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High Tension’s Karina Utomo Wants to Thrash With Indonesia’s New President

Joko Widodo supports economic reform and Napalm Death.

I first heard of Joko Widodo, or JOKOWI, through my friend Arian Arifin, singer for Jakarta thrash band Seringai. They were supporting Metallica in Jakarta, and JOKOWI - who was then the city’s governor - was in the audience moshing and throwing his fists in the air. Neither of us could believe that the governor of the country’s largest city was also a metal head. We are even more astonished that this head banger, after winning a fiercely contested electoral battle with rival Prabowo Subianto, is now Indonesia's new president-elect.

As an Indonesian metal head, it’s difficult to explain the joy and relief I feel for Widodo’s victory and the hope it has injected into the Indonesian people. The election was close—48 percent voted for Subianto—but the country has been saved from going backwards and closer to the days of Suharto’s authoritarian rule. Democracy has worked, and the good guy has won. The good guy just also happens to be a fan of Lamb of God and Napalm Death!

Indonesia’s metal and punk scene is huge. Local festivals that Arian organizes can draw up to 6,000 kids, and, walking through the streets of Jakarta, you will find bootlegged metal shirts over high school uniforms. The sound of dangdut/pop music is everywhere, but you will also come across street buskers at traffic lights shredding some Slayer. In Indonesia metal is a music of the street, the ghetto, and the poor. It makes sense that Joko is a fan.

Growing up in the slums, Jokowi was a furniture salesman before he became a politician and is one of the few Indonesian leaders who has no ties with elite political parties or members of the Suharto regime.

Jokowi is about making good shit happen. As Jakarta mayor, he introduced a much-needed metro system and gave out free health care cards to the city’s 4.7 million poor. He flies economy. Meanwhile, as millions of Indonesians live on close to two dollars a day, Suharto’s children are building multi-million dollar resorts with fake island from imported sand in Bali and pocketing money from toll roads that were built with public money.

To be honest, my biggest fear was if JOKOWI didn’t win. Prabowo Subianto, who was married to Suharto’s daughter Titik, still has strong affiliations with the Suharto family. He was involved in the kidnapping of students and activists during the May 1998 riots and is banned from visiting Australia and the US for human rights violations. He also endorsed this music video/campaign/abomination by ridiculous ‘rock icon’ Ahmad Dhani, who is truly an embarrassment to the people of Indonesia. I promise you that there is much, much better music coming out of Indonesia!

I moved back to Jakarta with my family in 1997 after living in Canberra for five years. Even as a high school student, it was pretty clear how much of Suharto’s 30-year dictatorial rule was kept in the dark with history books rewritten to paint him as a national hero for his involvement with a brutal 1965 massacre that was blamed on the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party).

In May 1998, while I waiting for my parents to come home from work, all hell broke loose on the streets of Jakarta, with racist violence directed at Chinese-Indonesians. One of my favorite music stores that was owned by Chinese-Indonesians was burned to the ground.

My parent’s offices were in central Jakarta, about an hour's drive from our home. The roads were too dangerous, and they stayed the night at their desks. I had true fear that racists would murder my dad, as he is easily mistaken for a Chinese-Indonesian. Twelve hundred people died during the riots, most inside burning buildings and ‘Milik Pribumi’ (‘Indonesian owned’) graffiti appeared over shop fronts in the hope that rioters would spare business.

In the same month, a former student from my high school was also shot dead by the military during a peaceful protest at Trisakti. It was a truly frightening time, and I felt ashamed to be a ‘pribumi’ (native Indonesian) witnessing such base racism.


Image by Jay Subyakto

With over 230 million people of various ethnic groups spread out over a massive archipelago, Indonesia and Jokowi still face some major challenges. The economy is in need of urgent reform, and Jokowi has been widely criticized for having no clear vision for Indonesia’s future. Still, his skill set matches the demand of the times, and he has experience in running a government (unlike many past presidents). His track record as governor proves he can get shit done.

More importantly, Jokowi has given hope for those wanting a modern Indonesia, whose power doesn’t lie with the few. To date, Jokowi becoming election has been his greatest service to the Indonesian people. Salam tiga jari*

*Jokowi’s campaign slogan was ‘salam dua jari’ (peace sign / two finger greeting / choose number 2 for Jokowi) – ‘salam tiga jari’ is ‘three finger greeting / devil’s horns)

Karina is vocalist for Melbourne shredders High Tension.