Koes Bersaudara (the Koes Brothers)

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.

Steve Farram

To The So-Called The Guilties

When your heart is down
And you sit in front of the court
The lawyers do something for you
They judge the right against the wrong
While you don’t know what happened behind
To the so-called the guilties (chorus)
They try to differ
From good to bad
The court may sentence you
Prison or even death
Then beat afast
That you feel what’s in your heart
If you forget the Lord
Yes … the Lord above

Producer Dick Tamimi, Engineer Rachman A.

19 thoughts on “Koes Bersaudara (the Koes Brothers)”

  1. This is great. I absolutely love this website. You’re doing a wonderful job here. I read somewhere recently that sixties garage could be considered a type of world music. I think I would agree. Keep up the good work.

  2. That is one cool garage song! I wish i knew what he was singing too, whatever it is he really means it! Great Blog as always Chaz.

  3. Karla W. sent in her translation of the lyrics to Poor Clown. Thanks!


    Oh my poor clown
    Poor clown poor clown
    You are too shamed to show your face
    *You may not ————
    *With all your knowledge then you die
    Oh my, oh my
    Before your mind has glued you down
    For she shall take and move your hand
    To hide your word word word word
    Until your kingdom comes to end
    Oh my poor clown
    Why don’t you know your money’s gone
    Given the time, you’ve gotta go
    It’s night for you, so do sit down
    *Look down sometimes we’re to rest
    Yeah my poor clown
    Go clown go clown
    The sun has dropped down from the west
    I’ll tell you what you should delight
    We’re free. Horizons are so bright

    * represents lines with words missing or my guesses – Karla

  4. Thanks Karla for your lyrics to Poor Clown. I have listened to this song so many times trying to figure it out. I could only be sure of about half the words and you have confirmed nearly all of that and most of the rest you have given seems to be spot on. Well done and thanks again for making the effort!

  5. Thank you so much for putting Poor Clown on here, I have heard about the song many years ago. I believe it’s my dad that is singing the song. It’s always nice to hear his voice (no matter how angry it may sound!).

    Thanks again,


  6. I’m in California and work in the music industry. Koes Plus is my all-time hero!!!
    Your dad and all of your uncles decorated my childhood years with songs and memories that nobody can take away. Great people, great songs with sincere hearts.

  7. Thank you for putting up Koes Bersaudara. I grew up with them, they were my father’s fav. band ever. He would always sing loudly no matter how out of tune he could be 😉 Grabbing the house’ broom, turning up the speakers to the max, annoying the neighbor and my mother (haha); what a great time with my father. In his era it was Koes Bersaudara, but in my era they already changed it to Koes Plus.

    Surprisingly, none of the songs listed here I ever listened before but today. My father emailed me twice yesterday and today, to READ and LISTEN to your page for Koes Bersaudara. Glad he did, because so much to say oh wow, great finding on the net indeed.

    Thanks once again for this article. Thank you (late) Soeharto for giving us back rock and roll, and most of all, thank you Koes Bersaudara/Koes Plus, for the great music and the fond memories you gave me growing up as my father’s daughter.

    Keep up the good work “garagehangover” 🙂


  8. To my astonishment Di dalam bui sounds like Neil Young’s Heart of gold, but of course it is the other way ’round!
    So howzaboutthatthenguysandgals.

    I am a bit ashamed recognizing the Dutch word boei in this word for jail, btw.

  9. i love this song…i played it on my radio show last week…it is the only song on the record who’s lyrics are not printed on the back cover so it must really be rough lyrics for the time…does anyone know what BERSAUDARA means? it’s on many records…is it group? brothers/sisters?

  10. I am currently (September-October 2009) constructing a site for an ex technician of Koes Bersaudara, named Handiyanto aka Handi aka Embah Gambreng. He gave me a lotta information about this group some which i have put on the site. see embahgambreng.multiply.com

    According to him, “Guilties” was recorded live, and was finished in approximately one hour. Handi suggested Dick Tamimi, the boss of Dimita (the label wich produced this LP) to record this album live. The proposal was approved by both Dick and the leader of the band Tonny Koeswoyo. They recorded around 15 songs at that time under the supervision of Dick, and some were included on this phenomenal LP. It was Handi also who designed the cover, which we all know is dominated with black. The idea came from Tonny who asked Handi to depict the blackness of Indonesian Law (Koes Bersaudara were imprisoned by the regime in 1965). Handi deliberately made a big GUILTIES, to describe how easy it was, in Indonesia, to Blame even criminalize people, or put someone you don’t like in jail as long as you have power.

    The portrait was also taken by Handi (i forgot its technical detail, just see the blog if you want it) using lamps both from behind and next to the boys.

    Handi also played a crucial role in recorded their next album “DJadikan Aku DOmba-Mu” released in 1968 (hopefully i can write for this site ASAP). In 1969 he was borrowed by DARA PUSPITA who at that time were already in Europe.
    Further info, please see embahgambreng.multiply.com

    Thank You.

  11. yes that’s correct, ‘bersaudara’ in indonesian language means ‘brothers’in english… just like everly brothers…

  12. Koes Bersaudara and koes plus never fade away. Tonny K, Murry, peace in Heaven. Yon K still exist with new name the Band Koes Plus Pembaharuan. 😉


  13. Hello. My name is Fauzan. I am a student at History Departement in University Sanata Dharma, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. My thesis object is Koes Bersaudara. I have read this journal and I think it will help me about my research. But, I need more sources to complete my research, and I believe that Mr. Steven Farram have some more sources related to Koes Bersaudara. I really hope you to reply my comment here. Thank you very much.

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