Monday, March 05, 2007

Mic, Bikini, Action!!

On a couple of recent taxi journeys past both Plaza Semanggi and Pasar Festival on Jl. Rasuna Said, I noticed huge illuminated signs outside proclaiming these malls the home of Vizta Inul: Karaoke Keluarga (family karaoke).

Now young Inul was once just a dime a dozen singer of Dangdut, the Bollywood inflected pop music so beloved of Indonesians the Archipelago over. She had all the requisite attributes of a Dangdut singer: a soaring voice, an ample d├ęcolletage and a 48 hours non-stop in the salon hair style. What set Inul above the herd and catapulted her to nationwide fame though was her suggestive hip thrusting dance, known as the drill. She would writhe around on stage as if her posterior had been wired up by PLN, making Elvis the pelvis look like an Anglican bishop in the process.

Muslim clerics were suitably unimpressed and promptly declared her act forbidden. On top of that, self-proclaimed King of Dangdut music, Rhoma Irama, in a sudden attack of religious conservatism, also declared her a pernicious influence on the nation's morals, although many Indonesians sensed more than a touch of professional jealousy in his protestations. Around this time, the Draconian Porno-Aksi bill started hitting the headlines and our heroine suddenly found herself transformed into a poster child for free-speech libertarianism. Inul (real name Ainul Rokminah) was recast as Indonesia's Larry Flynt, the publisher of the famous US "Jazz" magazine Hustler who was politicized into becoming a free-speech campaigner and who railed against both the censorious voices of conservatism arrayed against him and the country’s hypocritical politicians.

Our heroine seems to have dropped out of the headlines in the last year or so, but it seems that her notoriety lives on through her chain of seven karaoke lounges and indeed it's nice to see her trying to create something more permanent out of her allotted 15 minutes of fame. Her advice to young Indonesian women? " Be Independent. Be yourself. Get a good education. I wanted to be a doctor but had to leave school after junior high because there wasn't enough money. Sadly women are not respected by Indonesian men,” she told The Post’s Duncan Graham last year. Wise words indeed and in order to lend our support to such noble aspirations, several friends and I put on our best stretch Lycra trousers and headed to the Inul Vizta Karaoke lounge in Pasar Festival for a good old singsong.

After booking a room (Rp.80,000 per hour) we filed down a corridor, past a huge picture of Ms. Rokminah herself and a board proclaiming messages of support such as, "Inul yes, Rhoma no," in felt tipped pen. We piled into a lounge and arranged ourselves on the couches, ready for some hot Karaoke action. Cheesy multicolored disco lights were spinning agitatedly on the ceiling and Inul's sylph like form beamed out at us from a TV screen. We pressed a few buttons..... nothing. We buzzed for help and instead of women in bikinis being sent in to distract us from the technical faults in true Indonesian Karaoke style, we instead played host to a swarthy young chap in a Honda bomber jacket who attempted to jumpstart our karaoke machine. "It's broken Mister,” he declared five minutes later.

No matter, we relocated to a fully functioning suite, ordered the obligatory pitcher of beer and began singing in earnest. We managed to find plenty of tunes in the huge 25,000 plus song library to keep us occupied and attacked the two radio mics and battery-powered tambourine (don't ask) for all they were worth (probably not much). A couple of hours are usually enough for a good Karaoke session. If you start to flag towards the end you can always find new inspiration by trying to sing the Sex Pistols Anarchy in the UK in an Indian accent or dancing on the table. Vizta was quite enjoyably high-tech too, what with its wireless keyboards, automatic video shooting and room to room chatting facilities.

Vizta genuinely lives up to its claim to be a family Karaoke lounge. Karaoke is a Japanese creation and in Japan, it’s for everyone. In Tokyo, Karaoke is indisputably about singing as opposed to the sleaze and sex that have been overlaid onto the craze in Indonesia. In this respect, Inul should be championed instead of vilified by the anti-porn Muslim conservative movement for her sterling work in returning Karaoke to its respectable, non-erotic roots. She’s a true Indonesian Idol as far as I’m concerned. The only sexual references that you will find in a Vizta lounge are on its cocktail menu. Yes, Sex on the Beach, a Screaming Orgasm or the wonderfully misspelled Flamming Bikini can be yours to sup on while you sing for a mere Rp.50,000 a pop. Well, there's only so far you can take respectability I suppose; I mean who would want to drink a Flaming Jilbab?

Simon Pitchforth