Mackhulan (Max) Baihaqi

9 pm Sunday 22 March 2015, HAMKRI Sriwedari.
The sound system crackles and thumps at full volume but the keroncong orchestra can barely be heard above the amplified dangdut and amusement park rides. The musicians strum valiantly and the small crowd in the pendopo leans forward to listen to the weekly latihan.  I’m talking to Mackhulan (Max) Baihaqi about his life as a performer but the acoustics are against us. We move behind a pillar out of direct range of the speakers and I hold my small voice recorder closer to him.

Max has always enjoyed performing. When he was very young he saved his pocket money to buy a bamboo flute from a toy hawker and taught himself to play while he was herding goats. He then learned guitar from street musicians and  truck drivers who played outside their cheap lodging houses.

Max playing guitar with OPM March 2015

Max with OPM March 2015

‘After high school I went to UNS to study teaching. My father, an Islamic teacher, wanted me to focus on religion and further education because he believed this would offer better prospects than music but I soon connected with the artistic community in Solo started to learn traditional music, theatre and dance. I also began to play keroncong. Initially I tried double bass but it is difficult for a beginner because its role is to hold the tempo. Luckily lots of people were happy to help.’

In 2002 Max and a few friends formed Orkes Plasu Minimal (OPM)
‘We’re all concerned about the social issues, like poverty and shortages of basic commodities, that affect villagers. We try to spread the word and own these issues, to smile than to get angry. We use strong language but soften it with humour so it’s more easily understood. Our main idea is to have fun. Things don’t usually go as planned but because we’ve known each other for a long time it’s easy to improvise. ‘

OPM plan their shows around a theme. They work out skits; compose songs that include familiar elements of village songs, Pak Gesang’s songs, rhymes and traditional stories; set them to keroncong, hip-hop, dangdut, reggae and other rhythms – ‘because it’s important that people move to our music’; then Max arranges the music for keroncong instruments.They dress up as doctors, policemen, prisoners, dancers, villagers, etc. ‘They’re not uniforms but a way to portray a role.’

Max likes free, humorous and dynamic keroncong so has introduced some changes to this traditional music. ‘Some of them weren’t well received, especially when we replaced the cello with the kendang, but we persisted because we wanted a specific sound.’ He recalls how keroncong changed when Gesang created ‘Bengawan Solo’, how ‘this led to growth and development. Alternative keroncong is one way of preserving keroncong.’

Max clearly enjoys performing: he laughs and jokes with fellow musicians and audiences; performs in several groups; comperes; teaches singing and mentors young musicians. ‘I like to be involved with the young. We ask OK Suara Delapan to perform with us, so they get experience and we get to see the keroncong spirit emerge and grow.’

It’s nearly midnight when I thank Max for his generosity and we move back in front of the pillars to join the keroncong fans.

Ref Ganug Nugroho Adi, The Jakarta Post

Wartono

HAMKRI chairman, Wartono, works tirelessly to motivate and encourage musicians to continue playing keroncong. ‘It’s my obsession,’ he says.

‘I try to attend two latihan every night. I just arrive, greet everyone, drink tea and watch. I don’t even need to talk – just the fact that I come shows respect. Sometimes they ask for help, and if it’s possible I do something. I like to revisit them each month.

Sometimes I push them.
One group had lost interest and only met for the social gathering. They tried to start playing again but stopped after three latihan.  I told them I knew of a group that was looking to start up and needed instruments.
“You’re not using your instruments. Do you want to sell them?” I asked.
They were angry. “Who said we want to sell? We’re still using them and we’ve got a latihan next week.” They resumed playing.

Many groups can’t afford to hold latihan: they don’t have the money for instruments, snacks, cigarettes and petrol. Often they can’t do paid performances because they can’t afford to rehearse. The performances and jam sessions at HAMKRI are good because everyone can take part.

We support young people: we encourage them to innovate, to sing any song they like with the keroncong style accompaniment; and we include them in the Surakarta Keroncong Festival. The audience always applauds them strongly, so then they become self-motivated and want to keep playing.’

HAMKRI committee members are volunteers. ‘The meagre HAMKRI funding wouldn’t cover paying staff. What’s important is that we work together for the sake of keroncong.’ The organisation is actively supported by local musicians who are full of praise for Wartono’s commitment.

In a recent two week period, Wartono made four trips to Yogyakarta to watch performances and latihan and to talk to a researcher; went to Bandung, Jakarta and Semarang; interviewed performers; was interviewed for national media; visited Waljinah; and maintained a constant communication of messages and photos for his more than 2000 Facebook followers.                                                                  (Interviews 2014, 2015)

Mulyadi

As a young boy living in Surabaya Mulyadi* taught himself to play classical music and was also the leader of a rock band. Although he learned several instruments the saxophone remained his favourite. After a while he became interested in keroncong and joined several orchestras so he could learn the technique and understand the structure of the music. It was at this time that he started creating instrumental arrangements which he notated by hand.

Keroncong became a passion and Mulyadi soon developed a reputation for his expertise. This led to his appointment as leader of Radio Orkes Surakarta (ROS), a position he held for many years.

Now retired, he’s involved in several local keroncong orchestras but says his focus is on preserving his favourite music by teaching the young. ‘Many young people were introduced to keroncong by their parents and they found they really liked it, so we must build on this interest,’ he says. ‘There’s a real shortage of flute and violin players, so we have to give more training.

‘Also, although many people can play keroncong, they need to be guided to develop the jiwa (spirit, soul) of the music. It’s the same with jazz and pop – if you don’t have the spirit, the music lacks something.’

Mulyadi teaches boys and girls – a change from the past when males played and females sang – and aims to establish keroncong groups of young musicians.

Meanwhile he includes young players in his orchestras so they can gain experience. During a recent public performance, Mulyadi sat between two young flautists, one of them his son, while a senior player mentored two young violinists.

‘There is no keroncong overseas’ says Mulyadi, ‘so we must work to preserve this uniquely Indonesian music.    (Dec 2010)

*Sadly Mulyadi is no longer with us. His legacy will continue.

© keronconginsolo 2014                                                     click photo to enlarge

Mulyadi and young musicians recording at local radio station.

Recording at RRI –  handwritten notation.