Platform Boots and a PhD: the multi-talented Oki Rahadianto

With a crown of funky fuzzy curls atop his 10303471_10152931669158154_7557960977178657575_nhead, Oki Rahadianto cuts a striking figure. His wide grin, a not-so-secret weapon possessed by many Indonesians, beckons curious onlookers to join him in friendly conversation. Since his youth, Oki has had a passion for music. Throughout his career as a student, making music, reading books, engaging with the community and participating in critical discussion have all been sources of joy and self-fulfillment. In 2013, Oki won a scholarship to a study towards his PhD at the University of Newcastle. Majoring in sociology, his research focused on the difficult transition of young Indonesian musicians into adult working life. Now officially a Doctor, Oki still calls Newcastle home.

Born in Solo, Oki graduated cum laude from the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Jogjakarta. He quickly rose to the ranks of dosen muda (young lecturer) at UGM. “Growing up in Solo in the period of the post-98 riots, my friends and I didn’t have many places to hang out because all the malls and cinemas were burnt down. We used to go to Jogja on the weekends so I was very happy to end up going to university there,” explains Oki. At UGM Oki mingled with a number of Australian exchange students participating in the ACICIS program. “I had the chance to become what you might call an ACICIS mentor. If I’m not mistaken, one of my most important jobs was to engage in conversation with them. Anyway, I am still in touch with a few of the friends I made until today,” says Oki.

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Armed with a small amount of exposure to Australian culture through his friends in Jogja and a three month stint spent down under ten years ago, Oki made the bold move to Newcastle in 2013 where he quickly found himself immersed in a vibrant music scene. Since his arrival, Oki has contributed enthusiastically to the vibrancy of the local culture by connecting with various community groups and exploring a diverse range of musical genres. Positioning himself deliberately in the heart of the city, Oki set out to explore the local pub culture while living among the local youth in share houses. Word quickly spread of the arrival of a new musician on the scene.

“The first band I joined was called Smozzle Tov. They played traditional Jewish and Eastern European Music. My first gig with Smozzle Tov was for a community that operated on a barter system. We were paid in boxes of vegetables hahaha!” recalls Oki.  With that band Oki also collaborated with several Asian and African musicians at multicultural events. He also worked with a creative Blues band called The Masked Man which drew on elements of theatre to liven up shows.

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One of Oki’s most memorable experiences so far has been collaborating on Helena Kitley’s album, The Temporal Lope. “Personally, I was very happy with the outcome of this album. The launch was a success, too.” Oki also participated in the shooting of a music video for this album. “It was awesome because in the clip we had to play while getting covered in rain. We filmed it at night in the middle of Newcastle winter. The next day I had to go out buy some vitamin C hahaha.

 

Oki has also contributed to filling a gap in the knowledge about Indonesia among the locals of Newcastle. “I started a music project in Newcastle called Newyindo which is short for Newcastle-Indonesia. The idea was to get conversation going between Indonesia and Newcastle,” says Oki. He adds, “I would get disappointed when speaking to locals who seemed to only know about Bali. Someone even said to me, I’ve been to Bali but haven’t been to Indonesia yet.11102870_10206447094314844_4393597950638391865_nThe band was made up of a range people from different cultural groups from Indonesia and Australia and played at a number of events showcasing cultural and musical fusion.  “I’m sad to see in Indonesia that traditional music is often regarded as ‘uncool.’ When I was younger, I also fell into that trap. Now I finally realise that all music is good because it is created within its unique socio-cultural setting.”

12042638_10154186813663154_444807099588637103_nPossibly, one of Oki’s most renowned gigs has been with the local glam rock covers band, Glam Slam. On one of his trips to the Wickham Park Hotel, he first saw this group perform and became an instant fan. “I went and spoke to them during a break and after that made sure to come and watch their shows as often as I could,” says Oki. “A little while later, the guitarist, Dave Forbes contacted me looking for a bassist and me if I’d be interested in playing glam rock. I said yes, of course, and they sent me their playlist for the next six months.”

Oki joined Glam Slam playing covers of the likes of Queen, Bowie, Cheap Tricks and even Skyhooks. “Onya mate!” adds Oki. “The hardest part for me was adopting the androgynous look for performances to match the spirit of the glam rock era. I had to wear platform boots, make up and lipstick.” Explains Oki. “I also had to learn to walk in the boots while working on my stage persona to fit in with the glam image.” Oki has played with Glam Slam almost every weekend in Newcastle pubs. The popular group has even been listed in the top five gigs in Newcastle!

Into the future, Oki hopes to continue his lifelong work as a sociologist as well as a musician. He defines success as being able to contribute to the well-being of his family back in Indonesia. “In Indonesia we do not have a proper social welfare system. I want to be able to help my parents cover medical treatment at a hospital and help members of my extended family pay for the cost of education. For me, success is something that we can share together.” Oki expresses great pride in his parents and mentions his mother’s kindness and strength as one of his greatest sources of inspiration.  Now armed with a PhD and platfoom boots, we wish Oki all the best on his life journey.

 

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Joko Susilo: The Master of Wayang

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It seems Joko Susilo was born to be a dhalang, a master of the Javanese art of wayang kulit (shadow puppetry). Originating from the Central Javanese village of Mojopuro and now based at the University of Otago in New Zealand, Joko performs for audiences around the world. On his frequent visits to Australia, he introduces the magic of wayang kulit to curious spectators and aspiring musicians. Coming from a long line of dhalangs, Joko began following his father to observe the action of wayang kulit shows from the age of three. “From that age, I began to develop a deep knowledge of the stories, characters and melodies of the gamelan,” explains Joko. “I held my first all-night solo wayang kulit show when I was ten years old.”

After finishing high school in 1982, Joko enrolled at Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia (STSI) in the city of Solo to pursue pedalangan (puppetry) at a tertiary level. After graduating in 1986, he became a lecturer in the pedalangan department at STSI. “For almost ten years, I continued to perform all-night wayang kulit plays while lecturing at STSI.” A major turning point occured when Joko moved to New Zealand in 1993 to pursue an MA followed by a PhD in Ethnomusicology at Otago University.

Since moving overseas, Joko realised that he would have to alter his shows to appeal to western, English-speaking audiences. “When overseas, I always use English for the narration (janturan), dialogue (ginem) and the pocapan (narration unaccompanied by the gamelan),” he explains. Conducting something so deeply-rooted in Javanese tradition for a non-Indonesian audience is no easy feat.

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Joko the dhalang in action

“Firstly, of course, not all Javanese language can be translated directly into English without losing some of the essential meaning.” Also, Joko stresses that certain Javanese values don’t always mesh with a western audience. “I have to be selective in making the dialogue. Western audiences don’t like much repetition and the story needs to get to the point.” The way the puppets move (sabet) also needs to be changed because according to Joko, “In Java they tend to use a lot of violence in the shows.” The jokes are probably the hardest part. “A lot of jokes popular in Indonesia would not go down well overseas, including the ones associated with saru (pornographic) style wayang.”

 As a lecturer at the University of Otago, the vast majority of his students are from a non-Indonesian background. “When it comes to teaching my students gamelan, I have to introduce everything in careful detail, explaining the name and function of each instrument in the ensemble. It can be very confusing for the uninitiated and not all of my students come from a musical background. I give them lots of listening tasks,” says Joko. Learning gamelan isn’t something that happens overnight. “I also need to be patient as I introduce the basic techniques so that they learn to play properly.” Starting with more western style melodies, Joko gradually immerses his students into the original sounds of Java. “With careful guidance, my students become skilled gamelan musicians.”

Joko makes frequent visits to Australia as a guest of a number of universities. In particular, he often collaborates with universities with a gamelan set but without a native Indonesian teacher. Reflecting on his experience, Joko says, “At first, I find that these students only play the gamelan based on what they read off the sheet music, without any feeling. It’s always a challenge to add some variation to the way they play and deviate from what is written in front of them.”

Other times, when he leads a group who have an Indonesian teacher, things don’t always go smoothly. “Although originating from Indonesia, the teacher may have been in Australia for a very long time and as a result, may not up be to date on the latest trends in gamelan,” claims Joko.

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With his talented team after this year’s performance at Griffith University

He adds, “That’s where difficulties arise because I like to use new songs, patterns and different techniques in my shows. Sometimes the Indonesian teachers aren’t too receptive to these changes.” In any case, Joko always enjoys great success with his wayang shows. “I receive good feedback from the gamelan groups I work with as well as from audiences.” Joko has been working with the Griffith University Conservatorium in Brisbane for the last eight years every semester, culminating with an evening performance of wayang kulit, Javanese dance gamelan.  “I also work with Melbourne University, Monash, Flinders University and the University of Tasmania.”

 When tailoring a performance to meet the needs of western and Indonesian audiences, Joko describes a number of key points to keep in mind. “In Indonesia, the audience is already used to hearing the special language of wayang as well as the sounds of the gamelan. Overseas, we have to adapt our shows to meet the expectations of the audience and the capability of the local musicians. I usually pick out more ‘catchy’ tunes. The traditional compositions we use also need to be particularly touching.” The challenge of appealing to an Indonesian audience lies in originality and pushing the boundaries. “In Indonesia, almost everyone knows the characters and stories of wayang so there’s no problem in picking a story, but in order to win over our audience and keep them interested for the whole show, we need to be more creative.

When asked about his plans for the future, Joko replied, “My dream is to become the President of Indonesia! Huahahahahahahahaha” Well, who knows? Perhaps Joko’s puppeteering skills can be put to good use in the theatrics of Indonesian politics. Anyhow, let us hope that Joko continues to share the beauty of wayang kulit and Javanese gamelan to the rest of the world for many years to come.