Tasa Nugraza Barley
Reggae has never been what might be called popular in Indonesia. It’s had its fans, but for the most part has been ignored by the mainstream.
That’s fine with the members of the reggae band D’Jenks. After all, they say, the music is supposed to be idealistic. As long as they can play music from the heart, they say, they have no reason to complain.
“Ready or not, here we come,” said the band’s vocalist, Dome, who usually goes by his stage name, Mr. Rumput (Mr. Grass).
Dome is a flamboyant figure, who describes himself as “a 20-something man.” As the lead singer, he clearly knows that onstage, he’s the center of attention.
At a show in a Central Jakarta bar last month, Dome mesmerized the audience with his performance. Wearing tight pants, a leather vest and a pair of sunglasses — even though the band was playing in a darkened venue — Dome was every inch the showman, belting out a pleasing mix of reggae favorites and the band’s own numbers.
“Are you all having fun?” he shouted out at one point to the members of the audience, who responded by raising their hands, and their voices, and demanding more songs.
Dome said reggae was the best kind of music to beat day-to-day stress. “I can forget all my troubles and shake off my burdens,” he said. “When I play reggae, somehow I feel no pain at all.”
Reggae originated in Jamaica in the late-1960s and was heavily influenced by ska, jazz and rhythm and blues.
The genre made its way to the United States and Britain in the early 1970s. Legendary musician Bob Marley and his band, The Wailers, brought worldwide attention to reggae and helped spread the genre globally.
“Reggae fans are those who seek happiness,” Dome said, adding that many reggae songs are about freedom.
Dome himself discovered reggae in 1999, when his friend gave him a CD that had a number of reggae tracks from overseas bands. He said it was love at first listen.
“When I listened to the songs, I quickly realized that they were awesome,” he said. “I fell in love with reggae.”
Dome, who idolizes Joe Strummer, from the band The Clash, and Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, from Toots & The Maytals, said he was aware of the strong connection between reggae and marijuana, but he was quick to say that people should not judge the genre because of the negative association with illicit drugs. It is the quality of the music that counts, he said.
Dedicated solely to the genre since 2002, D’Jenks is one of only a handful of reggae bands in Indonesia.
It has been a long, strange trip for the six members of the band, with plenty of obstacles thrown up along the way, but they say their original goal has kept them together.
“We formed the band simply because we wanted to have fun,” said drummer Christo Putra, adding that the goal has remained the same no matter what the band has gone through.
Christo said at times it was hard to keep the band going, but that all the hard work had paid off. The band is now busy with regular performances, including back-to-back appearances at several big music festivals, including Urban Fest.
The band is also planning to release its first album later this year. Christo said the album would feature a mix of covers and eight of the band’s own songs, including “Move On,” “Reggae on the Stereo” and “Jalan Panjang Berliku” (“The Long, Winding Road”).
“[Our songs] are about the spirit that never dies, even though life can be so hard sometimes,” Christo said.
Dome said the songs all had a positive message of some advice for fans: Don’t give up easily.
“Don’t give up, keep going, spread your wings and make all your dreams come true,” he says.