New Internationalist

Whatever Happened To Mogi Darusman?

Issue 116

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INDONESIA [image, unknown] Singing pimpernel

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Whatever happened to Mogi Darusman?
They see him here. They see him there. Mogi Darusman sings his protest songs everywhere. Doug Miles reports.

MOGI DARUSMAN’s last public appearance was on an open- air stage in Jakarta a few months before the May elections. A Surabayan pop group, Lemon Trees, was giving a concert and the lead singer, Gombloh, had stopped to read a note. Then he announced: ‘Our friend Mogi is out there somewhere. Come on up, Mogi.’

Thunderous applause greeted the invitation and continued long after his companions had carried Mogi through the audience and thrown him bodily over the footlights.

‘But I can’t sing,’ protested Mogi in mock humility. ‘Why?’ roared the crowd. ‘Well... rm not wearing shoes. Can’t afford to replace the last pair the police took from me. His banter with the audience continued in the roughest of colloquial Sundanese till at last he accepted the loan of a guitar and strummed a few bars. He started to sing,

‘I don’t want a president whose name is Su... Suhar... Likes to take bribes. How does he conceal the notoriety of his tien (the first name of President Suharto’ s wife and the initial syllable of the word for practices)?’

No translation can effectively render the political puns with which Mogi delights his audience. Probably no other protest singer in Indonesia names names with as much directness when reciting the record of corruption of the Suharto government.

Mogi sings of the ‘terror’ which books inflict on the government minister who banned Pramoedya’ s novels from the universities. Mogi was singing about ‘Pram’ at a time when no newspaper or magazine dared defy a government ban on discussion of his books.

A few months earlier a similar ban had silenced press comment on the sentence of three years jail on a labourer who had allegedly over-charged a woman the equivalent of$3 for shifting furniture from a truck to her house.

The woman was the wife of a high official in the attorney-general’s department Mogi’ s lyrics contrasted the worker’s offence with the crimes of those who pocket millions by abusing the power of office — and go unpunished.

In 1979 two cassette albums were recorded featuring Mogi as lyricist, composer and vocalist Police quickly seized all the copies they could find. No record company has dared to deal with him since. All of his applications for permission to advertise and arrange venues for public appearance have been refused.

So, Mogi plays cuckoo. He simply turns up in other people’s concerts. It is a strategy which entails great risk.

After his appearance with the Surabayan group, Mogi was resting backstage. Suddenly he was attacked by three men. He broke away and climbed over a fence but was quickly grabbed by another three men. They threw him into a truck and took turns to pummel his head and body before throwing him out at speed.

Mogi dropped out of classical music studies at the Viennese Conservatorium 10 years ago to sing country-western. Several magazines hailed him as the ‘Neil Diamond of Europe’. His records ‘Puppet of life’, ‘Once there was a girl’ and ‘You’re not the same’ became hits in Austria (which he represented at several international competitions. He returned to his hometown of Bandung in central Java in 1978.

Soon his style changed. Now he scorns emphasis on the simpering romance and glamour, so prevalent in the contemporary Indonesian pop scene. His European fans might wonder ‘Whatever happened to Mogi Darusman?’ Today they would barely recognise this guerilla of the Indonesian folk music scene.

Doug Miles is a member of the anthropology department of Sydney University.


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