Indonesia’s premier rap group comes to Mondavi

Tonight, the Mondavi Center will host the Jogja Hip-Hop Foundation, a collective of Indonesian artists whose work successfully blends old Javanese culture with modern concerns, all within the frame of a global hip-hop language.

According to event coordinator Amanda Caraway, Jogja Hip-Hop Foundation is the first hip-hop group ever to perform at the Mondavi, and visitors can expect a more up-close experience than the main Jackson Hall auditorium would allow.

“They will perform in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, which will be set up like a nightclub complete with [a] bar and tables,” Caraway said.

For students, the low-key atmosphere and reduced pricing provide an ideal setting in which to see the international act.

“Student tickets for this show are only $15,” Caraway said. “That’s the same price they would pay as a cover to see any band in a nightclub.”

The group, sometimes abbreviated as “JHF” for short, was formed in 2003 and hails from their namesake city of Yogyakarta, in the heart of Indonesia’s most populous island, Java.

It is more than 10,000 miles from the birthplace of hip-hop in The Bronx; yet through today’s social media, and through their singular talent, the JHF has bridged this wide geographic and cultural gap. Last year, they performed in front of American audiences for the first time in the famed New York Borough.

On Friday, the collective’s second visit to the U.S. will bring them to Davis, giving students and other visitors the chance to witness the stars at the forefront of Indonesia’s burgeoning rap scene.

Group leader Muh Marzuki (a.k.a. Kill the DJ), communicating from a tour stop in Arizona, was able to lend some insight into the group’s history and the scene from which it arose. He described how Indo-rap pioneers such as Iwa K and G-Tribe cultivated the music during the early ’90s, using Sundanese and Javanese language to put their own distinct claim on the genre.

“Nowadays, there are more than 50 hip-hop groups in Yogyakarta itself. The group [JHF] is composed of members from many other different groups,” Marzuki said.

Audiences can expect to see an accurate representation of the regional scene and the individual talents involved.

Explaining the group’s unique sound, Marzuki added details about incorporating tradition.

“We chose to combine our traditional culture with hip hop: We incorporate ancient poetry and literature in our lyrics, we use Javanese as the language and we also add gamelan and other traditional sounds in our music,” Marzuki said.

One of their more popular songs, entitled “Jogja Istimewa,” gets to the heart of what makes JHF unlike any other group. Marzuki explained that “Istimewa” means “special,” and it aptly describes the group and the area they come from.

Jogja, as Yogyakarta is also known, is the vibrant center of culture for Indonesia, home to gamelan music and a long-standing tradition of classical poetry. It is a fitting home for a hip-hop group that deftly weaves such traditions into a new style that’s instantly recognizable, but fully their own.

Suzanne La, the tour manager for JHF’s latest series of performances, talked about their charismatic performances and efforts to reach out to new audiences.
“It’s evident that they like to have fun, but they’re also passionate about their work,” La said. “They are genuinely curious and have a thirst for knowledge and community engagement that is a breath of fresh air.”

Those unable to attend the performance tonight will have the chance to see them again on Friday and Saturday, both at 8 p.m. For more information, visit mondaviarts.org or call the Mondavi ticket office at (530) 754-2787.

ANDREW RUSSELL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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