The Sky is Choking Us (AKA: Never Take Blue Skies for Granted)

Here’s a photo of our street at the moment.

2015-10-04 17.18.39

Notice those beautifully green hills in the background? Of course not, they are completely covered by a thick layer of smog courtesy of Indonesia.

We’ve had occasional bad visibility in the past from time to time, but I’ve seen nothing like this in my ten years in Malaysia. Today is the worst air quality I’ve ever seen – currently reading 172 on the air pollution index.

Hundreds of fires in Indonesia are currently sending a thick plume of polluted air throughout Southeast Asia. Penang, being quite a bit north, usually escapes most of it, but not this time. The fires are a result of clear-cutting, making way for new farm land. I have great sympathy for the peasants who toil on the land with a meager existence. I understand how the thought of a new field with increased returns could entice them, but when practices threaten the health of an entire region, more must be done. The Indonesian government is working now to put the fires out, but that does little to stop the long-term issues.

I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which of course used to have the blackest sky in the world back in the roaring steel mill days of Carnegie and Frick. I’m sure the area was still quite polluted in the sixties when I was born, but it always looked clean to me.

I lived in Vietnam for ten years and never saw a more polluted sky than what I’m seeing today. I lived along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia for a couple years and enjoyed the clean, brisk air. But seeing this thick smog encapsulate the nation, I don’t envy people who have to deal with these issues on a regular basis. (Beijing, Mexico City, …)

Here’s the current air quality map of the region:

Capture air quality


You might notice that horrendous reading Kalimantan (southern part of Borneo, Indonesia) – 852! The label for that reading is hazardous. No one should have to live surrounded by oppression like that.

I hope the government of Indonesia will take some serious steps to address these issues through education and alternatives for people living in poverty.

For the time being, I’m staying inside, enjoying my air conditioning, and wondering if we will have school tomorrow. I know there are many who simply don’t have the small luxuries that I have.

Never take blue skies for granted.

Indonesian Music – Part II

Here’s the continuation of my exploration of Indonesian music. And here’s the link to the first post in this series: PART I HERE

This new urban class in Indonesia set the stage for the consumption of music on a national scale as never before seen.   The growth of modern cities like Jakarta created an urban market which looked beyond the more traditional styles of music and had aesthetic standards which demanded modern attention (Manuel 206).   It is this vibrant urban scene which gave birth to one of the most influential and prominent modern music genres in Indonesia – dangdutDangdut is a modern musical style heavily influenced from Western and Indian music with very few distinct indigenous elements; however, it is uniquely Indonesian in how this syncretic style comes together and is implemented (Manuel 210).  Dangdut uses North Indian rhythms with Western influenced electric guitars, bass, and synthesizers (Manuel 211).  It is its use of the Indonesian language which perhaps set it apart and made it the natural music choice of a large generation of young urban Muslims who were interested in modern music which they could understand and which in turn could also understand them.

Music has a way of drawing people together whether in a traditional communal setting or in a contemporary urban one.  This was especially true in Indonesia at the time of the emergence of dangdut.  Wallach contends that popular music gives cultural and class identities to contemporary Indonesian youth (22).  He goes on to say that “…popular music [is] a cultural referent for a range of social categories, the most important of which is class” (22).  The cultural referent of popular music in Indonesia categorizes Indonesians along lines of social classes which are often separated by economic divide.  Dangdut stands out an excellent example of class-based musical bias which is displayed in Indonesian society.  Itwas often looked down upon by the elite upper or middle classes for not being an aesthetically pleasing creative art (Wallach 33), but that did not deter either the producers of dangdut or its mass consumer.   Dangdut was clearly a musical style produced for the lower class masses (Manuel 212).   And they embraced it as their own.

Dangdut also played an important role in shaping Indonesian youth culture including the creation of various social fads, and the development of both the movie and fashion industries (Manuel 212).   This is perhaps where urban society has its greatest reach – the changing of youth culture.  The star-studded musical genres gave rise to new ways of talking, dressing, and acting.  Dangdut was that one genre in which the urban masses of young people could identify with each other.  This creates a common language, a common way of expression, and a common experience that has a powerful influence on society.  This is where the acculturation process thus becomes very significant.   Indonesians made the Indian rhythms and the Western instruments their own. In doing so, they created a unique style that could draw people together and give them a sense of belonging.   When the urban masses of Indonesian’s large cities became to embrace dangdut, society started to change in much greater ways than just the music to which they were listening.    It gave voice to a lower class of urban dwellers who now had their own style of music which spoke to their goals, aspirations and problems.    The acculturation process which made the Indonesian language the medium of choice in dangdut would likely have given rise to a proud feeling that western pop music and foreign music could not have instilled.

As indicated above, dangdut stands out among modern Indonesian genres not only for its music but also for the complete cultural entrapping that it includes.  One of the unique consequences of the rise of dangdut is that it was at the forefront of an Islamic resurgence in Indonesia (Manuel 212).   Rhoma Irama, who modernized orkes Melayu with rock guitars and common beats of Indian film music to create dangdut (Wallach 32), also used dangdut songs to teach a straight forward Islamic message (Manuel 211). Irama produced the first Islamic rock film in 1980 which was filled with music “denouncing alcohol, poverty, violence, and other evils” (Manuel 211). The melding of modern music and film with positive instructive Islamic messages marketed to the most populous Muslim nation in the world made strong cultural connections in which listeners had common social, religious, and cultural identities.  It is no wonder that dangdut became the mouthpiece and musical choice of the masses in regards to creativity and social criticism.