[TimorLesteStudies] Article: A hybrid popular culture

Jenny Jennifer.Drysdale at anu.edu.au
Thu May 7 09:05:31 EST 2009

>From: ariel_heryanto <ariel_heryanto at yahoo.com>
>Subject: [south-east-asia] A hybrid popular culture
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>A hybrid popular 
>Indonesian pop music and television still have a 
>significant influence in East Timor
>Annie Sloman
>    Galaxy performing at a beachside hut in Dili
>    Annie Sloman
>As I walk home from the market one afternoon in 
>the southern Timoreseborder town of Suai, my 
>ears pick up the sound of the famous dangdutsong 
>`Pacaran lagi' (Dating again). A group of 
>Timorese children areputting on an impromptu 
>concert in a tree overhanging an old 
>burnt-outbuilding from Indonesian times. The 
>tree sways dangerously as 20 pairsof hips 
>gyrate, defying gravity. The volume increases as 
>they realisethat a foreigner is watching. The 
>children are singing their heartsout, full 
>blast, in Indonesian. This surprises me, given 
>that thesechildren must all be under the age of 
>eight, which means they have beenborn in 
>independent, Tetum- and Portuguese-speaking East 
>Timor. None ofthem could keep up a conversation 
>in Indonesian, yet each word of thesong comes out loud and clear.
>On the other side of the country in Los Palos, I 
>enter a home onenight to see an extended family 
>glued to the TV. They are watching anepisode of 
>Indonesian soap opera featuring Jakarta slang, 
>characters inMuslim garb, Ramadan jokes and 
>young funky Indonesian actors. Theimages on the 
>screen seem so distant from life in this poor 
>ruralvillage at the edge of East Timor, but for 
>the people watching there isa sense of connection.
>The sights and sounds of Indonesian pop
>At times, the prevalence of popular Indonesian 
>music and images inEast Timor makes it easy to 
>think that you are in Indonesia. Indonesianmusic 
>blares out of loud-speakers, satellite dishes 
>streamingIndonesian TV are spread across the 
>country, and posters with picturesof Indonesian 
>pop stars line walls and microlet minibuses.
>The odd Indonesian rock concert in Dili, often 
>sponsored by leadingIndonesian cigarette brands, 
>is one of the highlights of the year.These 
>concerts, such as Peter Pan in 2005 or Slank in 
>2008, can bringthe city to a standstill. The 
>streets are lined from the airport to thestadium 
>with people waiting to get a glimpse of the rock 
>stars. Ittakes hours of dangerous pushing to get 
>a place inside the jam-packedDili stadium to see 
>the band or, some would argue, just to see what 
>allthe commotion is about. These concerts 
>attract not only youth, buteverybody from young 
>children to old women; even Xanana Gusmão, 
>thecurrent Prime Minister, has attended.
>The odd Indonesian rock concert in Dili is one of the highlights of the year
>The easy access to popular culture affects the 
>way young people inEast Timor speak Indonesian. 
>Despite the use of formal Indonesian inthe high 
>school and university curricula, young people 
>tend to speakthe cool slang of Jakarta that they 
>have learnt from Indo-pop. Wordslike `gue' and 
>`lu', slang for `I' and `you', and phrases like 
>`capekdeh' (`I'm over it'), and `kasihan da lu' 
>(a sarcastic `you poor thing'with matching hand 
>gestures) have entered daily Tetum streetvernacular.
>Why is Indonesian pop culture so popular with 
>people, young and old,who fought hard for 
>independence from Indonesia? Aziby and 
>Xisto,emerging artists from the Arte Moris Free 
>Art School in Dili, explainedto me that 
>Indonesian popular culture is something 
>everybody can relateto, `even old women with no 
>teeth'. They see Indonesian pop as 
>tellingstories that are very close to their own 
>lives. Small village orneighbourhood life, the 
>influence of conservative religion 
>onrelationships, issues of gender and cultural 
>hierarchy, arrangedmarriages and issues of 
>poverty are key themes of the shows and 
>thepop-songs. Indonesian pop culture also gives 
>people room to see and todream about the 
>completely `other' world of big cities and the 
>upperclass elite of Jakarta. Timorese can 
>understand the words of Indonesianmusic and 
>television, which is less often the case with 
>similarPortuguese pop. For these reasons 
>Indonesian popular culture provides aform of entertainment and escapism.
>It is not surprising that pop culture provides 
>an escape from thehardship of daily subsistence 
>and high unemployment in East Timor.There is 
>little access to reading material, particularly 
>in Tetum, andilliteracy is widespread. 
>Television and most local radio stations 
>airTimorese or Portuguese based content, but 
>they have only limitedbroadcasting hours and a 
>limited range of low-quality local radio 
>andtelevision productions. All of this means 
>that there is little to keeppeople's attention. 
>It makes sense that, with the 
>increasingaccessibility and affordability of 
>`parabola' satellite TV and the saleof cheap 
>Indonesian VCDs and cassettes, Indonesian pop 
>culture hasremained popular over the last ten 
>years. There is also a common fearthat 
>Indonesian language skills will be lost, and 
>many parents areactively encouraging their young 
>children to watch Indonesian TV andlearn 
>Indonesian songs, in the hope that by doing so 
>they will learnIndonesian. Maintaining 
>Indonesian language skills is seen as 
>importantfor future education and work opportunities in Indonesia.
>Aziby and Xisto do not see their appreciation of 
>Indonesiantelevision or music as making them any 
>less Timorese. For them, it isno different from 
>watching or listening to media from elsewhere in 
>theworld. They choose to watch Timorese programs 
>when they are on, butamong the international 
>shows on offer, the Indonesian programs havethe 
>advantage because they do not need to be 
>subtitled. Like otherTimorese, they prefer 
>Indonesian TV to the Portuguese shows that 
>arebroadcast on the national television station, 
>TVTL. This may be theresult of a lack of 
>comprehension, differences in culture or 
>theambiguous position of the Portuguese language in East Timor.
>Aziby and Xisto also touch on the sense of 
>nostalgia for the formerfriendships between the 
>colonisers and the colonised that can be foundin 
>most post-colonial societies. They recall that 
>Indonesians wereoften happy to enter the 
>kitchens of Timorese people and eat with 
>them,while Portuguese were never interested in 
>doing so. For some Timorese,Indonesian 
>television and music can evoke bad memories. For 
>others, itmay remind them of good times and of 
>their cultural and physicalcloseness to their 
>neighbour. It may also give them a sense of 
>beingpart of a region, something that they do not get from western popculture.
>Timorese pop culture
>    People climb high to watch Peter Pan perform at a concert in Dili
>    Thushara Dibley
>The presence and popularity of Indonesian music 
>and television inEast Timor has not weakened the 
>development or the popularity ofTimorese popular 
>culture. Local bands such as Galaxy, Cedalia, 
>Gembel,Cinco De Oriente and Rai Nain regularly 
>attract big crowds and enjoy ahigh profile on 
>local radio. Television shows such as Istoria ba 
>Futuru(History for the Future) and Estrella – 
>East Timor's version of the`Idol' phenomenon - 
>are popular viewing. East Timor's first ever 
>soapopera, Roza, caused a storm the first time 
>it was screened in 2005. Theshow was put 
>together using funding from the United Nations 
>PopulationFund (UNFPA). The funding was enough 
>for one 8 episode season. Theactors were from 
>the well known Bibi-Bulak performance troupe. 
>Rozaexplored issues of domestic violence and 
>gender, and, though it wasshort lived and did 
>not match the standards of Indonesian cinetron, 
>itbecame a `must watch'. For the first time 
>Timorese stories in Tetum, attimes cutting edge 
>and controversial, were being shown on TV.
>Unfortunately since 2005, similar Timorese TV 
>shows have been fewand far between. Support and 
>standards for local artists are limited.The 
>ability of artists to create an album or TV 
>production, let aloneone that matches the 
>standards of the Indonesian 
>pop-industryjuggernaut, is limited by a lack of 
>skills and infrastructure tosupport a popular 
>entertainment industry in East Timor. The lack 
>ofproduction and distribution outlets mean that 
>it is difficult forartists to create or release 
>work publicly. TVTL is still onlybroadcasting a 
>few hours of Timorese content a day, with the 
>majoritybeing focused on government or public 
>education. On top of this, whenTVTL has been 
>approached by local production houses offering 
>to creatework free of charge, TVTL has clearly 
>stated that they will only screensomething if 
>the production house can pay for screening or 
>findindependent funding to cover screening 
>costs, and that such productionsmust fit into 
>public education agendas. This means that 
>productionhouses and artists are limited to 
>creating productions that suitdevelopment donors and government.
>The limited legal framework for artists is 
>another barrier to thedevelopment of the 
>Timorese pop industry. East Timor does not 
>havecopyright laws or the means to protect 
>artists' rights. Members of theTimorese band 
>Galaxy independently recorded their new album, 
>Perecua,in Bandung, using money they had saved 
>from years of performing. Theyare, however, 
>concerned about releasing their album in East 
>Timor, outof fear that they will lose all rights 
>to their work due to masscopying, the common 
>practice of people re-recording other 
>people'ssongs, and the lack of protection for 
>artistic licences. Furthermorethey will struggle 
>to sell their album at a price that will 
>coverproduction costs because of the prevalence 
>of cheap Indonesian piratedCDs for sale in East Timor.
>Pop culture provides an escape from the hardship 
>of daily subsistence and high unemployment in East Timor
>The continued presence of Indonesian popular 
>culture in East Timorafter independence 
>demonstrates a reality that is often ignored 
>byTimorese politicians. There are strong 
>cultural links with Indonesiathat continue to 
>grow. There are increasing Indonesia/East 
>Timorcollaborations and exchanges through art. 
>One such collaboration was`Recovering Lives 
>Across Borders', a print-making work-shop 
>andexhibition in Dili in September 2008 that 
>brought together people fromart collectives in 
>Yogyakarta, East Timor and Australia. 
>Furthermorenumerous Timorese writers have 
>attended the Ubud Readers and Writersfestival 
>over the years and many Timorese students are 
>currentlystudying art and culture in Indonesia. 
>There are also signs that thelocal popular 
>culture is beginning to spread its wings. 
>Recently thelocal band Galaxy were invited to 
>tour to Kupang in West Timor and toFlores in the 
>Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, which 
>islinked culturally as well as geographically 
>with East Timor. Thecontinuing growth of 
>home-grown Timorese popular culture 
>couldeventually result in the flow of cultural 
>products into Indonesia,particularly to regions 
>with long cultural ties to the island of 
>Timor.But for this to happen the industry will need more support.
>Annie Sloman (anniesloman at hotmail.com) has been 
>living andworking on and off in East Timor since 
>2004. She is currently based inYogyakarta 
>completing a Masters of International and 
>CommunityDevelopment and working alongside 
>various art, activism andenvironmental communities and NGOs in Central Java.
>Inside Indonesia 96: Apr-Jun 2009
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