Tag Archives: culture

Recipes for romance


Sara Veal

Love is all around us – not just in our fingers and toes, but even in items you might not have considered, such as insects and salad. Or so it is believed. Many aphrodisiacs are considered as such because of their resemblance to sexual organs, the qualities of the animal, symbolic connections to fertility and romance or, most rarely it seems, chemical properties and effects. Here are 10 unusual aphrodisiacs from around the world – you may not want to try all of them at home.

Ants. Not just any ant, but atta laevigata, a species of leafcutter ant found between Columbia and Paraguay. Known in those parts as hormiga culona (large-bottomed ant), they have been eaten for hundreds of years, and because of the supposed aphrodisiac qualities of the queens, are often given as wedding gifts. However, the regular harvesting of these romantic ants, among other factors, has led to their decline. It’s probably best to stick to homewares and money when it comes to wedding presents.

Chicken fetus. Chicken embryos, or balut, are a delicacy native to the Philippines and also commonly consumed in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Apparently eating balut “hardens” men’s knees (yes, knees), which is a good thing. Generally, across cultures, eggs (fetus or not) are regarded as having aphrodisiac qualities because of their link with reproduction.

Goat soup. “Mannish water”, a soup made from goat parts including the head, brains and scrotum, has been popular for at least 300 years in Jamaica. It is supposed to make you “man enough”, or as strong as a bull, hence the former name. Grooms are traditionally served the dish on their wedding night (lucky brides). Similarly, cow cod soup is another popular aphrodisiac in Jamaica, and comprises cow penis (the “cod”), cooked with bananas and white rum.

Green M&Ms. What is it about the green ones? Since the 1970s, in the US, rumors have circulated that eating green M&Ms puts one in the mood for love. Mars, the company behind M&Ms, picked up on this and in 1997 introduced a sexy, female mascot for the green candies; she has a husky voice and a penchant for innuendo. In 2008, they even brought out special bags filled only with green M&Ms, claiming green to be “The New Color of Love”. Actually, although red certainly dominates all that’s romantic, green had a claim to love for eons, with its connection to spring, rebirth and witchcraft – a powerful mix!

Jewelry. You know that pretty necklace you were thinking of giving your sweetheart? You might consider crushing it instead. And then eating it. Pearls, rubies, gold dust and agate are all purported to stimulate desire and enhance attractiveness when consumed. Cleopatra – she who seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony – is said to have dissolved pearls in vinegar and drunk the mixture, which likely popularized the concept.

Lettuce. Those healthy green leaves that populate your salad dishes don’t just aid your digestion; they can also boost your sex drive. At least the Ancient Egyptians thought so, based on the fact lettuce was a popular offering to Min, the god of fertility and sexuality. However, the Romans considered lettuce to have the opposite effect, and dampen ardor, because of the plant’s mild sedative and painkilling effects. In 2005, an Italian scientist theorized that both the Egyptians and the Romans were right – it all depended on what part of the plant you used.

Puffer fish. What could be sexier than a brush with death? This seems to be the thinking behind the purported aphrodisiac powers of puffer fish, or fugu in Japan. This ugly fish has a high content of tetrodotoxin, which is considered more than 1,000 times deadlier than cyanide. Only specially licensed chefs who have studied the art of fugu cooking for years can safely prepare the fish – and even then there’s no guarantee. Personally, I’d prefer to flirt with my date than with danger – and for my last supper to include something other than poisoned fish.

Spanish Fly. A beetle, not a fly, that is found between southern Europe and central Asia, and has a lengthy, dramatic history as an aphrodisiac. It was used by the scheming wife of Augustus Caesar to blackmail guests and the Marquis de Sade in the 18th century to spice up an orgy. The Spanish Fly contains cantharidin, a poisonous, potentially fatal, chemical compound that, when consumed, can irritate the urinary tract, leading to genital swelling that lasts for hours. In other words, an ancient Viagra that’s probably not worth dying for.

Urine has been a respected part of medicine in many cultures, for thousands of years. It’s purported to have many health benefits, from antiseptic to moisturizer. The romantic bonuses likely come from the hormones present, including muramyl dipeptide, a compound that has a similar effect to seratonin. And that doesn’t just go for human urine, apparently. In Zimbabwe, baboon pee is mixed with beer, and in India, cow urine can be considered a powerful stimulant when drunk straight. I’ll have mine on ice with a twist of lime, please.

Whale vomit. More commonly referred to as ambergris, a waxy, gray substance formed in the stomachs of whales. Ambergris, which has a sweet, earthy odor, is a traditional fixing ingredient in musk perfumes, and is meant to release pheromones when applied to the skin. It also supposedly enhances the flavor of food and wine, and has medicinal qualities. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay US$20 per gram if you want to put it to the test. Love doesn’t always come cheap, you know…


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Highland fling: Celebrating 90 years of Java-Scot relations

Sara Veal

The exact arrival of the Scottish in Java is shrouded in mystery, due to lost records, but what is certain is the informal founding of the Java StAndrew Society in 1919, via the arrival of two Scottish pilots (later Sirs), Ross Macpherson Smith and Keith Ross, who made the first flight over the archipelago from London to Australia in around 28 days.

Since then, amid natural disasters and dramatic political shifts, the society has stood its ground, faithfully providing Scottish expatriates – and anyone else interested – with an authentic taste of the motherland.

This year signifies the 90* official year of Java-Scot relations and was marked in highland style at the societys main annual event, the Java St. Andrew Society Ball, held in honour of the eponymous Scottish patron saint.

On Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, the Grand Ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel, Jakarta was transformed into two Scottish castles, complete with towers and portcullis, for the ball, hosted by Chieftain James Shon and wife Elaine.

Since 1971, the society has elected every March a Chieftain as its head, an annual, once-in-a-lifetime office.

The Chieftain and his partner are responsible for the societys events throughout their tenure – such as organising the hotels, menu and flights, and even slaving overa pot of bubbling fudge to make authentic Scottish “tablet”, in the chieftains wifes case.

Elaine Shon notes that although many traditions at the ball would have initially seemed curious to newcomers, the nature of activities easily included all, especially the Ceilidh dancing.

“Everyone loves it., everyone loves to see the Scottish traditions, everyone loves to see -guys in kilts, Indonesians are really interested to see the dancing… there is so much of Scotland, the way they dress, the way they eat,” says the English Shon, an “adopted Scot”.

“And there is correlation between Indonesians and the Scottish… The Indonesians have batik, familys also important”

Almost 400 guests of all nationalities attended, including the EU, Norwegian, Australian and British Ambassadors, many of the Scottish men in tartan kilts bearing their clans colours, their wives in ball gowns with sashes to match, to enjoy a long night of traditional Scottish merriment, from bagpipes and dancing reels to “haggis slaying”.

The ball opened with an introduction by master of ceremonies and former chieftain Alistair Speirs, from Now! Jakarta magazine, and Chieftain Jim Shons welcome.

The nights entertainment included performances from the British International School Choir, the Java St Andrew Society Dancers, The Perth Highland Pipe Band, a Ceilidh Band flown from Scotland, the Perth Highland Pipe Band, also flown in especially, and the local Sayagi Band.

Most importantly, there was sumptuous Scottish fare, with several meals to punctuate and fuel the revelry from early evening to early morning.

Naturally, the Chieftains “slaying of the haggis”, in recognition of the humble national dishs egalitarian charm (both nutritious and cheap), was the nighf s culinary centerpiece.

The ceremonial slaying of the sausage-like dish, made with sheeps heart, liver and lungs, is preceded by a recitation of Scottish national poet Robert Burns “Address to a Haggis”, which starts Tair fa your honest sonsie face. Great chieftain o the puddin-race!”

Once appropriately extolled, the haggis took on a new role as the star of the Feast of St. Andrew, flanked by “neeps and tatties” (mashed potato, carrot and sweet potato), and doused in whisky.

The Supper Menu, enjoyed at midnight, consisted of mushroom and lentil soup, while the Sunrise Menu at the Chieftains residence, was a full Scottish breakfast, comprising bacon, Lome Sausage, black pudding, eggs, baked beans, tomatoes and hash browns.

Guests also had the chance to win goodies, from the door prize of the title of Lord or Lady of Lochabar and therefore the deeds to a small plot of land in Scotland, to the sought after first prize of two return tickets to the UK donated by Qatar Airways.

The guests certainly seem to have appreciated the Shons* efforts, with more than 100 demonstrating admirable staying power, lasting until the 4 a.m. breakfast.

Adwi. a 2004 Glasgow University graduate, said he most enjoyed “getting together with so many nationalities”.

British Ambassador to Indonesia Martin Hatfull agreed.

“My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed die St Andrews Ball. It was a great event and a wonderful celebration of a very special part of the United Kingdom.”

The events principal sponsors were Qatar Airways, AsiaServa Indonesia, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Asian Tigers Lane Moving and Storage, which pulled off the twin-castle theme, and the Menara Peninsula Hotel.

As well as a night of great fun, the ball was also a key fundraiser for the Java St. Andrews Societys causes.

Next March, when the current Chieftainship ends, the money raised throughout the year will be invested in the education of Indonesian university students, “as its very trackable,” Shon says.

The Java St. Andrew society has many scheduled events ahead, all of which are open to the public, even nondrinkers, despite the Scottish penchant for whisky, such as Bums supper on Jan. 25, 2010, to commemorate the life of the poet

There are also two upcoming golf tournaments pitting the Scots and the English against one another, and regular quiz nights throughout the year.

For more information, visit  www.javastandrew-society.com.

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Huib Akihary: The Best of Both Worlds


Sara Veal

In 1983, following a five-day voyage from Jakarta, Huib Akihary stood at the boat’s bow at sunrise, watching the two points of the Bay of Ambon grow and gradually encircle him, welcoming him to his father’s homeland.

When the boat finally arrived in Ambon, the then 29-year-old waited for the other passengers to disembark, as he had told his aunt he would be the last one off the boat.

“Then four police officers came to the boat and they were asking for me. I said, *I haven’t done anything, just visiting my family’,” Akihary says.

“*No, no problem,’ they said. *Just your aunt has asked us to get you off the boat.’ So I was escorted by them and met my aunt for the first time . then she told me that my uncles, cousins and nephews were also there . There were more than 40 people standing there, some of whom had traveled two days to Ambon.”

This auspicious reception signaled an important step in Akihary’s lifelong journey to understand his Moluccan heritage, leading him to become an expert on Indonesia and Holland’s mutual architectural history, and culminating in his appointment as director of Museum Maluku, in the Netherlands, in March this year.

Akihary was born and raised in Holland by a Dutch mother and a Moluccan father. Although he grew up outside the Moluccan diasporic community, he was always interested in his father’s culture and roots.

“My thinking and reasoning are Dutch, yet my feelings and emotions are Moluccan. Adat *tradition*, family matters, music, food and helping each other as much as possible are basic Moluccan cultural values and are very much part of my personal life. I try to incorporate that in my Western way of thinking and find a balance in both,” he says.

Akihary has two teenage sons, with whom he says he shares Moluccan culture via literature, film, music and cuisine.

“I present it to them and they can choose by themselves if they want to absorb it or not,” he says.

“In my case, if I have the name Akihary, I have to know where it comes from.”

The name Akihary is well-known in Ambon and increasingly representative of Moluccans overseas. Akihary says many of his relatives in both Indonesia and the Netherlands are highly involved in their immediate community and the wider Moluccan diaspora, as businesspeople, teachers, solicitors and ministers. His cousin Monica Akihary is the lead singer of Boi Akih, a world jazz ensemble that performs Moluccan songs.

“We all share a mutual interest in our Moluccan culture and traditions wherever we live,” he says. “As Monica and I play an important role in spreading and conserving Moluccan culture, our family supports us in every way.”

Since his first visit to Indonesia in 1983, he has returned several times: in 1984 to research his thesis on the history of architecture of the city of Batavia between 1870 and 1942; in 1988 for a seminar on Indonesia and Holland’s mutual architectural heritage; and in 1990 to conduct a five-year inventory of all the Portuguese and Dutch fortifications in the Moluccas, a project cancelled in 1991 for political reasons.

Last month, the Moluccan governor and diplomatic community invited Akihary, in his capacity as Museum Maluku director, to Ambon to organize a musical theater project, Paku Coklat, performed by the Moluccan Music Theatre Ensemble, and reportedly a sell-out success.

His position as director of Museum Maluku is one he has strived for since graduating as an art historian from the University of Amsterdam in 1986, the same year the museum was founded.

“I was involved with the museum since the start, as an adviser, as a member of committees and as chairman of the foundation of Friends of the Museum. In the 90s I was asked to organize a few exhibitions,” he says.

“Under my direction and in close cooperation with the newly appointed curator Dr. Jet Bakels, a very experienced museum worker, the Museum Maluku will focus on a broader audience, broader than simply the Moluccan community in the Netherlands.”

He says partners will include institutes and individuals worldwide that study Moluccan culture, such as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, government departments in Moluccan province and Moluccan cultural societies in Jakarta.

“It’s important to join hands and strengthen the cultural identity of Moluccans wherever they live,” he says, adding there are significant communities in California and Jakarta.

“I have a very active role now in preserving, discovering, documenting, registering and describing Moluccan culture… In short, safeguarding it for those who live abroad.”

Although his focus is on Moluccan heritage, his doctoral research on Batavia means he is knowledgeable about Jakarta’s architectural treasures, citing the city as a modern marvel, as well as a major example of Indonesian and Dutch mutual heritage.

“When you drive through Jakarta at night it’s beautiful, with all the lights and all the high-rise buildings,” he says.

“At present, these buildings, as well as shopping malls and complexes, have an international style. The interesting question is if modern Indonesian architecture and urban planning will find ways and means to develop its own Indonesian identity.”

A unique Indonesian identity, he says, remains evident in the architectural remnants of Jakarta’s past.

“The layout of Jakarta still shows the history of its growth since 1600, such as the town near Pasar Ikan with its Dutch layout of streets and canals *Kali Besar*,” he says.

“This is why it makes me sad when I see that they are destroying a building without knowing its meaning or historical value.”

So far, Akihary feels his greatest professional achievements have been his publications on Dutch colonial architecture in Indonesia, which he says have helped Indonesian architects in their urban planning, as well as architectural exhibitions he has participated in, such as at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

“But by far I am most proud of and feel very privileged to have the chance to work on and to promote the Moluccan culture as the new director of Museum Maluku in close cooperation with Moluccans worldwide. It’s very rewarding in many ways.”

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Partnering the past and present


Sara Veal

Twenty-three years ago, the Dutch government gave the Moluccan community in the Netherlands a priceless gift: the Museum Maluku (MuMa) in Utrecht.

Since 1986, MuMa has sought to preserve and promote the material and immaterial heritage of the Dutch Moluccan community, through organizing exhibitions, conducting research and producing events, shows, workshops and debates. Recently, this scope has widened to include Moluccans all around the world.

With this in mind, Huib Akihary, the new MuMa director, and a troupe of Dutch Moluccan musicians and actors visited Jakarta and Ambon last month to help strengthen ties with local cultural communities and official institutes and to seek new ways of collaborating on cultural programs and projects.

“MuMa operates on the premise that the [Dutch] Moluccan community is an integral part of Dutch society while at the same time retaining its unique characteristics and strong ties to the area of origin, the Moluccas,” Akihary says.

This vision balances the deeply entwined history of Molucca and the Netherlands, as well as the Dutch Moluccan community’s need to reconnect with their roots.

In 1951, around 12,500 Moluccans left their homeland for the Netherlands, in what was meant to be a temporary solution to the tense political situation in Indonesia that had arisen following the end of Dutch colonial rule.

A short-term return proved impossible, and from 1956 onward Dutch policymaking aimed at integration, a lengthy process that initially prevented Moluccans from traveling to Indonesia, for social and economic reasons.

In the 1980s, as the position of Moluccans in Dutch society improved, they were able to visit Indonesia; MuMa was established around the same time and opened to the public in 1990.

Reflecting today’s widespread Moluccan diaspora, MuMa has several partners around the world that share its interest in preserving and promoting Moluccan culture.

In Holland, along with the Dutch government and various Moluccan organizations, MuMa works with the Dutch Museum Association, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Centraal Museum Utrecht, Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht, the Foundation of Papua Heritage (PACE) and Museum Bronbeek Arnhem.

MuMa’s Indonesian partners include the Moluccan governor, Moluccan diplomats, the Museum Siwa Lima and the Rinamakana Foundation, both in Ambon, as well as the Dutch Embassy and the Erasmus Huis, both in Jakarta. MuMA also works with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

According to Akihary, the Moluccan community in Jakarta has been highly organized in preserving its heritage through societies and yayasan (foundations).

In August 2009, MuMA began a close collaboration with the glossy Jakarta-based magazine World of Maluku (WOM), which is edited by Samuel Wattimena.

“MuMa will be the correspondent and distributor for the magazine in the Netherlands,” Akihary says.

“MuMa also has started talks with Erasmus Huis to organize a yearly Pasar Maluku [Moluccan market] in Jakarta, an event to bring Moluccans and Moluccan culture from the Netherlands and Indonesia together in Jakarta.”

Akihary further hopes to establish contact with Moluccan communities in California and Australia.

Following MuMa’s aim to explore the continuum between the Netherlands’ and Molucca’s shared past and present, the museum’s current exhibition “Krijgers in de kerk, Tanimbarese portretten 1920/2009” (Warriors in the church, Tanimbarese portraits: 1920–2009) displays portraits made by Dutch missionary Father Drabbe in 1920 of the people of the Tanimbar islands in the Moluccas, and artifacts from the period, as well as their modern counterparts.

“One of the portrayed women, Atanube, has great-grandchildren living in the Netherlands. We commissioned new portraits of Tanimbarese people living in the Netherlands, and two were her great-grandchildren,” Akihary says.

Similarly, upcoming exhibitions are “The Huwae Connection”, which will display the art of two generations of artists from the Moluccan Huwae family; “Ambon: Rebuilding and reconciliation after the ‘Kerusahan’”; and “Tattoo: Pimping up your Moluccan body”, which aims to engage Moluccan youth.

Akihary’s recent trip to Indonesia was at the behest of Florence Suhusilawane, head of the Maluku  cultural affairs and tourism agency, who was supported by the Maluku governor.

“A large delegation visited the Museum Maluku last May to invite us officially and to request our support in promoting Moluccan culture and tourism,” Akihary says.

During the trip, Akihary and theatre/music director Anis de Jong organized a music-theater show, Paku Coklat (The Chocolate Nail), which was performed by the Moluccan Music Theater Ensemble (MMTE), comprising Ambonese artists, Dutch Moluccan musicians and the Dutch Moluccan theater group DeltaDua.

The project, which was sponsored by the Moluccan cultural affairs and tourism agency, the provincial Moluccan secretary, the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta, and a private Dutch–Moluccan fund cost 35,000 euros in total. Two shows were performed on Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 at Taman Budaya in Karang Panjang, Ambon.

“The musical event in Ambon was wonderful, a good example of how Moluccans from the Netherlands and Ambon can cooperate closely and successfully,” Akihary says.

“It has resulted in a mutual friendship, respect and the willingness to continue in working together in preserving and promoting Moluccan culture and starting new projects in 2010 and 2011.”

The triumph of the musical has led to several tours for the MMTE in June 2010, in both the Netherlands and Indonesia, as well as a slot in next year’s Tong Tong festival (May 19–30) in the Hague, which is the world’s largest Eurasian arts festival.

He adds the show was also an important step in a larger-scale musical theater collaboration between DeltaDua and MuMa, which started last year. The partners, jointly named the Baku Dapat Orchestra, are developing an opera about the life of legendary Moluccan freedom fighter Martha Christina (1800–1818), which is due to be performed on at Benteng Durrstede on Saparua Island, Molucca, in 2011.

“For the opera’s music, director Anis de Jong wants to find a nice mixture of musical influences that have come to Molucca over the last centuries and create new arrangements for the traditional lagu lagu [folk songs], using traditional instruments like the totobuang [chime gong], tifa [dance instrument] and raban [one-sided drum] in combination with guitar, bass, violin and flute and the main Moluccan instrument: the human voice,” he says.

“The traditional Moluccan songs that everyone knows by heart will be arranged in new rhythms and orchestrations based on Portuguese musical influences as fado [mournful guitar music], mixed with old Dutch maritime songs from the 17th century, classical Western opera music and other modern music such as jazz.”

Akihary will return to Jakarta in December  to start talks with sponsors that have an interest in supporting MuMa’s future projects.

While MuMa is obviously committed to recovering and preserving the past, Akihary stresses the importance of working toward the countries’ shared futures, in terms of cultural partnerships.

“The relationship [between the Netherlands and Indonesia] stretches over centuries starting around 1600 and is full of events, both good and bad ones. My view is to look ahead and keep on working on good relations with the Dutch and with Indonesians.”

— Photos Courtesy of Museum Maluku Negri Belanda

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Monica Akihary: Singing the past to life


Sara Veal

Twenty years ago, Monica Akihary visited Indonesia for the first time, with high-school sweetheart Neils Brouwer, to study sculpture and batik. The trip inspired her to become a professional singer.

Today she is still making beautiful music with Brouwer in world jazz band Boi Akih, drawing on her Moluccan roots, adding a contemporary twist to old folk tales.

“I was at Asri, in Yogya; I came to study there for a year,” says Akihary, an ageless beauty with wild curls.

“Our house was across from a school that taught traditional gamelan music of Java. We also traveled around. When I came back, I was like, oh, these things are so beautiful, and it really inspired us for the rest of our whole lives.”

Akihary and guitarist Brouwer are the center of Netherlands-based Boi Akih (“Princess Akih” in the language of Haruku Island), which plays in a range of set ups, from duo to six-piece band. Earlier this month, they performed in Jakarta, Ambon and Bandung.

Akihary’s grandparents on both her mother’s and father’s sides emigrated from Ambon to Holland in the 1950s, fleeing the tense political situation. Despite living in diaspora, Akihary’s relatives made sure she was well-versed in Moluccan heritage, language and culture.

“They taught me as much as they could about the socially important things in Indonesia,” she says, listing respecting one’s elders, remembering ancestors and always making sure there is food in the house among the most important lessons.

This meant that her first visit to her homeland, where she still has countless relatives, was like returning home, although she found, to her amusement, that her vocabulary was old-fashioned, reflecting the 1950s language her parents had used.

Language is essential to Akihary, who can speak Dutch, Indonesian, English, German and French. She also sings and writes songs in the language of Haruku Island, where her father is from, because “this language … is very beautiful to sing in”, she says.

The Haruku language’s soft vowels and melodic syllables perfectly set off her rich vocals, forming the most distinctive aspect of Boi Akih’s sound. In fact, her confident, expressive use of the near-extinct language is doing much to rejuvenate it.

“Because I’m writing new stories, it is alive again!” she says.

“I’m working with two universities, one in the Netherlands and one in Australia, Monash University, and there are two professors who are keeping all these words that I have written, also the new ones, so they have noticed there is new development in this language.”

Bringing the past to life and retelling it in an original way is another characteristic of Akihary’s music. She once found old recordings of Moluccan music in a Dutch museum, which were immediately familiar, as she had grown up with them. She and Brouwer rearranged the compositions, incorporating jazzy improvisation.

“Of course people will say, oh, these are old, but actually, the nice thing with old music is that you can listen to it, and especially because music develops, you can think, hey, what can I do with it?” she says.

Indonesia continues to inspire Akihary, who includes techniques from the wayang kulit and traditional Balinese dance in her performances. As well as the lagu lagu (traditional Moluccan folk songs from the 1920s to 1940s), she is constantly stimulated by the archipelago nation’s incredible diversity.

“It’s about daily life. It’s about the way I see Indonesia, because Indonesia’s so different. All the islands have their own unique things, the way the people are living together, all the different languages, all the different makanan *cuisines*,” she says.

She notes that even Jakarta is more musical than people than realize, picking out the call of an unknown bird cutting through the ever-present sound of traffic and hum of bustling activity. All this she can use.

“I can hear so many things that I can translate into music,” she says.

Akihary’s music also reflects her preoccupation with living harmoniously with the environment and preserving it for future generations. One of her songs is about a fisherman on a quest for a rare fish, but he throws it back into the sea after he has caught it, rather than eat it, so others may be able to see its beauty.

“Music can do a lot of good, positive things for people, like make people happy,” she says. “Or maybe people will cry and feel sad because I have somehow touched them.”

She observes that her music seems to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers, with audiences everywhere responding regardless of whether they can understand her lyrics.

Boi Akih has toured all over the world, including South Africa, France, Germany, Italy and Mexico, as well as Indonesia.

“*Indonesians* are one of the few audiences that really get into live music . The first time we came here; people reacted immediately, in the moment. In Europe, it’s like OK, they like it, they will do like a little applause but very carefully, and then at the end they will applaud.

“But here it was immediately and at the end, because you do nothing, they will be quiet, and that’s so funny. And it is, because that’s the way it is, and it’s realistic,” she says, laughing.

Akihary is currently working on a new Boi Akih album, which will be released by a German label, as well as developing a contribution for a poetry anthology with a classical Greek theme.

However, rather than thinking too much about the future, she prefers to focus on the now.

“We just play, and if things are coming our way, we try to do something with it, and of course you have to look a little bit in the future, but most of the time, you just prepare for your concerts, and prepare your music, and try to grow your music, and see what happens.”

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Moluccan princess and her merry men enchant


Sara Veal

Jazz-loving Jakartans were treated to a truly magical evening at Erasmus Huis, Kuningan, on Thursday as Boi Akih filled the amphitheatre with vibrant melodies and rhythms.

The performance artfully blended singer Monica Akihary’s soaring vocals with guitarist Neils Brouwer’s elegantly daring compositions, and boasted a range of influences from Moluccan folk songs to European classical music.

The Netherlands-based band also included Eric Calmes on bass guitar, Owen Hart Jr on drums and Maarten Ornstein on saxophone and clarinet.

Akihary and Brouwer, who are partners in life as well as music, constitute the heart of Boi Akih (or “Princess Akih”, in the language spoken on the Indonesian island of Haruku, part of the Moluccan archipelago), which, since 1996, has performed in a range of setups, from duo to six-piece band. Thursday’s quintet was the debut of this particular incarnation of Boi Akih.

The free event was organized by Erasmus Huis, which also brought Boi Akih to Jakarta last year for the Jakarta Jazz Festival. Today they will be performing at Taman Budaya Provinsi Maluku in Ambon, a surprise gig for the city’s birthday celebrations, followed by a workshop and concert in Bandung on Sept. 9.

“We felt it was time to bring them back to Ambon, where their music originated from,” said Paul J. A. M. Peters, counselor for press and cultural affairs and director of Erasmus Huis.

While they are best known in their homeland, where they are regular performers at Amsterdam’s legendary jazz hotspot Bimhuis, Boi Akih has a deeply intertwined history with Indonesia.

Akihary’s father was born on Haruku, a small island next to Ambon, which led her to develop the rare ability to write and sing in the near-extinct Harukan language. Its soft vowels and melodic syllables complement her warm vocals, allowing her to showcase her magnificent range, the most distinct feature of Boi Akih’s dynamic sound.

Twenty years ago, Akihary and Brouwer visited Indonesia for the first time, to study in Asri, Yogyakarta, which furthered their joint interest in traditional Indonesian music. Boi Akih’s Moluccan heritage came full circle in 2006, when they performed for thousands at the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Ambon, at the Lampangan Merdeka.

Over the course of Thursday’s performance, Boi Akih relentlessly enthralled the crowd of hundreds, creating a colorful, emotionally diverse universe, featuring a dozen or so numbers from Boi Akih’s three most recent albums, Uwai i (2004), Lagu Lagu (2005) and Yalelol (2007), which boasted Harukan, Moluccan-Malayan, Indonesian and English lyrics.

The set included traditional Moluccan folk songs from the 1920s to 1940s that were rearranged by Brouwer, as well as wholly original compositions, all of which reflected Boi Akih’s fascination with Indonesian culture past and present, and desire to live harmoniously with the environment.

The barefoot Akihary, clad in a flowing dress, immediately beguiled the audience in Indonesian before opening the show with a soulful Harukan number. She used her voice as an instrument, smoothly traveling from husky tones to notes of dazzling clarity, chasing her sounds with her hands, as if to extend her range even further.

“Although I don’t understand the words, the music touches my heart. It’s something in Monica’s voice, her personality,” said Dirk de Jong, communications officer for the Netherland-based IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre based in the Netherlands, and Akihary and Brouwer’s neighbor for 14 years.

He is traveling with the band and documenting the tour on dijoh2o.wordpress.com.

Despite the power of Akihary’s vocals, she never overpowered her band mates. Her voice wrapped around the instruments, following some notes and elevating others. The romantic and musical chemistry between Akihary and Brouwer was in full force, as each intuitively responded to the other’s stylings.

Although it was the first time for this particular lineup comprising Calmes, Hart Jr and Ornstein, the improvised interplay between the instruments was organic, and each performer had the opportunity to let loose and take center stage in thrilling solos. Drummer Hart Jr, the newest Boi Akih collaborator, drew particular admiration with his exuberant beats and outgoing manner, dousing himself with water after a particularly frenetic sequence.

Akihary never forgot the audience either, always responding to the mood, whether Boi Akih inspired delight, laughter or even tears. Many of the audience members found themselves unavoidably tapping and nodding to the funkier numbers, and took little encouragement to join in when Akihary extended an invitation to sing along on the final song.

When the night ended, the audience gave Boi Akih a standing ovation. Peters presented the band with Erasmus gifts and they responded in kind with a newly printed Boi Akih T-shirt.

The evening won Boi Akih new devotees. Wini Andreini, a Telco business analyst, first heard of Boi Akih when she learned of the event via a colleague’s mailing list. After Googling them and watching their videos on YouTube, she knew she had to see them live.

“I never knew that there were such Indonesian songs that could be sung in this way,” she said.

Boi Akih are likely to return to Indonesia in October, for the Ambon Jazz Plus Festival. They are also working on a new album, soon to be released by a German label. A special edition of their Lagu Lagu CD has recently been released in Indonesia and can be purchased from www.wartajazz.com.

For more information, visit www.myspace.com/boiakih or www.boiakih.com.


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