Barack Obama and Indonesian Music

For many Americans, the name Barack Obama brings to mind an influential leader, a brilliant orator, and a social justice champion. For most Indonesians, however, the 44th president of the United States holds a revered place in their hearts- the man who, during his childhood in Jakarta, soaked up the sounds and melodies of Indonesian music.

Born to a Kenyan father and an American mother, Barack Obama spent four of his formative years living with his mother and Indonesian stepfather in Jakarta. During this time, the young Obama was exposed to a wide range of local Indonesian music, from gamelan to kroncong. He was particularly fond of the traditional Balinese music, which he described in his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, as having a “haunting, almost hypnotic effect.”

Thus, Obama has a special connection with Indonesia and Indonesian music. As noted, Obama spent four formative years in Indonesia as a child, and it had a lasting influence on his life. Obama always had a special affinity for Indonesian music- throughout his time in office, he exploited every opportunity to express his admiration and appreciation for the country’s vibrant culture.

The president’s love for music has been evident ever since he was a young man- it only grew by the day. From hip-hop to jazz, Obama has always been a fan of all kinds of music. In one of his speeches, President Obama even said that music has the power to bridge our differences and bring people together. In later days, President Obama showed his keen appreciation for Indonesian music. During his visit to Indonesia in 2010, the president was seen taking part in traditional Indonesian music performances. His appreciation for Indonesian music was also evident from his statements to the media.

In a local radio interview, Obama once stated that he "loved traditional Indonesian music and the modern pop songs created in Indonesia". He was particularly impressed with the Sundanese gamelan music and said that it was "absolutely beautiful". Obama's admiration for Indonesian music has excited many, particularly the younger generation. His appreciation for such music has resonated with the youth and helped spread the message of peace and understanding.

When President Obama visited Indonesia in 2010, he was invited by the Indonesian government to witness a unique musical performance. During the visit, he enjoyed traditional Indonesian music, known as “Gamelan.” This is played on percussion instruments such as cymbals, drums and gongs. Gamelan has been around since the 7th century; it is still popular today. It has a unique sound and features a combination of rhythms and melodies. In addition to Gamelan, Obama enjoyed other genres of Indonesian music. From the hauntingly beautiful melody of the kacapi suling (zither and flute) to the energetic beats of angklung (bamboo instruments) to the vibrant sounds of the orchestra Javanese gamelan gong kebyar, the president really enjoyed his experience with Indonesia’s rich musical heritage.

The experience was a special one for Obama; the president stated that it was one of the most memorable moments of his visit. He spoke about how the music touched him, saying, “There was something about the beauty of this music, its complexity and its directness, that spoke to me.” And the visit had other benefits. President Obama gained a better understanding of Indonesian culture; he took part in discussions with musicians and other cultural figures. It gave him a greater understanding of the culture and its music.

President Obama's love for Indonesian music wasn't just a passing phase. In 2012, he invited several Balinese gamelan musicians to perform at the White House in honour of the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He hosted a variety of Indonesian musical performances, including gamelan, karawitan, and kroncong, at the White House during his tenure. He has been spotted at music festivals and concerts across the United States featuring Indonesian music. This included the Indonesian Music Festival in Los Angeles and the Global Music Festival in Washington, D.C.

Interestingly, Barack Obama’s admiration of Indonesian music is something that has been transferred to his whole family. His youngest daughter, Sasha, was seen wearing a traditional Javanese costume during her visit to the country in 2014. This indicates the deep connection the Obama family has with Indonesian culture and its music.