Soekarno, Music, and Decolonization

By Citra Aryandari

Since Indonesia’s proclamation of independence was read on 17th August 1945, it started the new chapter along with the spirit. The ambition of escaping from Dutch colonialism for 3.5 Century long was always been given by Soekarno, Indonesia’s first president. Along with the process of developing a stronger and bigger nation, Soekarno has realized that westerners are always having the desire to take control of the parts of the world. Hence, the independence day is no more the validation of independence since the colonial will always create an economy and ideological dependency. This condition appears as Neo-colonialism-Imperialism or Nekolim -in Bahasa-.

           Neo-colonialism such as a dream for several former colonial countries as well as Indonesia. The effects of European colonialism give the colonial country two options, either live with enslavement or fight for sovereignty (Sartre et al. 2005). During the Soekarno era, Indonesia has got some of the economic assistances that take an effect on dependency to assist countries, and eventually, it makes Indonesia lacks the knowledge to handle. According to that, Soekarno took an action called berdikari (berdiri di kaki sendiri) or ‘do it ourselves and loudly resisted the Nekolim practice along by expressing the fundamental of national personality. Other than that, neo-colonialism also can be meant as capitalism practice, globalization, and imperialism culture for controlling the alteration of the former colonial country from political and military controls directly and it included economy, culture, and language. Generally, cultural collaboration, sciences, and former colonial country promotion affect the corporation and arising the markets. Thus, it surely will make an impact on the culture (Horvath 1972).

           On the Indonesia independence day celebration, precisely on 17th August 1959, as president, Soekarno expressed the way he strongly against “ngak-ngik-ngok” music, tipsy literature, and crazy dances through his speech. Soekarno assumed, that kind of culture is not suitable for our nation’s personality and will ruin Indonesia’s cultural orders. By that time, Soekarno was offering to replace the dances with the lenso dance from Maluku. On other hand, he also disallowed the ‘Radio Republik Indonesia’ to play any of rock n roll songs, such as cha-cha, mambo, etc since October 1959.

           Around the 1950s, people in Indonesia loved fast tempo songs as rock n roll genres by Elvis Presley. These songs showed throughout international media, such as ABC Australia, Hilversum Belanda, Voice of America (VOA) that massively spread out the “ngak-ngik-ngok” music. Surely, it affected a lot of teenagers by following the path to making band groups called orkes at that time. However, this condition has made Soekarno worry about this nation’s construction since he was afraid the traditional songs would be replaced by the western songs and lastly bring up neo-colonialism in a different way.

           1950s era separated three blocks of the world, those were (1) West Capitalist, it included United State of America, Western Europe, Japan; (2) East Socialist, represented by Uni Soviet, Eastern Europe, China; (3) The third world part involved the former colonial countries which have been recently getting their independence and did not take sides among the other two big blocks. They have been determined to against the new form of colonialism (neo-colonialism) and expressed to the world of political aspiration that put them as ‘undeniable-global actors’ (Nartey and Ernanda 2020). Throughout the Asia-Africa conference (1955) the third world part has been promoting the economy-culture collaboration, and resist USA and Uni Soviet and the other imperial countries colonialism as well as the neo-colonialism in Bandung, Indonesia (Lay 2018).

           Towards Africa-Asia conference Dasa-Warsa or 10 th celebration, Soekarno wrote a song called ‘Mari Bersuka Ria’ or Let’s Have Fun -in english- in Lenso rhythm as rejection sign to western culture industry which can be preserve the neo-colonialism. This song was sung by Bing Slamet, Rita Zahara, Titik Puspa, and Nien Lesmana accompanied by Jack Lesmana orchestra. Around 1965, The Indonesian Music Company Irama LTD published along with “dipersembahkan oleh para seniman Indonesia dan karyawan IRAMA bertalian dengan DASA-WARSA KONFERENSI AFRIKA-ASIA” or “presented by Indonesian artist and IRAMA staffs regarding AFRIKA-ASIA conference DASA-WARSA” and “Saja restui. Setudju diedarkan, Soekarno 14/4’65” or “I approve. Allowed publish, Soekarno 14/4’65”.

           ‘Mari Bersuka Ria’ song was brought in lenso rhythm on 14th April 1965 as Soekarno’s expression of Indonesia cultural construction. This Maluku’s rhythm is approved as one of the rhythms that have the capability for getting rid of rock n roll effects on Indonesian. The constancy of lenso rhythm along with their simple percussion plays encourages people to move their bodies and dance. Furthermore, the approval from Soekarno that was written down on the cover has to legitimize ‘Mari Bersuka Ria’ to sing and dance by the whole of people in Indonesia.

           The lyrics on the ‘Mari Bersuka Ria’ song suited with the vibes of that time, which the condition of the Indonesian economy was in poverty and hunger. Amazingly it opened with rhyme:

           “Siapa bilang bapak dari Blitar,

           Bapak kita dari Prambanan

           Siapa bilang rakyat kita lapar,

           Indonesia banyak makanan”


“Who said bapak from Blitar,

           Our bapak from Prambanan

           Who said we are in hunger,

           Indonesia has many food to be eaten”.

It seems like a hope of having many foods, although it cannot make them full, at least it can move and dance their bodies that could replace their hunger with happiness.

           As the leader of the nation that eventually has its independence after being colonized for 3.5 centuries, Soekarno actively contributed to Indonesia’s cultural construction. He ruled what can be heard and what was not on sounds and voices for people in Indonesia. However, Soekarno also shouted “Mari kita bergembira sukaria bersama hilangkan sedih dan duka; Mari nyanyi bersama lenyapkan duka lara; Bergembira semua la…la…la…la… Mari Bersuka Ria” or “Let’s be happy and joy together, get away from sadness and sorrow; Let’s sing and get rid of the sorrow; All be happy la…la…la… Let’s have fun” for all Indonesian people. (Camar, 2021)



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Lay, Cornelis. 2018. “The Bandung Spirit: Nation State and Democracy.” Journal of Indonesian Social Sciences and Humanities 6 (1).

Nartey, Mark, and Ernanda. 2020. “Formulating Emancipatory Discourses and Reconstructing Resistance: A Positive Discourse Analysis of Sukarno’s Speech at the First Afro-Asian Conference.” Critical Discourse Studies 17 (1).

Sartre, Jean Paul, Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer, and Terry McWilliams. 2005. Colonialism and Neocolonialism. Colonialism and Neocolonialism.