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Music for the masses winning Indonesian voters' hearts

This article is more than 12 months old

As Indonesians go to vote in Wednesday's election, the effect of music is never far from mind

TANGERANG, INDONESIA: From Indonesia's hip-swivelling juggernaut dangdut to thumping rock bands and Islam-infused tunes, music could be the clincher for winning hearts - and votes - as the world's third biggest democracy heads to the polls on Wednesday.

Political platforms aside, candidates know it is entertainment that draws the crowds to campaign rallies in music-mad Indonesia.

Just ask millennial voter Muhammad Ariel, who went to a concert where popular rock band Radja performed in support of President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi.

Screaming "where are Jokowi's fans", Radja's energetic show and thumbs-up for Indonesia's heavy-metal music loving leader resonates with young voters like Mr Ariel, who make up almost one third of the electorate.

Jokowi's camp has said that winning over millennial and first-time voters was crucial.

"I am a Radja fan because their songs are great, but it is also because we are going to vote for the same candidate," Mr Ariel said from the rally near Jakarta.

More than 190 million people are set to cast a ballot for thousands of candidates, from the President down to local legislators, in Indonesia's biggest-ever election on April 17.

Music is essential in this nation of 260 million, where song-and-dance is a staple of television shows, sporting events, presidential debates and even the central bank's recent economic review.

And it is a must-do at election time.

"Music is meant to capture the interest of people on the lower rungs of society," said Professor Hamdi Muluk, a University of Indonesia psychology professor who has a speciality in politics and voter behaviour.

Jokowi's rival Prabowo Subianto is banking on capturing the attention of conservative voters in the world's biggest Muslim majority nation with concerts featuring Islam-inspired gambus music.


The retired general's musical arsenal also includes Rhoma Irama, a geriatric-looking version of Elvis Presley who is famed as the King of Dangdut.

The hugely popular style - which runs the gamut from religion-inspired lyrics to a raunchier version involving sensual dance moves similar to twerking - takes its cue from Hindustani and Arabic music.

Dangdut is infused with a hypnotic percussion beat backed by a multi-instrument band.

The promise of a legendary crooner like Irama, clad in a white jumpsuit, is what got housewife Alima Kholil out to a huge rally for Mr Subianto in vote-rich West Java, despite pouring rain.

"I have never seen him before and I know that when he sings, he'll be singing about religion," the 44-year-old said of Irama's Islam-inspired tunes.

For fan Jhon Kenedi, the King of Dangdut might have taken the country's top job if he had decided to throw his hat in the ring against Jokowi and Subianto.

"I'd choose him if he ran" for president, said the 46-year-old taxi driver.