BAKKARA, Indonesia – In the remote Indonesian town of Bakkara, the Siero Chamber Orchestra of Asturias (OCAS), from Spain’s autonomous community of Asturias, traveled amid farms and rice paddies to the local school to run a music workshop and perform traditional Batak music.
As the band arrived at the school, the children – shy but excited – rushed to the group, surrounded the 40 musicians and looked at the violins, trombones, double basses, trumpets and other instruments that broke down cultural barriers from the first moment.
OCAS has just performed a “flashmob” – a spontaneous performance in which everyone does the same dance moves – in the Bakti Raja district of Lake Toba, in the north of Sumatra island, as part of its annual tour of cooperation called “Vinculos.”
“It is a project of cooperation, a solidarity project, an exercise in multiculturalism,” the director of the orchestra, Manuel Paz, told EFE.
Later, concert and music workshops completed a small part of the program that saw the band travel for three weeks around Lake Toba, the home region of the Batak people.
Since 2005, OCAS has visited 15 countries in Latin America, Europe and North Africa. This year it was the turn of Southeast Asia to host a tour that has received a significant financial contribution from the Indonesian government.
Indonesia has more than 1,000 ethnic groups and a population totaling around 260 million people.
“The difference for Indonesia is that the response here has surprised us. It’s huge and general, both from the authorities and the people,” said Paz who, like many of the band’s members, has taken dozens of photos with the locals every day.
In the first part of the Toba tour, Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture Muhadjir Effendy attended two of the concerts held in Toba Samosir district.
After listening to OCAS, the minister stressed the importance of “establishing a mutual cultural understanding and values” and the need to “work together to improve the situation of those who need it.”
Some of the activities to which the minister referred included educational concerts for children with disabilities or autism, and the donation of instruments, thanks to the SEUR Foundation, as well as of clothing and school materials through the company Joluvi.
The collaboration with local musicians also represented another feature of the “Vinculos” tour, in addition to its “flashmob” shows, which have gone viral on the internet with songs such as “La Bilirrubina,” performed in the Dominican Republic, and “Zorba’s Dance” in Greece.
For Lake Toba, the cultural mix came from the traditional musicians Mataniari (meaning “sun” in the Batak language), who accompanied the orchestra at most of their concerts.
Rithaony Hutajulu, one of Mataniari’s singers, said that despite having rehearsed just a couple of times, the arrangement of traditional Batak music was “really good.”
“With the groups that we are collaborating with, there is no problem, as on every other occasion. When we speak of music, we speak the same language,” Paz said.
This year, the possibility of coming to Indonesia came about thanks to the Indonesian pianist Adra Karim and the Asturian violinist Carmen Caballero, who managed to attract the Ministry of Education and Culture’s attention.
“I really wanted (Karim) to know what it feels like in the project. It’s not just a tour with friends or family. It’s a cooperation project that makes you open your mind,” Caballero said.