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From street to studio: Indonesia buskers are dreaming big

Street performers have struggled to make a living in the Indonesian capital since so-called busking was banned

Published: Updated:

Every day, Jakarta street musician Jamaluddin jumps on a bus and plays his guitar to earn a few coins, and hopefully one day get noticed by a recording company.

“I have the desire to be a famous musician or singer, but the way to go is very hard. Just doing one recording usually is very expensive,” Jamaluddin, also known as “Zedi,” told Reuters after a recent bus trip.

Street performers like Zedi have struggled to make a living in the Indonesian capital since so-called busking was banned in 2007. Now, they are getting help from a music production company set up by a fellow street performer.

The Institut Musik Jalanan (IMJ), or Street Musicians’ Institute, says it is Indonesia’s first production company to offer music classes, access to a recording studio and assist aspirants to find that showcase their talents.

“I want to change the negative assumptions people have about street musicians. If they are given a chance they can produce, just like professionals,” said Andi Malewa, a 34-year-old former busker who created IMJ with two friends in 2014.

The Institute helps musicians develop songwriting skills and teaches them how to perform on stage and record in a studio.

It has produced songs and albums for 15 performers since 2014, and distributes their material through online platforms such as Google’s YouTube, SoundCloud and Apple’s iTunes.

Malewa said he gives 80 percent of the profits to the artists in the hope that they will soon become independent and succeed on their own. He also arranges live performances for them at local cafes and other music venues.

Nancy Felicia, manager of a Jakarta cafe that hires IMJ artists, said the acts are popular and good for her cafe business.

“They get a positive response from our guests,” she said. “Sometimes they sing together.”