One of the perks of running a website like MyIndo.com is the rising number of friendships that I've forged with total strangers over the internet who share my passion and interests in Indonesia.
These contacts come from all walks of life and from every conceivable country, like for instance an assistant professor from America who specializes in ethnomusicology and has written several working papers on Indonesian music trends. I also know an Australian lady who teaches Bahasa Indonesia to school students in Perth fueled by nothing but fascination for her neighboring country. And then there is that nice chap who runs Indahnesia.com, whom I am sure needs no further introduction.
Peter jamming with a group of newly made friends in Indonesia, playing a range of improvised songs from the Beatles to Ari Lasso & Melly Goeslaw.
Then there are the countless people of various nationalities who have some personal connection to Indonesia - I get a steady stream of email from them as others enthusiastically participate in online discussions on MyIndo.com. Add to that bubbling mix the lurkers, people who visit this website but choose only to take in what is being offered and leave silently without a trace - but surely not without returning.
While many acquaintances come and go, I still manage to constantly keep in touch with a few individuals whose fixation on Indonesia is far too overwhelming for them to limit their communication to just one email.
One such person is a friendly man from the Netherlands named Peter Fennema. He is truly one of the more unique Indonesianists that I've met, in that he enjoys creating his own renditions of Indonesian music! Indiscriminate between traditional and contemporary songs, he meticulously plays them on his guitar and sings in nearly perfect Bahasa Indonesia. Peter transcribes and plays the music by ear, much to the frustration of his fans who plead him for guitar chord tabs. He would then upload his video recordings on his personal website and YouTube while openly welcoming all curious visitors to give him a listen.
I am always in awe of creative and musically-inclined people, and Peter is definitely rare in the expression of his hobby, given his background and origins. Burning with intrigue, I decided to ask the singing Dutch man a few inevitable questions regarding his unique pastime:
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Peter Fennema, I was born in the city of Groningen in the Netherlands. I grew up in Uden in the south of the country. Some people think that I'm Indo (Indonesian mixed with Caucasian blood), but I'm 100% Dutch.
During high school I was already playing music in local pop bands. At age 18, I moved to the city of Enschede to start my electronics study at the university over there. I had a room in a student flat on the campus. Soon after arriving there I met other students and musicians, and within weeks I was playing in a new band already. After graduation I have had a few different jobs.
Now I work as a software engineer for a research company in Enschede. I have worked for this company for quite a few years already. My home is about 5 minutes walking distance from my office.
You can see that music has always been a very important part of my life, I love making music. My other passion is travelling, especially to Indonesia. Oh, I almost forgot something very important: Indonesian food!
How did you become so interested in Indonesia?
"This is what happens when a bule appears in a small town in Indonesia. Hello Mister!" - Peter Fennema
A few years after graduation we (my girlfriend Lucie and I) went to South East Asia to travel for a year. Indonesia was our main destination, and it appeared to be a good choice.
Before we left we studied Bahasa Indonesia for about half a year. We flew to Bangkok and travelled down South through Malaysia and Singapore to Indonesia. We stayed in Indonesia for 8 months!
We visited Java, Bali, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Maluku (Ambon, Banda, Kei and Tanimbar). The diversity of the country is huge, so many different cultures and traditions.
If you travel in Indonesia you are very close to the local people, especially when you're using public transport and when you're in remote areas. We've encountered so many warm hearted friendly people, so many lovely smiles, that Indonesia began to feel like our home, even though we did not have a residence.
I think I can say that this year was the number one highlight of my entire life.
You make covers of Indonesian songs! When and how did that happen?
I started doing this at the end of 2006. It was more or less by coincidence. We planned to go to Sulawesi in October of that year and we wanted to visit an orphanage. We thought it would be a nice idea to learn some Indonesian children songs, so we could sing together with the children. An Indonesian friend here in Holland helped us to pick the right songs, like Desaku, Balonku, and Becak. We also learned Bengawan Solo and Jika (by Ari Lasso and Melly Goeslaw).
Once in Indonesia we played the songs now and then on various occasions, not just at the orphanage. The people were quite amazed and enthousiastic about it. In Tomohon I even ended up playing in a band for a short while. It was really fun. At that time I learned a lot about the Indonesian pop music scene and I bought a lot of CDs.
Back home I got the idea to put a song on the Internet. So I recorded the song Desaku with my laptop and a microphone, and created an MP3 audio file. I had some free space for a homepage that I never used, created a basic webpage, and there it was. Of course nobody could find it so I mailed to some PPI (Perhimpunan Belajar Indonesia, Indonesian Student Association) mailing lists to let them now. And almost immediately I received very nice reactions. This response has encouraged me to record new songs, and I bought my own domain name, and created a better website. And now, a bit more than a year later, I make videos on YouTube as well.
The fun of it all is that it was never planned like this.
"Enjoying the sunset on Legian, Bali, my favorite spot around 6 pm. These guys copied my songs to their mobile phones using Bluetooth. Eddy, the one in the front is from Sumatra, the other guys are from Lombok." - Peter Fennema
What musical instruments do you play?
I play piano, guitar and a little flute. I started piano lessons when I was 6 years old, but I couldn't reach the pedals with my feet. By the time I could reach the pedals I started playing guitar as well. I learned to play guitar by myself. During high school and university I played in all kinds of local bands, on keyboards as well as guitar, and singing of course.
How much time does it take for you to record one song?
Last year I've recorded and published 11 songs, so that's about 1 song each month. The number of hours that I spend on a song depends a lot on the kind of song.
For example Desaku is very simple, and there's only one guitar and 2 vocals, so it took maybe a few hours. Other songs like Kangen or Sendiri Lagi have a lot of instruments. I have to learn to play each instrument, create the right sounds, do the mixing, sing multiple voices, so that takes a lot more time.
Tell us about the setup of your 'recording studio.'
My first song was recorded with 2 microphones and a laptop with some basic recording software. During the last year I have gradually improved my setup. I have a small mixer, I have new multitracking software (Reaper), and I have extended my laptop with an external audio interface with microphone pre-amps and some line-inputs and multiple outputs.
My most recent purchases are a special microphone for recording acoustic guitar (you can see it on my Sempurna video) and a high quality studio headphone. I have a Yamaha acoustic guitar, a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, and a Roland D50 synthesizer.
How do you select which songs to cover?
Since 2006 I only listen to Indonesian pop music, and I discover more and more music that I like. I am amazed by the large number of artists! In general I like quiet songs with beautiful melodies. I like some heavy music as well, but that's a bit hard to record for a "one-man band." Most songs on my website have been recommended to me by other people. Kangen was a request written in my guestbook, Sempurnawas recommended to me by a Friendster friend, and Ruang Rindu by Indonesian friends here in the Netherlands.
Number one requirement is that I must like the song myself, and the sound and height of the vocals must suit my own voice.
Do you speak Bahasa Indonesia fluently?
I speak Bahasa Indonesia reasonably well, but not fluently. Here in the Netherlands I do not speak it very often. But when I've arrived in Indonesia and have used the language for a few days I'm amazed at how well it goes, almost automatically.
When you sing, are you just reading the words or do you fully experience the meaning behind the lyrics?
Yes, I do understand the meaning of the lyrics. It is important to me to know what the song is about in order to express the right emotion when I sing and play. Sometimes it happens that I know every single word of a sentence but I still don't understand the meaning, because it is too poetic or it is an expression that I'm not familiar with.
Peter chatting and singing on a hot sunday afternoon at a beach in Bunaken.
Why do you take time to make these recordings?
For me playing Indonesian songs is a combination of things that I really like: I like Indonesia, the country and its people, I like music, I like recording technology and I like the new media and the possibility that it offers to reach an international audience.
Another important reason is my audience. I get so much feedback, and I see that people really like it, and this pushes me to record new songs and videos all the time. I've made many new Indonesian friends lately, not only on the Internet and on Friendster, but also here in the Netherlands. I never knew that there were so many Indonesians in the Netherlands, even in my own city!
Have you performed in public?
I have performed in public many times with the bands I used to play in. With my Indonesian music I have never performed in public, but I would like to do it if there is a nice opportunity.
Who is your favorite Indonesian musician?
I do not have one particular favorite musician. But the names that pop up in my mind right now are Chrisye, Ada Band and Letto. The songs of Chrisye in particular are so beautiful, have great melodies, they are very well composed, arranged and produced, and the sound of his voice gives the songs a special atmosphere.
But I'm interested in all kinds of music, so this list could easily be extended.
There is a video of you singing Chrisye's Sendiri Lagisong while your spouse messes around with you and sings along. Very cute! Does she also share your passion for Indonesia?
Oh yes! We made all trips to Indonesia together, and she also speaks bahasa Indonesia. She sings on some of my recordings as well :)
Name me three favorite things you love about Indonesia.
Wah, only three ? Well OK, here they are:
The warm hearted friendly people, the music and the delicious food.
If you could perform alongside one musician in the world, who would it be and why?
Chrisye, but unfortunately it's too late, since he passed away in March 2007. The Ada Band would be great!! The first Indonesian CD I ever bought was Heaven of Love, it's actually this CD that strongly motivated me to start exploring the Indonesian pop music scene. It would be great if one day I would have the opportunity to meet with an Indonesian musician whose song(s) I covered!
Peter and friends performing Telah Pergi Sahabat Tercinta
Tell us about your latest tribute to the late Indonesian singer Chrisye.
I started doing the cover all by myself. During the recordings I got the idea to add more voices. It would make the sound more complete, and singing together with Indonesian singers would be a beautiful gesture of respect towards Chrisye.
But where to find the singers? Friendster! Maureen, also on Friendster, helped me a lot! In 2 days, I had 5 singers! Incredible :)
The singers are Carina, Meity, Richard, Rinaldo and Wiwi. They are Indonesian students who live in the Netherlands. I had never met them before, except Rinaldo. It was nice to work with them.
I prepared an MP3 of my initial recording and sent it to the singers, so that they could practice at home. One week later we did the recording session, just one afternoon for music and video. Another week later it was 30th March, the day that the video had to be released. I hardly had time to sleep that week, mixing the audio and editing the video in between my regular obligations. But it was a very exciting thing to do.
From the video which I worked so hard on, I have received the highest reward that I can think of. The daughters of Chrisye have personally contacted me. They and their mother have seen the video and they have expressed their gratitude to me in a very friendly, touching way. I am very honoured and pleased.
Finally, your closing words to your friends and fans.
Thank you all for your emails and comments. I really appreciate it that you listen to my music. I enjoy staying in touch with all of you!
Watch Peter perform his version of Dewa 19's Kangen while handsomely clad in a MyIndo.com t-shirt! :)
hai peter.. i see your video in kaskus..do u know kaskus..kaskus is famous forum in indonesia..u can upload your video in kaskus so indonesia people can see your video, n comment about your video...your indonesian language is very good when u sing d'massive - jangan menyerah.. I'm proud of you,,sorry if my english language is very bad.. .
Mbak Fairy, sebenarnya yang suka sama lagu2 Indonesia bukan cuma Peter Fennema aja loh! Masih ada lagi orang Londo yang suka lagu2 Indonesia, tapi dia lebih suka sama lagu2 dangdut Bahkan dia udah rekaman dua album dangdut di Indonesia.
wow... nice nice and very nice.. i like your song.. there is one song that may impress you.. negeri di awan by katon bagaskara.. I like it... oh.. yeah.. do you know the meaning of the song that u sang ?
Hi Peter, Wah....accentloos kamu nyanyinya, saluuut. Lyric lagu2 kamu hampir seperti Iwan Fals, Ebiet. Bisa nggak kalo Peter nyanyikan lagunya Iwan Fals yang berjudul: Ijinkan aku menyayangimu? Eigenlijk , kan je jouw music bij PT. Musica Studio's in Jakarta verkopen. groetjes, hilda.
I found your lovely songs on youtube by accident... It is something special, i must say. Well, never see before "orang belanda" sing indonesian song so perfectly. I can feel how much you love our country. I am living in Berlin now for studying..never miss my homeland so bad like now... Thanks again for your contribution to introduce Indonesia. It touch me a lot... all the best and keep your good work!
Hi Peter, I like the way you sing Indonesian song. Touch my heart deeper than many siger could do. If you visit Indonesia please contact me. I will treat you eat delicious satay house in Jakarta. Bravo Peter
Great mr.Peter Salam kenal Mr.Peter...anda merupakan Indonesianist Lovers, Coba bayangkan dari sekian juta generasi muda yang rasa cinta pada tanah air indonesia raya mulai luntur dan lebih suka gaya hidup western, justru anda seorang belanda tulen membuat kami terperangahhhh....de ngan segala pengakuan anda dalam interview serta kreatifitas anda dalam menyalurkan hobby musik. Jujur saja kami malu pada anda mr.Peter
So Mr Peter music adalah bahasa kalbu yang universal yang dapat menyatukan warna kulit, bahasa,agama, dan budaya.....sebarkan persahabatan cinta dan sayang dengan alunan musik anda....bravo mr peterrrr
@ Fairy: hmm...I live in Canada right now and there are not many people really know about Indonesia. Sad, but it is the truth. But there is a Javanese gamelan group here in Toronto, which I join in, and hopefully can introduce Indonesian culture more to people.
And I agree. Foreign people who know about Indonesian culture often appreciate it more than the Indonesians themselves.
Salut deh gue ama ni bule Belanda. Udah orangnya cakep, suaranya merdu pula! Kayaknya dia berusaha mati-matian mengucapkan 'R' dengan jelas BTW, itu kaos Myindo dari kamu ya Fairy? Kok aku nggak dikasih sih
saya jadi malu sebagai org indonesia...melihat teman2 yg sangat cinta kepada indonesia, padahal mereka bukan org indonesia.....diband ing saya yg org asli indonesia...belum berkarya buat bangsaku sendiri..belum aku katakan... thanks for indonesia lovers.....indonesia memang kaya...dan bikin kita bangga......
Salute! its very nice..honestly when i saw ur "sempurna" video in you tube,it gaves me ghoosebump... i think u will be very good in Ballad genre of indonesian pop songs.Chrisye already the right Choice! Request: Andai Aku bisa.Salute one more time For u Peter.
Hey everyone, glad you're all liking this piece, it took Peter and me a while to perfect it. Check out Peter's other videos on his Youtube page if you haven't already, there's an awesome archive of covers!
Indonesian talk about politics and powers. Foreigners talk about the beauty of Indonesia. What an antithesis. I can't even feel the spirit of "Visit Indonesia 2008" here! They should have ambassadors like you Fai