Streetside Music at the Mead

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The word jalanan means “streetside” in Bahasa Indonesia, and in the film of the same name screening at the 2014 Margaret Mead Film Festival on Friday, October 24,  director Daniel Ziv offers an intimate view of three “streetside” lives in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Jakarta, the film tells us, is an overgrown city of 12 million people. The divide between rich and poor is stark, visually delineated by children begging along the clogged roads not far from showy, brightly lit indoor malls filled with luxury shops. 

Countless people live mainly on the street, and an estimated 7,000 make their livings as buskers—street musicians that literally sing for their supper often playing on tightly packed buses that carry people along the busy streets.


Jalanan follows three of these buskers over a period of six years: young Boni, his dreadlocked friend Ho, and Titi, a young woman with a brilliant smile.


Boni, slim and fastidious, writes songs and plays guitar and harmonica for his livelihood. We meet him where he sleeps: under a bridge in a sewer tunnel, where he and his wife have access to a dry bed and fresh water. “Living on the streets,” says Boni, “you’ve got to stay clean.” Boni’s songs are folky, sounding warm, tuneful, and a bit Dylanesque, though with lyrics about the ills of Indonesian society (Fathers all have migraines/Mothers are in despair.) 


Ho, meanwhile, is single and worried about a girl. Scruffier than clean-cut Boni, Ho, with dreadlocks and an ever-present cigarette, adopts the pose of world-weary cynic. When he sings on the buses, it is often the blues, in a wail. 


Of the three, Titi, who hails from the countryside where her family still lives, at first comes across as the most together. When we meet her, she is playing a song about Allah and making halfway decent money—sometimes 10 dollars at a time.  “This song is cool,” she exults. “A real earner!” Titi looks modern, ambitious—but is something holding her back? 

Music provides the entrée into the lives of these three Indonesians; each of them is never far from their guitar—but the director, who lives in Jakarta, burrows intimately into their lives beyond music. By the end of the feature-length film, which is nominated for a 2014 Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award, many things will have changed for the three. As Boni puts it, in his unassumingly poetic way: “That’s fate, life keeps changing.”  

Jalanan is co-presented with the Asia Society. 

There is more music at the Mead!

Jalanan screens on Friday, October 24, at 10 pm, along with a four-minute slice of all-female mariachi on the New York City subway platform in Flor de Toloache.  

My Prairie Homea road movie and coming-of-age story about Canadian transgender musician Rae Spoon, screens Saturday, October 25, at 10 pm. 

Dr. Sarmast’s Music School, which tracks the development of the National Institute of Music, founded in 2009 after the toppling of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, screens Sunday, October 26, at 4 pm.

¡Kachkaniraqmi! (I am still here!) screens on Sunday, October 26, at 3:30 pm. Taking its name from a greeting in Ayacucho Quechua, a Peruvian dialect, the film explores the musical traditions in every nook and cranny of a diverse nation.