Films, Indonesia, Music

Exodus: An Epic Musical Odyssey into The World of Indo-Rock

Choy Ka Fai’s film for the Sydney Biennale

Exodus, 2024 , 18:52, Single Channel By Choy Ka Fai in collaboration Raja Kirik and Dew Arum Dolalak Group A CosmicWander Production@2024 - l Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from Goethe-Institut Australia.

As part of EastEast’s ongoing collaboration with the 2024 Sydney Biennale, we held a screening of Choy Ka Fai’s film Exodus. The project brings together colonial cosplay, electronic and traditional elements from Indonesian folklore, and a history of the genre of Indo-Rock, expressed through music videos with TikTok stars the Dewi Arum Girls and interviews with a variety of knowledgeable musicians.  

Gathered around the campfire one hot Javanese night in the 1930s, a contingent of Dutch soldiers drunkenly sang and danced while a group of Indonesian farmers watched from afar, mimicking the men's strange, rhythmic movements. And so, Dolalak was born. Something of a cultural constellation, Dolalak performers cosplay as Dutch military regalia for trance-like performances of traditional Javanese dance, melodic Islamic poems and songs of ancestral spirits. Popular among young Indonesian TikTok influencers who dance Dolalak to the tunes of Indonesian pop music—Dangdut Koplo—the ritual reverberates from within a deeply layered history.

The same rich source resulted in an Indonesian band being hailed as the greatest live act in mid-century Europe some 20 years after the development of Dolalak. Following the Dutch failure to re-invade Indonesia after the Second World War, a number of Dutch-speaking Indonesian musicians, primarily from the Maluku Islands, were exiled to the Netherlands. In the same way that Dolalak rose from a colonial crash of cultures, Indo-Rock emerged in the 1950s/1960s when these musicians began to meld Western, Indonesian, and Kroncong (a specific genre in Indonesia played on Portuguese-introduced instruments) music. This fusion gave rise to leading bands like the Tielman Brothers, who reached stardom as icons of Dutch and West German rock 'n' roll.

In Exodus, the Dewi Arum Girls (TikTok stars) dance Dolalak to a remix of the Tielman Brothers, meditating on the colonial resonances that linger, as if they were spirits, in the vibrations of Dolalak, Indo-Rock and contemporary digital culture.

All tags
,  Music
Choy Ka Fai
Berlin-based Singaporean artist. His multidisciplinary art practice situates itself at the intersection of dance, media art and performance. Through research expeditions, pseudo-scientific experiments and documentary performances, Ka Fai appropriates technologies and narratives to imagine new futures of the human body.