Supporters churn out songs and dance moves as Indonesia's presidential race heats up

Rapper Marzuki Mohamad singing "Goyang Jempol, Jokowi Gaspol" in Yogyakarta on March 23, 2019.
Rapper Marzuki Mohamad singing "Goyang Jempol, Jokowi Gaspol" in Yogyakarta on March 23, 2019.PHOTO: FARANO GUNAWAN

As soon as the catchy tune started, the lively crowd packing the football stadium in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta raised two thumbs in the air and swivelled their hips.

"Goyang Jempol, Jokowi Gaspol," they sang. The phrase, which is also the song title, loosely means "shake the thumb, Jokowi is at full throttle".

Jokowi refers to President Joko Widodo, who is seeking a second term in office and facing off retired army general Prabowo Subianto in the April 17 presidential election.

Yogyakarta resident Uli Arbiyani, 32, who turned up at the March 23 flash mob event with 10 friends, said: "It was a hot day and we were all dancing and sweating like crazy. It was a joyous celebration of democracy."

"Jokowi was there too and he had flung a biker's jacket to the crowd. We hope he wins again," she added.

As the electoral race nears a crescendo, creative Indonesians - from musicians and millennial singer wannabes to middle-aged housewives - are cheering for their candidates with dances and songs on the streets and on the Internet.

"In this era of social media, everyone wants to go online. The variety of music people have created is extraordinary, there's dangdut, rap, pop," Indonesian music expert Bens Leo told The Straits Times.

"In the voting booth, when people have only a minute or two to make a choice, they tend to remember candidates with unique songs," he added.

For 43-year-old rapper Marzuki Mohamad, whose stage name is Kill the DJ, the "Goyang Jempol" song was his way of adding fun to a "long, boring election campaign flooded with fake news".

Misinformation and hate speech have popped up in the campaign and candidates, including the president himself, have been targeted by online trolls.

"Music makes people happy. Let's fight all these political hoaxes and lies with joget-joget instead," said Mr Marzuki with a laugh. Joget is Indonesian for dance.

On the other side of the ring, scores of "militant mothers" and housewives are creating waves on YouTube with their smooth Zumba moves and song "The Power of Emak-Emak" praising Mr Prabowo and his running mate, wealthy businessman Sandiaga Uno.

Donning oversized shades and Muslim headscarves, the middle-aged women - or "emak-emak" in Indonesian - tapped and tangoed in the video against the backdrop of rolling hills, towering trees and crashing waves.

"Why make things difficult? It's better for us to shake together," they sing, disco fingers to the sky.

Among the hundreds of appreciative comments, Hamidi Bakar said: "Wouldn't it be awesome if all emak-emak were to dance and upload online. The rival will surely tremble and crumble."

Prabowo supporter and YouTuber Aci Cahaya, 25, said singing is better than mudslinging, adding: "It creates a peaceful atmosphere as the lyrics do not condemn."


Songwriter Yunan Helmi, 31, agreed. He and his friends had produced a clip showing millennials breakdancing in motorcycle helmets, snaring nearly 1 million views on YouTube.

He said: "Music is a universal language that everyone can understand. People don't feel like they are being dictated to."

Most importantly, many hope the buzz they have created through their songs and dances will get Indonesians on their feet and troop to the polling stations on April 17.

Mr Yunan said: "Both Jokowi and Prabowo are the nation's patriots. There's no perfect leader, but there's always one who is better than the other. So, people should go make their choice."