Just a year ago, some friends forwarded the announcement created by Sisters in Danger (SiD) to me. As they put their selves as a band campaigning for anti-violence against women and children, SiD needed a voluntary dancer who’s willing to take part in the clip video of 16 Oranges. The song was written by Sisters in Danger with a violinist, Ammy Kurniawan who gave a traditional musical nuance and taken into music competition held by UN Women.
By reading their mission, I (and two fellow dancers: Nana and Sasqi) certainly took the offer. Despite the fact that we had an idea that it would be so sweet to be part of something newly growing, the collaboration was smoothly done. Nana, Sasqi and I even joked to name the three of us as Sisters in Hunger. Ha-ha.
In December 2017 SiD re-invited Sisters in Hunger (ha-ha …) to an event held at UIN Bandung. There I enjoyed how a performance in terms of musical discussion was done. And it was really impressive as a way of campaigning by using music as its instrument, this one has rocked. Of the very few things that I can do to take part in anti-violence campaign, I try to find out more deeply what Sisters in Danger is, what they are doing. Here is my conversation with Berkah Gamulya, the Sisters in Danger’s multitalented persona .
How did you initially use music as a medium for social campaigns?
In 2010 some friends and I who have known each other since college wanted to do a campaign to the schools. It’s not in an ordinary counseling form but involving musical discussions. We made an open call or invitation to gather band musicians through social media, mostly through Facebook.
Somewhat ambitious, we wanted to commemorate 82 years of the Youth Pledge by organizing 82 times non-stop music gigs every day in schools, campuses, Islamic boarding schools around Jabodetabek (Jakarta, Bogor Depok, Tangerang, and Bekasi) and Lampung.
Who has supported you doing the tour concert at that time?
The fundraising. Many activist friends, NGOs, corporations helped us for the fund. As for the band, not all the invitees were able to get involved as a syndicate. In fact, there are some who have following the meeting from the beginning but finally, they couldn’t make it at all. In short, the band musicians need a gig, so we provided the stage and the audience. They just need to perform live for 82 days. There’s no money, but maybe they can get in the news, TV, newspaper, but surely, there will have audiences. Finally, we got 5 bands, 6 beatboxers, some soloists. I did a presentation on global warming. A friend of Takakura basket experiment talked on waste management. It’s quite successful and listed as a MURI record. But it’s crazy tiring, it went for above three months and every day.
How’s the story until you have a concern on women’s issues?
At the end of 2012, I read about a case in New Delhi, a student who was raped by 20 people on the bus. That’s the first time I know about gang rape. I’ve been thinking the rape was only one male to one woman. I was shocked there. Three weeks after, in January, a 5-year-old child in Utan Kayu, East Jakarta became a victim. It was allegedly done by his uncle, it turns out by his father. That’s for the first time I knew that the nearest person can rape his own child, his niece, his own grandchild. Shocked and embarrassed as well, because I’ve just found it out that time. I’ve already known about domestic violence, but about the sexual violence, it’s really new for me. Finally, I did my own research and found many other types of sexual violence. Then I tried to write lyrics, friends made the songs. When they fit, I got them done. If they didn’t, I changed and searched more.
It’s for responding to the case in New Delhi and Utan Kayu, the song “Sisters in Danger” was created as a tribute to victims of sexual violence in Indonesia and around the world. The tribute was widely welcomed, probably because there are not many bands or there is no band bringing the women issues. Some friends said there is none. For issues on corruption or environment, there are many.
About the current members of Sisters in Danger, have you previously performed together?
Before SiD, I previously formed the Simponi band in 2012. So that’s the dynamics in the band personnel’s life, which is not entirely fun, especially for the issue like this. Let alone with the male personnel, we don’t always click with women on such issue.
Then we (Simponi) changed band members again and again. That could happen. Yeah, this band has no money. Fortunately, all the members were single at the time. We wanted to perform indeed. Slowly we learned through discussion and many sorts of it. Several times it was formalized as we participated in the training with New Men’s Alliance (Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru), with National Commission for Women. And we always set the gig patterns featuring musical discussion.
If I may say, this concert’s format by way of musical discussion was the first performed in Indonesia, maybe even the first one in the band world.
Yes, it’s nice, the format is to play music while inserting the presentation. Lyrics are shot to the screen, so we can sing together. The music works, the campaign fits the audiences. There’s usually an oration.
Right, an oration in the middle of the song. We prolong the speech, use the screen, use the data, the Q&A session and discussion are there, not the oration anymore. The song is made to go in line with the presentation, before or after.
How did you gather with Sisters in Danger personnel for the first time?
I must tell about the Simponi band first then. I’m a bit hothead. We had so many issues and if we took it slowly, we can hardly make it. I’ve ever fired some personnel because of disciplinary issues and because our perspective stayed disconnected. They have been warned many times but if they didn’t change, it’s troublesome. Maybe this is my bad since I’m a band member, not an activist. Actually, I should be more patient. It even hasn’t counted the perspective issue. Band male personnel have many temptations. For example when we campaign anti-corruption, what do you think we can corrupt while there’s no money? Most of them were about speeding ticket. How about environmental issues? At least, we didn’t litter. If smoking, we threw the butts in its place. But when it comes to women issues, it’s hard to keep men’s mouth and behavior.
Yeah, yeah, moreover in such typical environment of band personnel.
Yup, it is. There are many fans, high school or even junior high school kids. Don’t mention it when we play well, even we play badly, they still scream. Then what happens if we play well and insert musical discussions. Well, to keep their perspective, mouth, relationship with their girlfriends respectively, I couldn’t resist going too far. Or maybe I couldn’t resist to not care. But okay, when there is a problem, I’ll talk with them and of course, I did nagging. In 2016, Simponi had the Europe tour. I evaluated that we didn’t have the same enthusiasm while we’re in Europe and I was annoyed. Then I thought I’m done with Simponi.
It’s like, “What am I going to do next?” isn’t it?
Maybe there’s a bore and it’s my fault too. Finally, I walked out from Simponi. I felt bad. At that time, I’ve been having 5-9 office job since 2014. Soon after my walk out, my friends kept going on with the band and so did I with the office job. But turned out, it’s difficult. I just couldn’t stay to do nothing. Especially since women’s issues are getting bigger. The issue is getting more complex, religious fundamentalism increases. Those issues must be interrelated.
And I really like the song title “Sisters in Danger”. Finally, I picked it to make a band for a new project. Actually, I wanted all personnel is female and I’ll put myself behind the scenes as a manager. I didn’t want to be on stage. But it was hard. Firstly, looking for female musicians was somewhat struggling. Now I met some new friends and I found they are many. It’s not easy to find female musicians, moreover for those who are willing to be an activist. Then I remember JP (Millenix), the kid drummer at IMB (Indonesian talent show).
You didn’t know JP at all before?
I didn’t. But she’s famous. She’s a woman, drummer, and always put up posters, “Stop violence against children”, on her drums while playing music, at her 10-year old. Wow, I can’t believe such female drummer does exist and she’s still a kid.
Then I asked JP if she knows a female musician friend who can join us? She said it’s Qoqo (SHE). So I met her, she’s from Bandung. I was even thinking that this Bandung-Jakarta stuff will be tough. Okay, there was no choice and Qoqo was willing to. Then Qoqo invited Arnie (SHE).
The vocalist is Gde Bagus. I knew his mother first, when I had a tour with Simponi in Bali, his mother organized our tour. She’s a female activist in Bali. Then she told me his son plays music, too. Her son was the The Voice contestant, a vocalist, and he can play guitar. I asked Gde Bagus and certainly, he accepted it. It’s no wonder since her mother is an activist. And the next was Landi, Simponi’s fellow who’s found in many gigs and known as a top-notch musician. Finally, Sisters in Danger was formed around October-November 2016. Then in December 2016, we’re informed about the song competition held by UN Women.
“16 Oranges”, the first single Sisters in Danger was made to join the competition?
Yes, that’s true. Arnie invited Kang Ammy for his Indonesian touch. Then we needed dancers, so here we are now. Then I made several postings on social media, informing everything about Sister in Danger, I even advertised it.
Over time, Sisters in Danger don’t want to be just a band. It’s not about who, but what. Anyone is allowed to use Sisters in Danger as a hashtag, play their songs. Maybe in the future, there will be some personnel changes (Gde Bagus has been replaced with Titi Joe), maybe later quit again, we don’t know. Well, it’s maybe an high-expection, but actually, I want Sisters in Danger can be a movement.
What are your goals with Sisters in Danger?
Listened to by lots of people, we get invited, the songs are good, we like our songs, so do other people, it’s lasting. But if the personnel have a different enthusiasm, so there might be changes again, the personnel gets replaced or I’ll withdraw myself as I did before with Simponi. When band personnel can’t be a street activist, at least they should be an activist on social media. How come we just want to play music? The popularity should be used for good. It’s useless while there are many followers on socmed but we don’t use them for social campaigns. But first of all, our perspective on social issues should be already set properly.
There will be a musical discussion but it’s not only me who keep talking, others must, too. Because I don’t want to invite a guest speaker. For example in the seminar, okay there’s a pause for the band to start playing, but the songs just don’t make sense, music is just an entertainment. I don’t like it. The musical discussion isn’t like that. That’s the band personnel who should be the speaker, but [sadly] it hasn’t been fully achieved. The format takes about two hours. You can play guitar or any instrument, or vocals, but at a pause, you have to speak out. That’s the ideal one.
There is a band in Rantauprapat, North Sumatra having made a musical discussion tour named PMR band. They’ve watched Simponi twice and asked for presentation materials and songs. We didn’t mind. What’s important, their intention is already a good thing. We just facilitate them first. It didn’t matter if they fully copied us. Take an action first. Then slowly they written their own songs, revise their presentation, adjust themselves to the gigs and audiences. That’s all made me happy. That’s what we intend to do. More bands will bring the discussion session to their gig. Any issues are welcome as long as it’s about a social issue and for good. There are also Ranisakustik and Nada Bicara bands in Jogja making a kind of musical discussions that concern on women issue. We’ve had a meeting together, we’re the 14 bands having a concern about women and children issues, facilitated by Ministry of Women and Children of the Republic of Indonesia.
Another hard part is our consistency. Songs can be good, music skill maybe okay, the message is delivered, but then we go home, can we stay consistent? Social issues may easy to deal with, but women’s issues are difficult. It came to my mind too. What’s more, there is a term SJW, the social justice warrior.
As seen in Sisters in Danger, the spokesman is Mas Mulya. We may need other personnel to talk through musical discussions. But as a spectator, I see it in a positive way. Women issue voiced by men will be viewed by the public as a plus. When women are speaking up, they are so easily underestimated, judged to do it for their self-interest, stigmatized for having less sex, less orgasm. So when men are speaking up, I think it’s very good instead.
That’s why in 2013 Simponi was pretty good to be seen because the personnel is all men. We played Sisters in Danger and other songs that speak of women issues. And that was good. We are men, we also confess to having disturbed women. We confess we cannot lie because that’s something we already know. This becomes interesting because this is our testimony as men, perpetrators and we confess it. Perhaps we didn’t do sexual assault, but we unconsciously seduced them and did some minor behaviors.
I’m sure it’s not natural. About men being bad guys is a social construct. Women also need men. They do want and need men, both in personal and social aspect, in an attempt to change the paradigm and mindset. If you want to empower women, you need to educate men too. Is that right? We should hand in hand if we, men and women, want to create change together.
Yes, yes, agree. Men are basically taught to do violence by the social environment. So they can also be taught to not do violence.
Okay maybe they are perpetrators, they are wrong, maybe they also don’t understand. And changing a condition takes a long time. Very ideal, but we do need better conditions. I think it’s not a goal beyond our reach because it’s real.
And our friends from NGOs, Indonesian Commission for Women (Komnas Perempuan), and others throughout Indonesia are very happy with Simponi. For them, it’s sort of making new friends with men, band personnel whom they can invite to do campaign everywhere, so that’s good. Then we met some friends from New Men’s Alliance and others. Then we learn many things, for good advocacy.
Do they provide data?
Yes, when we need the latest data, they’ll give it to us. Finally, we support each other. And being in Sisters in Danger, I’m also still learning. I also don’t dare to claim myself as feminist. Okay, maybe a male-feminist, or feminist ally. Until today I’m still learning, to be careful. This is what has become my fear since I was with Simponi. Men, for example, use this issue to look cool in the public eye, public, in the eyes of their girlfriends, in the eyes of their crushes. Nothing more cool than a man who defends women, right? But it can be misused.
For defending the weak? It sounds heroic, doesn’t it?
It does. Apparently based on the evaluation, it’s dangerous as well, even hardcore feminist group said that men can’t ever be feminists. Maybe there’s a point. Although we agree this doesn’t naturally happen, but how? Perhaps because patriarchy has been going on for centuries, religion came to support it. Now through the #MeToo campaign, the idols, one by one makes a confession, at least my idol, but how come there is “all will be sexist in due time?”
There is an idiom “all will be sexist in due time”, “all will be patriarchy in due time”. It creates a bit of fear. But it depends, we can see it optimistically, we otherwise can also see it pessimistically. If we want to be optimistic, so we must involve many parties but it’s a tough challenge.
That’s why I want Sisters in Danger consists of not all men for minimizing things like that. It could slip into a hypocrite too. We may have a cool performance on stage, but as soon as we get on the road, we still have the desire to tease, disturb, bully, exploit fans, being sexist on socmed and on our daily basis, even doing violence against girlfriend or wife. But okay, we can learn together. If one doesn’t change after a long time, get out!
What was the response of the major media?
Not all appreciated us in a favorable way, even once we begged to be invited. Yeah, we’re just not counted in, maybe because we’re less popular. Even the female chief editor does likewise, let alone if the decision maker is a man. It’s all about perspective, not just one-sided. Men and women. And for this issue, we need publications, need popularity, need idols. This creates no fun. But then I remember how they who have become activists for decades never stop. Why should the five-year-old newbie like me get moping?
Ha ha ha…
That’s why I shouldn’t be discouraged and quick-tempered. Yeah, that’s it. There are band and family matters that might be the causes. When talking about this issue, we must multiply our efforts. Struggles for anti-corruption, environment takes a long time, but when it comes to anti-violence (against women) it must be multiplied by two or even three.
For example, in some schools and colleges, I said that polygamy is violence. The committee likes it, progressive, so they invite us, but not necessarily with the audiences. What makes me upset is when there’s a woman approving of polygamy. How do you deal with a female audience that approves of polygamy? So that’s why it must be multiplied by two or three because the effort to change that perspective is arguably subtle. Our hope is that women issues are not only to educate men but also all mankind.