Koes Bersaudara, To The So Called The Guilties, Mesra Records, Jakarta, 1967
|Koes Bersaudara (Koes Brothers), first formed in Jakarta in 1960, consisted of five brothers, Koesdjono (Jon), Koestono (Tonny) [or Tonny Koeswojo], Koesnomo (Nomo), Koesyono (Yon) and Koesroyo (Yok). Jon left after the band’s first album, released in 1961 or 1962. That record was made under rather primitive conditions as the studio was so close to the railway lines that the band had to stop recording whenever a train went by.
The band’s early music was influenced by other musical brothers such as the Kalin Twins and the Everly Brothers, but by 1965 they were caught up in the prevailing Beatlemania and began adding Beatles songs to their repertoire. This might have seemed a wise move commercially, but it was not a sound choice politically. Indonesia’s President Soekarno had condemned rock and roll as a symptom of Western decadence and tried to have it banned. He had previously railed against Elvis Presley, but by 1965 he had his sights fixed on the Beatles and all Indonesian bands that played ‘Beatles-like’ music. Koes Bersaudara was one of the most popular bands in Indonesia, but their records were banned from radio and they found it difficult to find venues to play.
|One of Soekarno’s main allies in his war against rock and roll was the Indonesian Communist Party. On 14 March 1965 this caricature of Koes Bersaudara appeared in the Party’s newspaper, Harian Rakyat (Peoples Daily), accompanying an article complaining that Koes Bersaudara had landed a gig playing in the restaurant at Jakarta airport. Harian Rakyat thought that this gave a bad impression to foreign visitors.In June 1965 the band got a job playing at a house party, but only got through a few bars of I Saw Her Standing There, when rocks were heard being thrown on the roof. An angry mob outside the house demanded that Koes Bersaudara apologise for playing forbidden music. Tonny was able to calm down the mob and the brothers returned home, but the next day they were called into the Chief Prosecutors Office and after several hours interrogation they were placed in gaol. The brothers were not sentenced in any court and had no access to legal representation.
The brothers stayed in gaol for three months with almost no contact from the outside, then one night, without warning, they were released. Koes Bersaudara were released just a day before the whole of Indonesia was thrown into great turmoil. On the night of 30 September six army generals were kidnapped and murdered. The army, led by General Soeharto, claimed that this had been part of planned coup and assumed power to restore order. Soekarno was sidelined and remained president in name only. In 1967 Soeharto had himself declared president and held the post for the next thirty-one years.
Soeharto’s regime reversed many of Soekarno’s policies and rock and roll could once again be played on radio and in live venues. Koes Bersaudara’s first record made after their stint in gaol, To The So Called The Guilties, released in 1967, contains a number of songs about their experience, such as the title track, Di Dalam Bui (In Gaol), Voorman (Gaoler) and Poor Clown, which is generally believed to be about President Soekarno. Even though Poor Clown is sung in English, the lyrics are spat out with such venom that it is hard to decipher what is actually being said. If anyone thinks they know, please share it! The album also contains other good songs of a more general nature, such as Hari Ini (Today) and Untukmu (For You).
Koes Bersaudara became Koes Plus in 1969 following the departure of Nomo and went on to be one of the most popular Indonesian bands of the 1970s. Gradually the brothers dropped out of the music industry, but Yon was still performing using the name Koes Plus into the 2000s. Koes Plus recordings are still relatively easy to obtain, but for my money the brothers’ best music is found on their rare early records.
To The So-Called The Guilties
When your heart is down
Producer Dick Tamimi, Engineer Rachman A.