourself and sang Heart Healing and Longing for Thou in a series of arrangements made specifically by Kiai Kanjeng for the occasion, the presentation of awards to sixteen Muslims for outstanding achievement in Europe. The awards were conferred to achievers in medical and other sciences, social service, even sports. Danny Williams, a Muslim boxer who knocked Mike Tyson out in round four was among award recipients that evening.

The Indonesians in the audience probably remembered how Danny William had prostrated himself after having knocked out Tyson, approached him, hugged him and said, “I did not defeat you. It was you who handed me the victory.” It was a comment from a champion mixed with religious modesty. Danny did not feel himself to have won, so he did not suffer “big-headedness” as a result of the victory. When he received the award he made a short speech:

“I am very amazed at receiving this award because when I defeated Tyson I was not very serious about my victory.”

Reporting from the UK, the group wrote at the time that their performance had been ‘unusual’. They ascribed this to two key reasons. Firstly, they were concerned that they would be performing before an audience that included two groups potentially unfavourable towards Islamic music. On one hand there there were Muslims who consider music to be taboo in Islam and on the other, there were westerners whose opinions were informed by a mass media that often portrayed Islam as exclusive and who potentially may have been prejudiced against it.

Secondly, their performance had been led by a woman; and a woman in the later stages of pregnancy. At the conclusion of the performance a number of Muslim women community leaders, including a number from Africa, hugged Novia, saying they were excited and very proud of her, calling her “a woman who exercised her leadership without conflict”. She received a rousing appreciation and applause from the audience.

Unusual? Yes, perhaps. Controversial? Maybe. But groundbreaking? Definitely.

The musical presentation of Kiai Kanjeng could be considered pioneering in many other respects. For example, there were Kiai Kanjeng’s global musical explorations, their unique and intelligent arrangements and the sheer artistic courage required to advance cultural creativity among Muslims. In a substantial sense, the efforts of Kiai Kanjeng were truly phenomenal.

This was the first time, in five years of annual award presentations, that a musical group from Indonesia had been invited to this prestigious event. It was a historical event. The works of Kiai Kanjeng are not merely pioneering in advancing a ‘new culture’ in the Islamic world, but they have artistic qualities that can be placed on a par with other great musical works of the world. This is amply demonstrated by their concerts during tours of Europe as well as on their earlier tours of Egypt, Malaysia and Australia.

Chancellor Gordon Brown spoke for about 40 minutes after the performance of Kiai Kanjeng and quoted three sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on social cohesion and the importance of tolerance. He said he was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend a performance of Indonesian music that promoted such freedom and diversity.

Brown said that the musical expression of Kiai Kanjeng was an example of the “cohesion of a social power” referred to in the saying of the Prophet Muhammad “Almuslimu lilmuslimi kalbunyan yasyuddu ba’dhuhum ba’dla”, a Muslim and another, a man and his fellow man, one and the other are mutually strengthening factors. Furthermore, emphasised Brown “the true community is one where if some of its members are afflicted by illness, the other members feel the pain too”.

He said the diversity of nuances and the cohesion of global pluralism reflected by the pattern of arrangements and the sound of the music of Kiai Kanjeng aptly picture the ideals we are fighting for and which we should achieve in the world of today and of tomorrow. “Islam,” said Brown, “contains principles of teaching and knowledge that inspire the development of humanity on the earth for the future.”

In addition to Gordon Brown, a further two British cabinet ministers attended the performance and also made speeches prior to presenting the awards. The event was full of customary Islamic phrases such as Assalamu’alaikum (a greeting of peace) and Bismillah (a profession of believers in Allah’s name). There were Muslim leaders from throughout Europe, other British officials, ambassadors and prominent figures from various fields. From Kiai Kanjeng’s perspective, the evening was likened to a fisherman who casts his net wide and is rewarded with a large catch.

Eddy Pratomo, representing the Indonesian Embassy and instrumental in arranging for Kiai Kanjeng to perform in London, said:

“All in all this is not just art, it is more than that. This is a fight to for the red-and-white (the merah-putih or national flag of Indonesia)…that political diplomacy should be expanded to include cultural diplomacy as Emha Ainun Nadjib and Kiai Kanjeng have demonstrated…a diplomacy that has proven itself capable of attaining objectives and reaching an effectiveness that cannot be achieved by ordinary diplomacy.”

Following the performance, Novia Kolopaking, the leader of the Kiai Kanjeng ensemble, was congratulated by leaders from various countries. Two organizations invited Kiai Kanjeng to visit Britain again.

In addition to shows in Aberdeen, Kiai Kanjeng would also visit Berlin, Rome, Naples and Teramo with the theme:

“Music is the way - smiles without pretence for warmth and friendship that never ends”

Emha wrote from the Italian tour that the last days of Pope John Paul II had been very touching. The congregation had witnessed how the Pope fought hard to entice even the fewest words from his throat and mouth. High on the balcony of the Vatican Palace he succeeded in moving both his hands as high as his head. Actually, wrote Emha, he moved his hands as if in an effort to speak to his congregation.

The Pope struggled several times to say just one or two words. But not a single word came out. Finally he made the sign of the cross, a signal that went straight to the hearts of his people; and much more effectively than any words he could have said. Then, he was taken away to receive intensive care. That was the start of his long journey to the hereafter, the true, eternal life, free from the illusory material world.

“I don’t want to go on discussing death, since almost everyone thinks that death is real, the way worldly life is. Now Pope John Paul II understands exactly which is more real: death, or life after death, or the worldly life. We have not reached the Pope’s state. We are still indulging ourselves, even deluding ourselves in speculation as to the nature of life and death. And, in our speculation, we do not forego the foolish acts of stealing, tackling others, hating others, envying the good fortune of others, and these foolish acts we persist in doing until the very last minutes of our lives when we enter the agony of death.”

Emha wrote that the Pope was a figure of morality, not one of politics. The Papacy may be likened to the Council of Fatwa (Religious Council) in Islam. In the world of Shia, an Ulama or Muslim cleric may attain the rank of Mullah, then of Hujatul Islam and finally even, Ayatollah, the highest rank of leadership in Shia Islam, such as the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Emha had been very impressed by the moral strength and personality of this Pope, who had once been Karol Wojtyla from Poland, a witness to the cold war in the Eastern Bloc, who in the few last decades expounded his views on universal humanitarian issues, international politics, the map of global conflicts and the crucial problems of the world, including those involving Islamic peoples.

Millions of young people felt an affinity of the heart with this Pope. It seems that they are closer to Pope John Paul II than they are to their own religions. It was as if the Pope was able to give them greater enlightenment than that afforded by their own faiths. This closeness, this love, was demonstrated when millions of people flocked to Rome to attend his funeral.

Emha would later write that in his opinion, the show at the Conservatorio Di Musica San Pietro A Majella, Naples, could be called the climax of all performances given by Kiai Kanjeng in this second tour of Europe.

In London he wrote they had worked hard to ‘tame’ their creativity in order to properly address the international air of Islamophobia that they perceived to be a dominant cultural force. In Aberdeen they devoted their talents to building the human and cultural relationship between the Indonesian and the Scottish peoples. In the World Hall of the German Foreign Office they had adapted their music to afford a sense of political and cultural diplomacy. In Rome they offered their creativity to the beauty of religious tolerance, particularly to the solemn atmosphere following the death of Pope John Paul II.

Just as Kiai Kanjeng arrived in Rome, the Pope fell ill. Prior to the Pope’s funeral Kiai Kanjeng had to leave Rome – after two shows – for the old town of Teramo, for a performance organized by the Mayor. Then, Kiai Kanjeng staged a show in Naples. This climactic show, Emha wrote, was very successful.

“I am afraid nobody would believe it even if it was reported,” he said.

Then, because Rome was closed for the funeral, Kiai Kanjeng had to go to Pescara in order to fly to London. In London the group were only able to stay one night. It was difficult to arrange a further performance as there were appointments arranged with Ahmad Versi from the Moslem News, with Yusuf Islam and with friends from the BBC. Kiai Kanjeng would then travel to Yogyakarta, while Emha was to travel to Aceh to commemorate the 100th day of the tsunami there.

While in Germany, Emha sent an email report back to Indonesia from the computer of Mas Pipit Rukhiyat, “a close friend since our vagabond days in Berlin in 1984-1985”. There, Emha and Pipit discussed the workshop themes:

Eradication of corruption in Indonesia starting with the adaptation of Brazilian and Bolivian models.

Dissemination of an idea of a constitution providing for separation of authority between the State and the Government.

The previous evening, Kiai Kanjeng met the Indonesian community in Berlin in a in a get-together at the Museem Dahlem Theatre where they all exchanged banter, anecdotes and other amusing stories and laughs. Within a few days Kiai Kanjeng would stage a formal show at the auditorium of the Foreign Office where the audience was to include 350 German high officials, ambassadors, and 100 Indonesians.

Strathcona Hall, The Rowett Institute Aberdeen, Scotland, Friday, March 26th, 2005
Cultural Diplomacy in Action

Earlier, Kiai Kanjeng and Emha had performed in Aberdeen, Scotland. This was the headline that opened press materials:

World famous Indonesian Gamelan band performs at Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute to raise funds for the Indonesian Children’s Relief Appeal

Publicity materials reported that the 15-strong Kiai Kanjeng Gamelan group were to perform two concerts at Aberdeen’s Rowett Research Institute on Saturday March 26th, 2005in aid of the Indonesian Children's Relief fund for the orphaned children of Aceh, Indonesia (recently struck by the Asian Tsunami).

The concerts were performed in front of an audience of Aberdeen’s Indonesian community and associated members of the Scottish research community. Tickets were limited and very quickly sold out. According to the publicity materials:

“…the group use traditional Javanese percussion to perform a range of songs and music including pop, blues, jazz and even Chinese music. The group also performs poetry and prayers. Kiai Kanjeng are on their second European tour which includes concerts in Berlin, Rome, Naples, Turin and London. Saturday’s concert at the Rowett Institute is being sponsored by the Indonesian Embassy in London.”

Dr Rusmana Ningrat, who had organized the event, is a research scientist at the Rowett Research Institute. He said:

“This concert is a very exciting event for Aberdeen’s Indonesian community and all our friends. I think that one of the reasons the Indonesian Embassy has supported it is in recognition of the large amount of aid which has already been raised by the people of Aberdeen to help the victims of the Tsunami. We are very grateful to the Rowett Institute for allowing us to hold the concert in Strathcona Hall, which was originally built to foster links between Rowett scientists and colleagues working overseas."

Emha concluded this report by writing that there were “many lessons to learn” from the European tour, of the various ‘mysteries and unusual events’ experienced during the tour; the temperatures, the weather, and the necessity of transporting the large volumes of equipment required by Kiai Kanjeng; of the performance at the Conservatory, the Mecca of classical music, of Naples and of the situation following the death of Father Karol Wojtyla or Papa John Paul Secundo.

In Aberdeen, Scotland, Europe’s oil capital, it could be clearly felt that the arrival of Kiai Kanjeng was not just a major arts event but a cultural and humanist event, and essentially a political event too in that it had substance, both implicit and explicit.[1]

The presence of Kiai Kanjeng allowed those Scots who attended to immerse themselves in the enjoyment of inter-cultural exchange and humanity, which made all kinds of political sentiments about ‘Indonesia’ and the psychological issue of “Islamophobia” appear trivial and unimportant. The atmosphere in the forum demonstrated the ‘global intimacy’ that could be achieved among people without the barriers of nationality, politics, religion or anything else for that matter.

“World politics is breaking up the global community,” said Emha. “Economic capitalism reduces people to fundamental ideologies and a range of mainstream values that drive divisions between them, estranging them behind artificial barriers. But in our music this evening we will discover the enjoyment of being together”.

Emha gave the example of bagpipe music, an important component of traditional Scottish culture. Renowned piper Mr. Duncan McPherson had accompanied Kiai Kanjeng in their rendition of Amazing Grace. Kiai Kanjeng had seamlessly taken up the melody without altering the notation, pitch or key, and used it as the basis for a medly of traditional songs from Madura (East Java), Aceh and Timor.

Aesthetically speaking, it was clear that the distance between the East and the West was, in musical terms, a minor one. Kiai Kanjeng were able to find connections between and unity among cultures from all over the world. It was very easy for Kiai Kanjeng to perform the traditional Scottish song Auld Lang Syne because the melody had already been adopted by the communities of Indonesia. The material prepared for Kiai Kanjeng’s performances for audiences in Germany and Italy, where they were due to travel next, was just as well prepared.

The audience for Kiai Kanjeng’s performance in Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute Strathcona Hall was almost entirely Scottish, though there were a number of Indonesians present who were resident in Aberdeen. The performance was divided into afternoon and evening slots so that as many as possible would have the opportunity to attend. The Indonesians who were able to attend, aside from those on the organising Committee, included students or oil company employees. They were joined by friends, many of whom had made a special trip from Glasgow or Edinburgh in order to attend.

The multispectrum values demonstrated by Kiai Kanjeng’s performance created a range of atmospheres for the possibility of dialogue, for the enhancement of purity in politics, for greater human warmth and the appreciation of one another’s culture, where everyone was dancing together to dangdut and Melayu (Malay) music.

Professor Richard Lea, a world-class scientist and one of leaders of the Rowett Institute was one of the most enthusiastic dancers, immersing himself in the atmosphere of intercultural relationships. He said that: “It’s not possible that I’m not going to Indonesia now. I have to go there to feel the warmth of Indonesia myself…”

The two shows in Aberdeen were examples of the effectiveness of ‘People to People’ relationships. A warm atmosphere was created between peoples of different nationalities, skin colours, backgrounds, cultures and religions. The variety of music presented by Kiai Kanjeng, the comprehensiveness of their approach through dialogue during performances and the informal meetings held outside the performance were very effective in serving as a spearhead for Indonesia’s Cultural Diplomacy. In Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, it was apparent that the visit of Kiai Kanjeng was primarily not an arts event, but rather a cultural one.

The presence of Kiai Kanjeng afforded the Scottish audience the pleasure of cultural and human communications that served to sweep away any prejudices about Indonesia. The performances demonstrated the ‘global intimacy’ that can be achieved between peoples in the absence of national, political, religious and any other restrictions.

The concerts were held to raise relief aid for the victims of the Asian tsunami. According to Rusmana Ningrat, chairman of the organizing committee, immediately after the news of the tsunami in Aceh reached Scotland, the Indonesian community there started activities to collect aid to relieve the sufferings of the victims. The goods collected amounted to two container-loads, which were sent to Indonesia to arrive in April 2005. The goods consisted of blankets, clothing, school equipment, medicines and other necessities.

Julie Fraser, who with her husband Gary collected donations from donors in Aberdeen, said she was delighted to be able to help the Indonesian community in Aberdeen. “We visited supermarkets to solicit the aid,” she said, adding that when loading the goods to the containers, Aberdeen school students had helped.

A mixed audience of Indonesians resident in Aberdeen as well as interested locals attended the afternoon performance, at 2.00pm. Professor Rusmana Ningrat of the organising committee announced to the audience that the performances were in support of Indonesian Children’s Relief in cooperation with the Indonesian Embassy in London. The proceeds were to go to victims of the recent tsunami in Aceh.

The modus operandi during this first night of the show in Aberdeen was similar to that employed in the Maiyah gatherings in Indonesia, i.e., the deliberate integration of each number in the performance to balance the aesthetics, the practice of combining the gamelan with the discipline of western music and then “contextualising” the results with cultural and political themes based on the lyrics of the song being performed.

Kiai Kanjeng invited the audience to interact with the performers both in dialogue and in the music. Novia Kolopaking frequently descended from the stage and invited the audience to sing. One church choir singer with an operatic voice began to sing Silent Night as soon as Kiai Kanjeng broke into the tune with their gamelan instruments, and was then joined by Kiai Kanjeng as they intoned their Arabic version in the form of a Shalawat, or song in praise of the Prophet Muhammad. Similar enthusiasm met Kiai Kanjeng when they played traditional Scottish folk songs.

For the 7.00pm evening show, Duncan McPherson’s bagpipes opened the performance with Amazing Grace, accompanied by the saron and bonang instruments of Kiai Kanjeng as they merged seamlessly into the song. This combination served as a warm and familiar “hello” that succeeded in winning the attention of the audience.

The show was all about breaking down borders. Every song was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and applause. This time, Emha was playing ‘himself’, wrote one observer, right from the opening moments and accompanied by the MC and his wife, Novia Kolopaking. His jokes, which were translated only with difficulty, served to warm up the audience. When a traditional Indonesia dangdut tune was played, sung by vocalists Yuli Astutikm, Imam Badawi and Imam Fatawi, the audience spontaneously gyrated along with it.

Emha has said that “world politics fragment human beings…the capitalist economy divides people into strata and ideological discourse, while mainstream values serve to further divide people, alienating them from each other behind walls of difference. But in the musical performance this evening we find and enjoy how people can unite in love.”

Emha was able to illustrate his point ably. After a rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpies, performed by Duncan McPherson, Kiai Kanjeng picked up the tune without changing a note or key, performing a bridge into a rendition of Madurese, Acehnese and East Timorese songs. The medley was proof that aesthetically, there existed no serious “distance” between oriental and occidental music. Kiai Kanjeng have found the connection and unity possible between the cultural wealth of peoples in different parts of the world.

For example, Kiai Kanjeng were able to play the traditional Scottish song Auld Lang Syne as the song is familiar to Indonesians of various backgrounds: the public, the “keraton’ (the royal courts of Yogyakarta and Solo in Java), the Muhammadiyah mass-Muslim movement etc. Numbers with similar adaptability were also prepared by Kiai Kanjeng for their subsequent shows in Germany and Italy. One member of the audience who attended the evening performance, Corrinne Lea, a French woman who lives in Aberdeen, remarked: “It’s incredible, fantastic.”

In the show Emha also took the lead in singing Gundul-gundul Pacul, a traditional children’s song from rural East Java. He explained that the song, while light-hearted in mood, actually has a very deep and philosophical meaning:

“Gundul-gundul pacul gembelengan, nyunggi-nyunggi wakul gembelengan, wakul nglimpang segane dadi sak latar, wakul ngglimpang segane dadi sak latar”.

Freely interpreted, it reads:

A bald-headed boy nicknamed Gundul Pacul is walking swaggeringly carrying a basket of cooked rice on his head. But his swaying gait causes the basket to fall and scatter the rice all over the ground.

Emha Ainun Nadjib interpreted the song to mean that the boy carrying the basket of cooked rice is an allegory, where a man bears weighty responsibility, but rather than exercising his responsibilities he shows off the trappings of his office instead. Likening the story to the situation facing Indonesia and Indonesians today, and particularly with regard to those bearing heavy responsibilities, such as Presidents, the result is disaster: “the rice falls and scatters.”

Novia Kolopaking also sang Wild World, originally by Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam. The gamelan version was very well received by the audience, many of who were fans of Cat Stevens. Then she sung Brian Adams’ Everything I do. Kiai Kanjeng also played their rock-style numbers, such as Fatamorgana, one of their most popular songs in Indonesia.

Emha reminded the audience that Novia was not so much a member of Kiai Kanjeng as an assistant and vocalist for she was an established artist and film actress in her own right with many hit albums to her credit. Novia sang Bunga Mawar (Rose), a hit from her 1995 album.

Emha himself seldom appeared in the show, remaining back stage most of the time. He appeared only for the presentation of certain works, such as Tombo Ati, a song whose title suggests a cure to what ails the heart, namely in prayer, reading the Qur’an and other devotions. It was dedicated to organiser Uda Oz, a fond, regionally-tinged name for Professor Rusmana Ningrat who was from the Padang area of West Sumatra. The song was accompanied by Minang (Padang-style) instruments.

Tombo Ati was really a very significant breakthrough song for Emha back in the early 1990’s and was very important in bringing in a new and expanded audience for Kiai Kanjeng, including by way of numerous TV appearances on Indonesia’s many new private TV channels.

Duncan McPherson was on hand to conduct children wearing Indonesian costumes. Their performance was followed by Kenduri Shalawat, or Feast of Shalawat: a medley of songs in praise to Prophet Muhammad, with the accompaniment of Acehnese instruments.

Kiai Kanjeng’s profile as a ‘people’s’ orchestra started as a result of the Kedung Ombo Dam tragedy in the early 1990’s where the inhabitants of a number of villages West Java were refused their right to government resettlement when their area was to be flooded for the development of a new dam project, Kedung Ombo dam. Emha explained that it was as a result of this ‘protest’ that Kiai Kanjeng can more appropriately be called “cultural workers” than musicians, cultural workers who can identify themselves with any community, any university, with any people or the followers of any religion.

Emha explained that the context of Kiai Kanjeng’s music is to reveal and build upon cultural relationships and relationships between people, where music is the spearhead of communication. The Kiai Kanjeng gamelan orchestra had been established “unintentionally.” Emha had been a writer who had become involved in the Kedung Ombo affair.

“I helped the victims to a very high degree,” he said. It resulted in the writing of a drama entitled “Pak Kanjeng” which was to be performed with gamelan musical accompaniment by Novi Budianto’s company, who applied an unconventional notation. Later it would also be published as a novel.

This unconventional notation was later extended to other performances, for example when accompanying Emha’s poetry readings. In this way the name Pak Kanjeng became synonymous with Novi Budianto’s gamelan company, and the name was changed to Kiai Kanjeng. In Javanese culture, anything venerated by the people is called “kiai”. The central character of Pak Kanjeng was in fact modelled on an actual person in Kedung Ombo, a man named Pak Jengot, or the Bearded Old Man.

During the Soeharto years the staging of Pak Kanjeng was banned. Fortunately, this forced Emha and Kiai Kanjeng to become even more resourceful in their ideas. Emha took his artistic fight into the realms of poetry and musical performances. The strategy was successful, perhaps reaching greater numbers of people than would have been possible had the Pak Kanjeng ban not been applied. The poetry and musical performances were able to escape political restrictions and success was both assured and enduring. Since then, it has been the deliberate policy of Emha and Kiai Kanjeng to reach as many peoples and communities as possible with their music and poetry, accommodating all circles and interests. They have never been short of invitations.

Their audiences in Indonesia are made up of various social groups and strata: from street-vendors, prostitutes and pedicab drivers to santri (people educated at Islamic boarding schools, or other institutions of Islamic higher learning etc), young executives and members of the upper class. The santri are attracted to the Islamic nuances in Kiai Kanjeng’s musical inventory and to Emha’s writings. The lower classes: to his sense of social justice and support for the wong cilik or little

In order to accommodate the interests and demands of as many communities as possible, Emha makes a point of “talking in the language of the community where Kiai Kanjeng is performing”, be it a mass gathering in a car park or field attended by workers or farmers, a student group or a meeting with high-ranking government officials. According to Emha, the early impetus for Kiai Kanjeng was to protest and rebel against all that was wrong in politics in Indonesia. He once said:

“Originally it was rebellion…the people cannot be enslaved forever.”

But he went on to concede that rebellion must be conducted through the right channels, and “sanctioned” by the public. It cannot be done for their mere sake of rebellion. Kiai Kanjeng and Emha took it upon themselves to increase the level of political education to the entire public through their music. Now, long after those early statements of protest and rebellion, Emha and Kiai Kanjeng worked with the support of the Indonesian Embassy in London, and were particularly successful in their brand of cultural diplomacy as demonstrated at the Islamic Awards. Emha himself recognised that the cultural diplomacy there had been very effective.

Observers have occasionally said that Emha and Kiai Kanjeng are engaged in a fusion of gamelan and western and other forms. For the UK tour and in Aberdeen Emha and Kiai Kanjeng had prepared a number of western and middle-eastern songs, such as one entitled Kalimah, originally sung by Majdah Rumi, a Lebanese Christian. In Kiai Kanjeng’s version the Arabic lyric was translated into English and sung as a duet by Yuli and Novia.

The show in Aberdeen concluded with Rampak Osing, a combination of Javanese and Balinese styles that was performed dynamically by the members of Kiai Kanjeng Company. This was followed by Auld Lang Syne, the closing song.

Professor Richard Lea from the Rowett Research Institute had been involved with the preparations for the performance. He described the difficulties in finding a venue sufficiently large for the occasion, commenting that the Strathcona Hall at the Institute had been the only one suitable. He stated that the hall was too small, only admitting an audience of around 100, and for that reason it had been decided to hold two shows.

“We received many telephone calls from people who wanted to attend Kiai Kanjeng’s show,” he said, adding that the organisers had to be mindful of the strict requirements of UK health and safety regulations. After the show, Professor Lea said he had been so impressed that he was determined to travel to Indonesia in order to experience the country and its people for himself.

Rusmana Ningrat spoke for the entire Indonesian community in Aberdeen when he thanked Emha, Novia and Kiai Kanjeng for their performance, which he said had been both interesting and unique. He applauded the participation of well-known Rowett piper Mr. Duncan McPherson and hoped that Emha, Novia and all the members of the Kiai Kanjeng gamelan orchestra were happy with their performance in Aberdeen.

They were.

[1] Source: One Page Report-III Kiai Kanjeng European Tour II 2005 and contributions by Zeynita Gibbons. MAIYAH DOMBA GUNUNG The Gathering of the Mountain Goat