The Independent Artist: Kartika Jahja
Kartika Jahja, or Tika as her friends call her, is quite the Jacqueline of all trades. She sings, she owns a coffee shop, she’s a freelance writer and was once involved in political activism.
She flies back and forth between Bali and Jakarta, to fulfill her needs for spiritual balance in Ubud and the bustling business atmosphere of the nation’s capital.
Between jamming with her band and managing her coffee shop, she still pays attention to how people exploit her beloved Jakarta. That makes her perfect for sharing her story in My Jakarta, she explains.
You’re currently running a band, a restaurant and do some part-time writing. How do you manage all of that?
Well, it takes management skills, something that I’m not so good at [laughs]. All three are doable. Writing and making new songs is easy when I’m in the mood, but it’s the restaurant that’s giving me the headaches. I never thought running a cafe would be as hard as it is, with all the management, bookkeeping and everything else that makes the establishment survive.
What kind of academic background do you have?
I went to Seattle [in the US state of Washington] for college in 1999, trying to find a new place where I could fit in. No longer living under my parents’ supervision, I went a bit overboard and got myself into some trouble [smiles].
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t take my studies seriously, or didn’t get good grades. There was a WTO protest going on when I got there, and a year earlier, Indonesia had toppled Suharto. People, myself included, felt a new sense of freedom from a dictator, so I felt the urge to join the protest. In 2001, I was involved in a somewhat political organization that, by law, Indonesians aren’t allowed to be in. This resulted in my getting deported.
Why did you take such a risky a move?
I have this theory that people who are unhappy with themselves will try to cover their shortcomings by trying to fix their surroundings instead. I have this feeling of discontent in not having a place where I belong. I don’t know how to fix that feeling, so I try to fix the world instead.
Your band, what is its genre?
I don’t know, and I don’t want to frame my band in a genre. Music for me is an emotional and spiritual fulfillment. It makes me feel balanced. That’s all that matters.
What about your plan to go commercial?
Right now, my band and I are singing and playing for our own fulfillment. The risk of going commercial is that you will be pressured into no longer making music for yourself, but for good reviews and sales. I felt this when one of our albums got good reviews, and it got into my head that we’d make music to build a reputation. I feel that was exactly the moment of my personal fall.
But I’m not anti-major record label. If there’s a record company that could give the band the creative freedom to make music for itself first, and sell it to the market second, that would be great. But I don’t really expect that. Besides, music is not my main source of income.
Why did you just open another coffee shop?
My coffee shop in Kemang, called Kedai, serves pure Indonesian coffee and has been around for four years. It’s kind of ironic that Indonesia, being one of the biggest coffee bean exporters in the world, doesn’t really have a cafe that focuses on Indonesian coffee.
Right now there’s this feeling that hanging out in a coffee shop socially demands that you look posh. I want to lose that mind-set, so that everyone can hang out in a cafe with whatever day-to-day clothes they wear.
So, between singing, your cafe business and your occasional writing, which do you care about the most?
All three. This is just like asking a mother which child she cares about the most.
Running a roadside cafe, how do you deal with ‘protection money’?
At first it was Rp 300,000 [$33]. Then they asked for Rp 500,000 and then Rp 1 million. I once asked them what kind of protection they would provide. They said they would patrol the area, or have some emergency hot line number that I could call, but they couldn’t explain anything. In the end, it had become so intimidating that I had to give in.
I tried to gather all of the 17 bar, cafe and restaurant owners on the strip of road where Kedai is located, to talk about and find a way to stop this protection money thing. But it’s really hard, and some of them just didn’t want to bother doing anything about it. They just pay it.
This is one of the sad things about Jakarta. This practice has come to be considered normal by everyone, even by the officials and police officers themselves. You have all these illegal fees whenever you want to open a business, get your driver’s license or anything else. Jakarta has become a place where everybody stands to make money, but I don’t think there are many people who care about giving back to the city.
If Jakarta was a woman, she would now be like an old and tired [prostitute] who is still being taken advantage of.
Kartika Jahja was talking to Dimas Prasetyo.