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Jogja is a Haven for Indonesian Reggae

Cheap living and an abundance of cafes looking for live music makes Jogja a haven for Indonesian reggae.

Adi  Renaldi

Adi Renaldi

Black Finit took the small stage at Lucifer Cafe—a Yogyakarta dive and backpackers haunt—and launched into a set of political reggae songs and Bob Marley covers.

Yogyakarta is something of a haven for Indonesia's reggae musicians. This city, known for its artsy, inclusive vibes and cheap cost of living, has attracted a small scene of Bob Marley worshipping musicians from across the archipelago.

For Black Finit, his journey started fourteen years ago in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. He left home for Jogja with a single goal: become a professional musician.

"In Flores back in 2002, there wasn't a lot equipment available for even studio bands," he said. "So I thought I have to move to Java. Once I got to Jogja, I finally felt comfortable."

But success doesn't come that easy. Black Finit spent years playing for spare change down near the Kali Code riverbanks. He would wander around the riverbanks with a donations can and a guitar. It wasn't the most lucrative work, but Black Finit said he earned enough to survive.

"I bought a guitar and I would sing on the side of Kali Code because there were a lot young people hanging out there," he said. "I'd bring this can along as I played and by the time I finished circling the river, I made like Rp 75,000 ($5.65). Back in 2002, that's pretty good."

One year later, Black Finit was making a living off his music. In 2009, he went solo. A few years later, he released his first EP—a four-song record called Kiri-Kanan (Left-Right) that was based on his personal philosophy that everything needs a balance.

"Everything comes from the heart," he said. "Every time I hear reggae music, I let myself go."

But his songs also tackle political issues.

"It's like we're being put inside these boxes," he said. "They're trying to make us all uniform. Indonesia has gone mad. We really miss strong figures. We need to produce strong figures again in this country. We used to have Koes Plus in music, Sukarno in politics, and General Sudirman in the military. We had great people in their own respective fields. But now? We have no one."

His heart is set on staying in Jogja—a city that allowed him to pursue his dream. But, Black Finit admitted, it's still a hard city to perform in as a reggae musician.

"The reggae community itself has existed here for a long time," said Black Finit. "But it was always geared more towards tourism and not its musicality. Performance spaces are still difficult in Jogja. We can survive by playing cafes. It's enough to practice and buy food. Thank God Jogja is still cheap."