Indonesia's oldest recording company is getting a second lease on life after a resurgence in interest from a generation of musicians and fans who weren't even born during the company's heyday gave rise to an exhaustive archive project.
Lokananta was founded in 1956 in the small city of Surakarta—also called Solo—in Central Java. The recording company began at the behest of former Minister of Information R. Maladi, who needed someone to help support the national radio station Radio Republic Indonesia. Lokananta initially acted as the country's largest vinyl pressing plant and transcription service. But it also served as Indonesia's largest archive of recordings. The recordings in storage at Lokananta ranged from the classic, like "Rasa Sayange," and the vital, a different version of "Indonesia Raya," with three extra stanzas.
But by 2010, Lokananta was sinking in debt. Thousands of rare records were ruined by mold and corrosion, and the company said it couldn't afford to rebuild. Lokananta's woes quickly attracted the attention of journalists like Fakhri Zakaria and Ayos Purwoaji and bands like Efek Rumah Kaca and White Shoes and the Couples Company who helped support the company and raise awareness of its importance.
Now, a collective of writers, photographers, and designers are working to digitize Lokananta's vast archives. The resulting website offers listeners access to excerpts of classic recordings like Indonesian musicians like Remadja Bahana and Combo Ria, as well as the speeches of founding father Sukarno.
The project is run by Syaura Qotrunadha, with the help of volunteers like Fakhri Zakaria, who find time in their busy schedules to preserve and catalogue Lokananta's output before it disappears.
VICE: So how did Lokananta Project start?
Syaura Qatrunadha: I was working at Lokananta during university and after seeing all of the archives, I realized it was a treasure trove of recordings like Sukarno's speeches, for example. I had this idea to make a website and a book. At the time, Lokananta didn't have a website, and the only book written about the company was the university thesis of Phillip Yampolsky: "Lokananta: A Discography of The National Recording Company of Indonesia 1957-1985." I invited Fakhri Zakaria and Ayos Purwoaji to work on the project alongside some friends from the Yogyakarta Indonesia Arts Institute (ISI).
What's the purpose of the project?
Fakhri Zakaria: We want to create a legal portal where the public can easily access and enjoy Lokananta's archives.
Syaura Qatrunadha: We want the book we're working on to serve as an extra reference for those who want research Indonesian music.
Why does the website only publish excerpts of the songs? Wouldn't it be better to post the full songs and albums?
Syaura Qatrunadha: Well the albums we've uploaded were only meant for promotional purposes. The copyright of the songs is unclear. So to avoid any legal disputes, we decided against uploading the full songs.
Fakhri Zakaria: We tried to license the songs, but we ran into some difficulties. It was difficult to find out who owned the rights to these songs, either because the artists have passed away, or because the family members are hard to reach. But if you want to hear the songs in their entirety all you need to do is visit Lokananta.
There have been a lot of campaigns to save Lokananta. How is yours different?
Fakhri Zakaria: We wanted to create something sustainable. After this project is done and we're no longer around working on it, we want Lokananta to continue to work on what we've started.
Syaura Qatrunadha: We want the public to access Lokananta's entire archives through our project.
Is this difficult work? I heard that the archives were in a pretty poor state.
Fakhri Zakaria: The hardest part is finding all the data. A lot of the important data was scattered everywhere. There's this missing link in history that we had to track down. And some of the key people have already passed away. This means that because of the poor documentation, some of the people at Lokananta don't even know the sales numbers of the albums they released.
Has the condition of the archive improved?
Fakhri Zakaria: It's a lot better than it was six years ago when everything was scattered like chilies and onions at the pasar. At the moment, all of the archives are neatly stored away in a special shelf, categorized by genre, in an air-conditioned room.
Syaura Qatrunadha: Termites ate a lot of the contracts. Some of the photos are still in a pretty bad state, covered in mold and stuff So the photos we reproduced aren't all that clear.
But this is a government-owned company right? How do you see Lokananta moving forward under the wing of the central government?
Syaura Qatrunadha: Lokananta stores so much of Indonesia's historical moments in its archives, but it's a shame that they haven't been maintained. There's a lack of resources at Lokananta and they don't have the energy and time to collaborate and work with outsiders.
Fakhri Zakaria: The fact is that Lokananta has been recording our country's history and the government should be involved in preserving it. And from a business point of view, Lokananta has a studio and duplication machines. It wouldn't take much to be profitable. At the moment, duplication counts for 30 percent of Lokananta's total income.
So what's the biggest hurdle for an archive project like this?
Syaura Qatrunadha: It's gotten a lot better since Irama Nusantara and Arsip Jazz Indonesia started. At least we now have people doing it consistently. I have faith that in the next 20-30 years our music archive efforts will be a lot better.
Fakhri Zakaria: Archiving is silent work with benefits that can't really be seen right now. We can't immediately talk about its economical value since archiving is an effort for the future. If we don't document what happened in the past right now, where will the next generation get their information from?
This interview has been translated and edited for clarity and content.