Medan, Indonesia – On a hot and stormy day in the city of Medan, fans took off their T-shirts and stood on each other’s shoulders to get a better view of one of Indonesia’s most famous rock bands.
“Remember to spread the virus of peace across Indonesia,” Slank leader and lead singer Akhadi Wira Satriaji, better known as Kaka, shouted to the thousands of people descending on Istana Maimun, the palace of the Sultanate of Deli. , to rock with their favorite group.
The crowd, known as “Slankers,” roared their approval and took selfies with their idol, while Kaka crouched near the edge of the stage, shaking hands and bumping fists with delighted fans.
But even though the atmosphere was electric, Slank hadn’t come to Medan, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, just to put on a good show.
In Indonesia, there is a tradition of presidential and vice-presidential candidates enlisting popular musicians in their campaigns in an effort to improve their electability.
“Political elites and political parties have a long history of using artists to gain support or votes,” said Hikmawan “Indra” Saefullah, who played guitar in Indonesian indie band Alone at Last from 2002 to 2013 and is Indonesian teacher. Studied at the University of New England.
“It is quite difficult to determine whether this measure is effective or not, unless one wants to wait until the election results are released. Even then, it’s difficult to know for sure whether or not a candidate’s victory is the result of a vote from fans of an artist who supports them. Because the vote is secret. So who knows?
The Slank concert was organized in conjunction with a visit to the city by presidential candidate and former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and his running mate Mahfud MD, former Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.
A natural fit
For some supporters, the concert was the perfect mix of music and politics.
Johnny and Dian, both construction workers, told Al Jazeera they were lifelong Slankers and staunch supporters of Ganjar.
“We like their songs because they are easy to listen to and understand, and they appeal to young people,” said Johnny, 30. “Slank also often comes to Medan to perform and we also go to see them.”
Dian, also 30, added that he likes Slank because they “sing from the heart” and that he would vote for Ganjar and his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), because Slank supported them.
For Dian, the group and the candidates complement each other naturally. He noted that Slank was interested in social justice, while PDI-P, a secular nationalist party, was traditionally affiliated with the interests and rights of workers across Indonesia.
“Ganjar will work for the people and bring change for the people of Indonesia. He supports grassroots workers more than other candidates,” Dian said.
Slank was founded in 1983 by a group of teenagers in Jakarta and takes its name from the term “slange’an” meaning “free men” in Betawi, the language of the capital’s Betawi ethnic group.
Slank has also long been known for the political nature of many of his songs and provided support for current Indonesian President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, when he ran for president in 2014 and 2019 on a PDI-P ticket.
Now that Ganjar is the PDI-P presidential candidate (Jokowi has served the maximum two terms), Slank is also supporting him ahead of the February 14 presidential election.
“They want to give the impression to the public that they will be left behind or ‘uncool’ if they don’t support the PDI-P and Ganjar (by saying), ‘See, Slank supports him, why doesn’t everyone wouldn’t he?’ else?’ said speaker Saefullah about the alliance.
Also among the crowd at the concert were market vendors Ratna, 34, and Lisa, 28, who said they had come to the event to support Ganjar, whom they praised for being “a candidate intellectual “.
Among her election promises, Ganjar said she would improve the working lives of Indonesians, including raising wages, repaying farmers’ debts and eliminating corruption and nepotism that have long plagued Indonesia’s labor market.
He also pledged to distribute social assistance more equitably and broadly across the archipelago of 278 million people.
“The cost of living is increasing in Indonesia and basic necessities are becoming more and more expensive,” Ratna said. “Rice and cooking oil are now more expensive while wages remain low. We want salaries to be reasonable, that’s why we support Ganjar.
However, not everyone in the crowd was convinced.
Mulia, a 20-year-old communications student at the State Islamic University of North Sumatra, told Al Jazeera that he came to the concert to see Slank but had not yet decided who to vote for .
“Maybe I’ll choose Ganjar.” It seems that he is close to young people and could do more for Indonesian youth if elected,” he said.
“It depends on how I feel when I see it. If I like him, then I will vote for him.
Ganjar, himself, made only a brief appearance at the concert.
During a traditional Sumatran welcome dance, he made his way through the crowd, a garland of flowers around his neck, greeting screaming supporters and grabbing his hands while taking selfies on their phones .
But, while Ganjar stood alongside Kaka and clapped enthusiastically to the music, he did not address the crowd and quickly left for another event with his running mate Mahfud.
Other candidates are also hoping that celebrity power will translate into votes.
Prabowo Subianto, former defense minister and running mate Gibran Rakabuming Rakawho is also Jokowi’s eldest son and the current mayor of the city of Surakarta or Solo, was supported by Indonesian rock band Dewa 19.
Meanwhile, Rhoma Irama, nicknamed “the king of Dangdut”, a form of Indonesian folk music, lent his support to former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and People’s Representative Council Deputy Chairman Muhaimin Iskandar.
Back at Istana Maimun, Lufti, 19, and his five friends held up a flag bearing the Slank logo and said they were a mix of Prabowo and Anies voters and did not have the intention to vote for Ganjar.
“We are hardcore Slankers because their songs are amazing and so much fun to listen to,” Lufti said.
“I will not vote for Ganjar because Prabowo is my idol,” he added. “I will always choose Prabowo because he is committed to ensuring the country’s security and protecting our national interests.”
Tio, wearing a Slank-themed T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Slank U”, was at the concert with his wife Cindy.
They said they were there “to see Slank first and Ganjar second.”
“I like Slank because they are very creative musicians and they preach a message of peace,” the 20-year-old entrepreneur told Al Jazeera.
“They make their songs for the people and they always supported Jokowi when he was running for office,” Tio said of his favorite group.
But Tio’s support also highlights the potential risk politicians face when seeking support from rock groups.
“I’m going to vote for Ganjar now thanks to Slank’s support,” Tio said. “But if they decided to support another candidate like Prabowo, then I would follow Slank and support Prabowo too.”