Jalang vocalist Alda on ‘Santau 65’: A story that my mom told me when my activity was mainly focused within the anarchist AND communist community I was involved in back in West Java”

Original photo: Nicole Reed. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Naarm/so-called-Melbourne D-beat punk band Jalang are an important band to us here at Gimmie. We believe they’ve released one of the most exciting Australian hardcore releases of this year with album, Santau. It’s charged by a sense of revolutionary urgency. Lyrically exploring themes of politics, religion, feminism and queer rights in South East Asia and beyond. Vocalist Alda delivers authoritative vocals in Bahasa Indonesia and English, engaging with both her own and collective narratives, giving the songs real substance and authenticity—the record is deep. Bandmates Timmy (Extinct Exist, Pisschrist, Schifosi) on guitar, Tessa (Ubik, Masses) on bass and Kyle (Sheer Mag) on drums, work in unison to pummel the listener, charging straight ahead with tight compositions, maximising their art’s impact and given us danceable thrash.

Today we’re premiering Jalang’s full video for song ‘Santau 65’. Alda also gives us a insight into the song’s story, exploring genocide in Indonesia. An eye-opening read.

‘Santau 65’ was inspired by the 1965 Massacres perpetrated by the Suharto regime in Indonesia, where millions across Indonesia were persecuted and murdered for being communists, sympathisers or anyone suspected of; why was it important for you to write this song?

ALDA: It was a story that my mom told me in my early 20s, it was at the time when my activity was mainly focused within the anarchist & communist community that I was involved in back in Bandung, West Java. A big part of the communist/lefty bookstore that we always held our gathering was to counter the propaganda spread by Suharto’s regime, which is still heavily present in Indonesia’s society. At that time, “The Act of Killing”; a documentary on the subject was just released. It was a big deal for us, we were absolutely thrilled that it is finally out — a documentary made in over 8 years, following the perspective of one of the perpetrators of the 1965 Massacre where he bragged comfortably about all the killings etc he’s done, because he truly believed the film was about him being a hero. The fact that the director is Joshua Oppenheimer, who also works in Hollywood projects probably gave him that weird confidence. It’s a good documentary work on this subject, psychologically very interesting to see how these perpetrators justify the murders they have done in their own head. Outside of that, this is also a massively important documentary because it exposed the horrific crime perpetrated by Suharto regime even further. I was visiting my mom later after the release, and she tried to pick a movie from my laptop for us to watch together that night. She asked me what The Act of Killing was, and I said it’s a cool documentary exposing The Communist Purge by Suharto’s regime. When she realized that the film was not on the military regime’s side, she suddenly showed this horrified look that I’ve never seen before. She said I shouldn’t be touching this subject at all because I absolutely don’t know what I was talking about, the communist is evil etc (this is the belief of most Indonesian still). I asked why she thinks so, I’m trying to understand her perspective. She started shaking and crying, telling me that The Communist killed her friends and neighbours. I asked carefully, what do you mean, how… She said one day when she was 6 years old, on a late afternoon in the village that she grew up in East Java… she saw a bunch of women dancing joyfully, like they were celebrating something. Keen to join the festive mood, her and her brother dancing along. Come night-time, the whole neighbourhood was filled with noise and muffled sounds. Her parents didn’t allow her to leave her room, telling them to stay quiet and go to sleep. The next morning, she walked with her friends to a river near their house. and saw a big pile of dead bodies clogging the river. The river water was red with blood. They got close and saw a lot of their neighbours and friends on the pile. She told me this in such a tearful terror that I dare not interrupt her story at all. Her friend accidentally falls and poke his eye on one of the corpse’s stiff fingers. He’s permanently blinded ever since. She told me, The Communist kill my people, The Communist blinded my best friend, The Communist are evil. I asked, did they do the killing, mom? She said, no, it was the military, but if The Communist is not in the village, the military would have never done that!! The neighbours wouldn’t point fingers at each other in the panic that happened! She said she felt horribly guilty as if she was also responsible for it — because she danced with those women the day before. She was convinced that they must be part of Gerwani (left wing feminists); celebrating the killing of the military generals (these killings by military generals was the main justification for this purge, despite later discovered that it was also done by Suharto’s cronies). Obviously, that logic is very strange. My mom, despite being heavily religious person, is usually a very logical person. This was very out of character for her. But I thought it was obviously her PTSD. I decided not to debate her and just hugged her instead, as obviously this is a very sensitive subject. This is just one amongst millions of repressed witness story, and it shows how strong the brainwashing done by Suharto’s military regime in the 32 years of their ruling. The impact of this propaganda and the massacre is still heavily influencing Indonesian people’s psyche till this day. I believe it’s important to keep on exposing these stories to combat the unjustified right-wing propaganda, despite this moment happened 56 years ago.

Was it hard to write the lyrics given the heavy nature of, and personal connection, to the song’s themes?

ALDA: I am not a naturally gifted musician/lyricist, ha-ha. So, I had my challenges, and it took me quite a while. But I was lucky to have such patient and supportive bandmates and close friends, so eventually I managed to find a way to express this story via the song. Other than the intention to add to the witness stories battling Suharto’s military regime’s propaganda. I’m trying to express the pain that this moment has inflicted on my generation and the generations before us. The intergenerational trauma that this power play of military dictatorship comes to rise, and the realization that this event is backed by rich countries such as America because it fits their Cold War & economical interest… at the cost of over 3 million victims, and the rest of permanently traumatized Indonesian people. The realization that our country is not the only one that they have done such horrific works on.

Musically, how did the song come together? What does ‘Santau’ mean?

ALDA: Santau means deadly poison/curse. ‘Santau 65’ was about the poison of the 1965 Massacre, that has seeped into our soil and our psyche. I pictured in my mind, just like how the blood red river runs in my mother’s memory… soaked into our land and our people and poisoned us ever since.

We’re premiering the clip for ‘Santau 65’ today. Footage for it was shot by your friend Jovian Fraaije in Java; can you give us a little insight into the making of the clip and working with Jovian? Did you develop the video’s concept together?

ALDA: We told Jovi the story and context, and he comes up with the first idea — then we developed it together from then on. The live footage was from our shows in the small break of lockdowns; one at The Curtin with incredible help from Flash Forward team, and the other one is from our first show of our tour at Pony Club Gym, a queer gym in Preston close to our heart. The tour got cancelled because of Melbourne’s lockdown, but we were lucky that we managed to get any live footage at all. It was difficult for Jovi to arrange the shooting of the video — given that Indonesia was at the height of the pandemic, and Jakarta was on and off closed by lockdown. The location that we originally planned was a river near a forest, but the whole area was then closed because of the lockdown. This location managed to replace it, as there were not many choices. and even then, apparently it was guarded by local paramilitary that mugged them as well. We are glad that Jovi’s team was not harmed and with the help that we got from Flash Forward to make this video — we were able to cover the money that those paramilitaries asked from Jovi’s team so that they got “permission” to be able to do the shooting. This kind of situation is common in Indonesia btw, so there was not much surprise about it… especially considering the general poverty in this pandemic time.

The colour red appears throughout this release’s art, used on the album cover and in the film clip; was it a conscious choice? What does it signify to you?

ALDA: It was my visualization of how much blood of over 3 million Indonesian people shed in September 1965. This was personally why the cover artwork was important for me, as that is the image haunting my mind about this tragedy. Well, as much as my limited painting skill allows me to express, that is. It’s an ocean of blood, filled with poison and pain… The memories are dark, in a way that throws people into heart wrenching downward spiral in their traumatic recollection. Which was the often, transformed into hate. Strong and violent hate, which is unfortunately aimed towards the victim’s families and relatives… As a lot of them are still discriminated by the Anti-Communist masses, even till today.

How did you feel watching the clip back for the first time?

ALDA: If only both Jakarta and Melbourne weren’t in a lockdown in the middle of a pandemic, I think we can do better. But considering the situation that we are in; I think this video express enough of things that we would like to share. The footage by the end of the video is actual footage from 1965 Massacre. Hopefully that can help to visualize the situation that our people were in. The night raids by the military, banging on people’s doors… rounding them up to be killed. Houses were raided and burned down, chaos ensued, fear permeates the air intensely. The dancer is meant to represent the women dancing in my mother’s memory. Which made me think how unfair Gerwani has been portrayed and treated. But I guess that’s another story…

Can you please tell us about another song on your new record that you’d like to share with us?

ALDA: ‘Cops N Klan’ was mainly triggered by police violence all over the world, which saturated our news intensely in 2020. In general, the album’s lyrics are inspired by various crazy things and phenomenon’s that happens since 2020. Obviously, police brutality has been going on since the very beginning of their formation. We live in such a strange time. Camera phone allows citizen journalism to report their surroundings towards their viewers. We saw this brutal violence done by the police towards the people everywhere via our phones. From the consistent police brutality and Indigenous deaths in custody in so-called Australia to the biggest national riot that Indonesia have ever seen since ’98 (the overthrowing of Suharto’s dictatorship) — we see tanks rolled out on unarmed protesters. Police beating up people brutally, regardless of how vulnerable they are and how harmless the things they were doing. Shots fired at peaceful protesters. The intense racism of the police and their obvious alliance with white supremacist in countries run by white colonizers. The sample that we used in “Lawan dan Hancurkan” and the intro of ‘Cops N Klan’ are audio archives done by our brave friend Rama Putra Tantra — who relentlessly collect sonic archives of the protests that he attended in 2020, while dodging the bullets fired by the cops, avoiding the fire from burning cars, and running away from the weaponized paramilitary. The sound of the people rejecting the rising Oligarchy in Indonesia, and the passing of Omnibus Law; and their chants saying “Polisi Anjing” (literal translation; police are dogs — our equivalent of saying “Fuck the Police”). We were very lucky to be able to use this audio sample, and hopefully it can help the listeners to visualize the moments and the atmosphere of the situation.

For more Jalang check out our 7-page in-depth feature interview with Alda and Tessa exploring their new album Santau in our latest print issue: GET IT HERE.

We also interviewed them in their previous incarnation as Lái – Alda: “It is very important for women living and growing in misogynistic cultures to take these shitty narratives back, to reclaim their own stories and destroy toxic ones” READ more HERE.

Please check out: jalang.bandcamp.com.au and @jalang_dbeat

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