A while ago I wrote a blog piece on “Hawaii in Southeast Asia” in which I mentioned that there was some influence of Hawaiian music on a kind of music from Indonesian called Kroncong (or Keroncong). In particular, Kroncong ensembles started to use the ukulele in the late nineteenth century, and I know that I’ve heard Hawaiian steel guitar melodies in some Kroncong songs from say the 1950s or 1960s.
What I did not realize until today, however, was the fact that bands that more or less exclusively played Hawaiian music were very popular in the Dutch East Indies during the interwar period.
There is a great dissertation available online that covers this topic (Philip Yampolsky, “Music and Media in the Dutch East Indies”), and in it the author points out that one of the reasons why a “foreign” music like Hawaiian music became so popular in the Indonesian islands is because it wasn’t rooted there. Given how ethnically and linguistically fractured the Dutch East Indies was, it was only by promoting forms of music that transcended those divisions that record companies could maximize the sale of their records.
Hawaiian music was able to do that, and it sounded good too. And what is more, people in Indonesia were good at playing it, as this lovely rendition of “Aloha ‘Oe” (“Farewell to Thee”) from the 1970s demonstrates:
The main singer in this video is General Hugeng (also spelled Hoegeng) Imam Santoso. General Hugeng served in the 1960s as the chief of police in Jakarta. And from I think about 1968-1980 he had a TV show in which he performed Hawaiian songs.
According to one scholar (David Jenks, Suharto and His Generals: Indonesian Military Politics, 1975-1983, pg. ), the show was criticized for political reasons in 1980 by the minister of information “on the grounds that Hawaiian music ‘does not reflect the national culture,’” and was cancelled.
It is interesting that the minister of information stated in 1980 that Hawaiian music did not reflect the national culture, because from the information that Yampolsky provides in his dissertation, one could argue that Hawaiian music helped form the nation of Indonesia, as it was a force that in some ways united diverse peoples from across the archipelago (subconsciously through the creation of shared musical tastes).
And along those same lines, one could probably argue that in the 1970s General Hugeng was continuing to bring the nation together with his Hawaiian music show.
So I say good job General! And Aloha ‘Oe.