IRIE. You were born in Indonesia and raised and educated in New York City. Were you parents supportive in your desire to pursue roots reggae music?
Ras Muhamad: Like the majority of any other parents especially in Asia, most wouldn’t want their child to have a career in music. Since they deem it as a life of catering to people’s needs and entertaining people in Cafés, taking song requests and so forth. It’s perhaps the culture in Asia, where some possibly have forgotten what music, arts & culture really means but some still view it with a narrow lens. Gratefully, by slow process I changed my parents views of the path I chose.
My Mother is a major emotional supporter now in my works and she loves Reggae music; she understands that Reggae with what I hope am doing is more than just music. She understands that it has a mission and gives inspiration to people. I hope I could change the views of Indonesian people today and also the younger generation to be more creative and not view music as someone on stage in full-glamour just singing notes in major keys about romance. Just like how Bob said it, fighting the revolution single-handedly with music. My movement is to bring forth change with music and change to me come first with thinking. When you start to think differently, your being starts to evolve also.
IRIE. Is it true that your dreams and goals in life are inspired by the 1st President of Indonesia, Sukarno, and the first Vice President Mohammad Hatta. Can you explain?
Ras Muhamad: Music is my passion. Watching cinema, films and reading mostly of history and philosophy is my hobby but whatever I experience, it would reflect in my music. Yet, the teachings and life of Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, 1st President & Vice President are one of my inspirations. These men have high hopes for building a great Republic that would be a role-model for nations. Bung Hatta (Mr. Hatta) was a statesman who lived a simply life, I read that he donated 1500 of his personal book collections to the Indonesian state library before he passed away, so we could learn like he did, Bung Hatta showed us a life of self-less service to a nation and also “Sahaja” meaning leading a simple life with only the necessities you need to sustain yourself. Sukarno, Pak Karno, Bung Karno (Brother Karno) the name just like Haile Selassie’s name is very dear to my heart; Bung Karno was ahead of his time and extremely brilliant. The ideas that he believed in and the challenges he forewarned us are still relevant today. He told us to make our dreams as high as the heavens for building a greater Indonesia even if we fail, our fall would be between the stars. He taught us to build our spirit, the character and personality of a nation. To me, he is the President of all Presidents. Only he could deliver a speech without notes in more than a dozen languages. It was he, Indonesia became the host of the first world-conference of colored peoples (the Asia Africa Conference 1955). It was he who was honored by over 2 dozens, Doctor Honoris Causa by multi-national prestigious universities. It was through him also that in the history of the modern world, Indonesia made a counter-Olympics called the Ganefo. He also strongly believed in the younger generation and in their creativity. He was a visionary who wanted Indonesia to make a positive impact on the world. He once said “Give me 10 youths and I shall move the world”. I hope what I do I’m a part of Sukarno’s 10 youths also. He taught us to love ourselves, after 350 years of Colonial rule in Indonesia, he taught us that we’re not a nation of beggars , slaves nor servants to other nations. He was a nationalist and so I too am. But he said Indonesian nationalism must grow strong together harmoniously in the garden of internationalism. Yes, he was poetic and philosophical also. Hidup Bung Karno!
IRIE. What’s the reggae scene like in Indonesia?
Ras Muhamad: The Reggae scene in Indonesia is simply put … MADDD !!! you’d be surprised how a lil island music of Jamaica is able to reach our Archipelago and yes, we are crazy about it. I could dare say that Indonesia has the biggest Reggae scene in Asia, perhaps we are 2nd to Japan in terms of the Reggae audience. In Jakarta itself, where I’m based about 3-4 events are happening every week, I easily lose track since so much are happening. These events most of the time draw out crowd by the thousands. You have youths renting out cheap transportation buses to come to a Reggae show while waving the Red, Gold n Green banner. They also would wave their Reggae flags and which part of town or part of the country their from during the shows and the flags are bigger than a house !. Starting from 2008, I completely lost count of how many Reggae bands there are in Indonesia. Perhaps there are more than 150 bands that are actively performing, recording and releasing Reggae music in Indonesia. Reggae is perhaps 2nd to Pop and Metal music in Indonesia, you go to any shops I guarantee you the person that works there has at least a dozen Reggae tunes, local and international tunes. The biggest challenge that we’re facing is that the major promoters of international music events in Indonesia, doesn’t have the full trust that we could bring a massive amount of an audience for Reggae music. I don’t know if the promoters don’t want to listen or they simply just don’t care, but I hope with my works and also my other brothers in the Indonesian Regggae we give the Indonesian music industry hard blows so they could give us more attention. Don’t get me wrong, Reggae in Indonesia is never main-stream. Once in a while, the mainstream focuses on us but yet we still carry on. Only thing that I worry about is that you have so many Reggae listeners but they tend to put themselves in the most cliche image of Reggae and that’s “Bob Marley and Beach Music”. And again, my works are intended to change that. The message, consciousness, expression, self-identity need to be there. The foundations of Roots Reggae need to be stronger.