Shortly after former President Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid (1999-2001) lifted the ban on public displays of Chinese culture, allowing for open celebrations of the Lunar New Year, Andry started his 10-piece traditional Chinese music group, Harmony. His mission was to promote cross-cultural understanding while at the same time preserving Chinese music.
He met with My Jakarta after a performance at Mal Ciputra to tell us where to go in the capital for a genuine Chinese atmosphere and why the Jakarta to Bandung toll road is so useful to him.
How would you characterize Chinese New Year songs?
Chinese New Year music is full of optimism, like the song ‘Tian Lu’ (‘Heaven’s Road’), which says the path that you will take in the coming year will prove to be prosperous. Also, you’ll frequently hear the phrases ‘Gong Xi Gong Xi,’ meaning ‘congratulations,’ and ‘Gong Xi Fa Chai,’ meaning ‘wishing you increased wealth.’
The most frequently requested Chinese song is … ?
That really depends on the event. People select different songs at weddings than during Chinese New Year [laughs].
Generally speaking, I can say that Chinese people worldwide, not just in Indonesia, know Teresa Teng’s songs ‘Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo de Xin’ [‘The Full Moon Represents My Heart’] and ‘Tian Mi Mi’ [‘Sweet Honey’].
The Indonesian song that adapts best to being played Chinese style is … ?
‘Bengawan Solo’ (‘Solo River’). But don’t get me wrong, nearly all songs, including Western songs and Indonesian songs, can be played using Chinese musical instruments.
When did you start Harmony?
I got everyone together for the first time back in 2001. Some of the band members were friends of mine and some were my students. At that time, I had no idea what we were going to call ourselves. Later, I thought to myself that when all the tones are like do, re, mi, very similar, music is very boring. What makes music beautiful are the different tones, but they must all be in harmony. It’s like life. That’s why I named the group Harmony.
What’s the goal of Harmony? Do you guys want a record deal, do you want to be famous?
The group has two main goals: The first is to promote cultural understanding and preserve the Chinese culture in Indonesia. And the second is that we have to able to earn a living from our passion.
Have you achieved the second goal yet?
Even though performing has not made us rich by any means, I’m grateful that I make a living doing something I’m passionate about. I fulfill my passion and fulfill my mission.
How many members do you have in your group?
We started with 10 people and we’re still 10 strong to this day. Nobody has quit yet [laughs]. We meet and practice regularly every two weeks.
How do audiences here in Jakarta react to the fact that you play Chinese music?
It gives me a good feeling to look out at the audience and know that they appreciate what we are doing. Our audiences aren’t just made up of people of Chinese descent.
Do you always perform in traditional Chinese costumes?
Not really. It’s Chinese New Year, so we wear Chinese costumes. But at other times of the year, when playing for different audiences, we wear different clothing. Actually, we often wear batik.
What really makes us a Chinese band are the instruments. The instruments — the yangqin [dulcimer], sanxian [three-stringed lute], huapen qu [flowerpot drum], dizi [transverse flute] and ruan [round-bodied lute] — sound exotic to Indonesian audiences. All the instruments come from Shanghai.
How do you advertise your group?
Via Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube. You can see our profiles there. Our performance of ‘Bengawan Solo’ has had more than 55,500 hits on YouTube.
And the biggest stage you guys have played on is … ?
We have performed at several international events such as the Afro-Asia Art and Culture Festival in 2005. In 2009, we performed at the Simple Gift Concert with the Lippo Village Community Choir & Orchestra. We’ve done charity performances, too. In 2005, we took part in the Harmony in Humanity concert, the proceeds of which went to help with Aceh tsunami relief work.
And you came from Bandung to Jakarta today just for one performance?
We’re based in Bandung, but we’re always performing in Jakarta. The Jakarta-Bandung toll road is really helpful to us. I can come to Jakarta after lunch, perform for a few hours and then head back to Bandung to sleep at home [laughs].
What’s the difference between Chinese New Year in Bandung and Jakarta?
The atmosphere in Jakarta is better. There’s a really strong Chinese New Year vibe in Jakarta’s shopping malls. Also, you still can find a Chinatown with a genuine New Year ambience in Petak Sembilan [near Glodok].
And you only play Chinese instruments?
We’ve also used traditional Indonesian instruments from time to time. I’ve collaborated with keroncong musicians as well as used Sudanese [West Javanese] and Batak [North Sumatran] musical instruments. We’re launching our Chinese instrumental CD shortly after Chinese New Year.