Thursday, July 27, 2017

Listening to Indonesian ska band Alaska-Q’s debut album, Bertemankata”.

Listening to Indonesian ska band Alaska-Q’s debut album, Bertemankata”.

I listen to rock music and all its sub-genres but the styles I really love are punk, ska, shoegazer/dream pop, and rockabilly/jump swing.

Good friend Jon Fishbone of Bad Omen knows my love for ska that following a recent trip to Indonesia, he got me this CD of this band, Alaska-Q.

Titled “Bertemankata”, the eight-track album, is sung entirely in English and has elements of jazz and cha cha that were infused with ska.

I got in touch with Alaska-Q’s lead singer, Silvester Kia Rebong, who incidentally is only remaining member of the band when it was formed in Jakarta in 1999. What follows is our conversation about the band and the Indonesian ska scene.

The band was formed when the founding members were in high school in the late 1990s. “Ska was booming in Indonesia at that time,” recalled Silvester. “But it is bigger now than ever.”

How big? Well, they have the Jamaican Ska Festival where every band that performs has put out an album, EP, or single. That’s a pretty good achievement considering it isn’t easy to put out an album.

There’s the Jakarta Ska Foundation whose mission is to put out all the original music composed and recorded by all the outfits from their nation’s capital. They have workshops where they teach the history of ska and Jamaican music so people know the roots and they can get into the pioneers such as Desmond Dekker, the Skatalites, and Prince Buster to name a few. The foundation also organizes workshops, exhibitions, and radio shows. It’s both fascinating and incredible!

Alaska-Q takes their name from the word “alaskaki” which means “footwear”. Footwear from sandals, boots, loafers, and others as a general term. “We wanted to add the word ‘ska’ to our name, hence, ‘Alaska-Q’, explained Silvester. The band’s music also adds elements of rock steady, reggae, but all within the ska style.

The band has seen numerous line-up changes through the years. And in this time, they released their first single in 2001, their first EP (titled “Something’s Changed”) and album in 2014. The band hopes to release their second full-length album in time for their 20th anniversary (or even before that if possible).

Listening to “Bertemankata”, I really love it because it’s so very old school ska. It doesn’t sound like the Two-Tone movement or even Third Wave. As for the vocals, there are no faux British accents here. They sing as they are and who they are.

My beef with this is the track listing. The tracks listed on the album jacket are correct, but when you upload the songs, the titles do not match. So you have to re-name all of them in the order listed on the jacket.

It’s a minor quibble. It doesn’t detract from enjoying the album that starts off with the instrumental track, “Latinos Fabulous”.

Up next is the ode to climate change, “Love the Earth” that sounds like a love song but it’s actually a warning for all.

The weirdly-titled “I Shouldn’t to Know You” finds both vocalists, Silvester and Cika Landis, taking you back to the Terry Hall and Rhoda Dakar duet on “More Specials”.

“From the Bottom of My Heart’ is a slow love song.

“Our Land Not for Sale” has me thinking of “Ghost Town” with the keyboards taking the lead. This is a statement song with the band referring to something.

“Wind and Sky” is another slow song featuring both vocalists. It’s all right.

The next one, “12th Sound” is one of my fave tracks. A dub/reggae-type song. You feel the Jamaican vibe here. It had me thinking of my love for Burning Spear.

“Rocksteady Beat” closes out the album. Not bad.

It’s a pensive album. Not one that gets you racing to the dancefloor like Put3ska’s rollicking debut. But it’s not bad. I like the album a lot. In fact, it has me asking Silvester to point me to more of their releases as well as other Indonesian ska bands. And that is what music is supposed to do. Break down barriers and check out new frontiers.

Looking forward to the second full-length release. 

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