Lonely and Scary Times for Sexual Diversity in Indonesia

A recent New York Times editorial decried new laws against nongovernmental organizations that promote human rights and democracy in China, India, Egypt and elsewhere. In China, the new law comes as part of a broader package of restrictions which have essentially shut down the vibrant experimental music scene which I visited and performed in last October. The venues at the center of the scene just a short while ago are now closed. The organizer of my tour has decided that the current political climate makes it impossible for him to book shows. There is no question in the minds of young Chinese musicians that even though this law deals specifically with NGOs, it targets social freedoms of all kinds, like the freedom to make music.

After China I went to Indonesia, where the state soon launched an orchestrated and vicious campaign of homophobia.The Vice President instructed the United Nations Development Program to cut funding to LGBT-rights education programs. TV and radio programs that portray queer lives as “normal” were banned. There were calls for LGBT people to be barred from employment, from university, and even killed. The Minister of Defense called the LGBT community “a form of proxy war” more dangerous than nuclear warfare. And so on.

This campaign is the Indonesian manifestation of the same drive to control civil society that led to the laws in China and elsewhere decried by the New York Times. Indonesia has used not laws but state-incited violence to maintain their desired level of social control. The current campaign against the queer community falls squarely within this tradition.

Queers in Indonesia have a rational basis for fearing for their lives. In the recent past, similar state-run efforts to incite violence erupted into mass violence against religious and ethnic minorities in which thousands were killed. And it was only fifty years ago that a military government directed a wave of mass murder that killed somewhere between five hundred thousand and two million people. So things like making hiding places and evacuation plans are on the to-do list of queer Indonesian activists.

Sadly, none of the musicians and artists I met in Indonesia felt any sense of connection to the plight of their queer compatriots. To the contrary, musicians would repeat the talking points of the homophobia campaign almost verbatim: this was all the fault of the queer community itself: asking for too much too fast; being too militant; pushing for gay marriage; and not respecting traditional Indonesian values. Certainly the musicians and artists saw little connection between sexual diversity rights and, for example, the relatively new social space they themselves were claiming as young people making art and music far outside the bounds of what is commonly understood to be traditional in Indonesian, and living defiantly non-mainstream lifestyles in a country vexed by an increasingly aggressive religious conservatism.

In fact, sexual diversity activists have not pushed for gay marriage in Indonesia. What they have tried to do more than anything is exist. Most of their activism goes into supporting each other in some way or other, in this poor and marginal country within which they are even poorer and more marginal than most.

As for traditional Indonesian values, Indonesia has one of the longest and best documented traditions of sexual diversity in the world. In just the island of Sulawesi, pre-Islamic culture recognized five genders, not two. The novelty of what the state and conservative Islamic groups claim to be traditional Indonesian values was thrown into sharp relief in a recent incident involving Facebook. A government minister demanded that social media platforms remove any emojis “that smack of LGBT.” Facebook then censored the account of a young Indonesian woman who posted old photographs of topless Indonesian women. Facebook claimed to have acted to protect traditional Indonesian values, but the account holder found the photos by searching on Google for historical photos of Indonesian women. The campaign to protect “Indonesian values” has succeeding in protecting Indonesians from their own history.

The fact that young Indonesian artists and musicians sitting in coffee houses late into the night talking art and politics feel angry and threatened about the attempt to eradicate memory of the fact that many Indonesian women recently went topless, yet dismiss as unimportant the attempt to eradicate all memory of sex, love, and gender in Indonesia that strayed from what is acceptable to today’s conservative Islam – this fact is a reflection of how thoroughly the state controls the sexuality narrative in Indonesia. Indonesia’s queers are left on their own. Their rights and their plight is not part of the discussion of the defense of civil society in Asia – not among the power elite like the New York Times, and not among their natural local allies in Indonesia.

It is a lonely place to be.

There is a CAMPAIGN TO RAISE FUNDS FOR THE INDONESIAN QUEER COMMUNITY HERE. If you live in a place where ¡queers can live comfortable and easy lives, you might think about sending some money.


With Vinolia Wakijo, Sexual Diversity hero of Yogyakarta

A Book of Hours – European Premiere in Prague

Just back from the European premiere of A Book of Hours at the vs. Interpretation festival in Prague. Not only was it the European premiere, it was the first time I had all three of the vocalists together on stage: Theo Bleckmann, Audrey Chen, and Phil Minton. Wow. That is just an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the human voice. Honored to share a stage with them, let alone have them perform my (our!) music.

This project is now ready for the road. Hopefully, more performance opportunities will present themselves soon.

Many thanks to vs. Interpretation and the Agosto Foundation for making this possible.


Beyond A Book of Hours, there were many festival highlights for me:

Hearing Mazen Kerbaj and Sharif  Sehnaoui play with Tony Buck and long-time collaborator Christine Abdelnour

Finally hearing percussion virtuoso Le Quan Ninh

And hearing the incredible bamboo flute organ of instrument builder Hans van Koolwijk


Hans van Koolwijk’s amazing bamboo flute organ, vs. Intertation Festival, Prague, 2016


with Hans van Koolwijk at the vs. Intertation Festival, Prague, 2016


Hans van Koolwijk’s amazing bamboo flute organ, vs. Intertation Festival, Prague, 2016


Hans van Koolwijk’s amazing bamboo flute organ, vs. Intertation Festival, Prague, 2016


Hans van Koolwijk’s amazing bamboo flute organ, vs. Intertation Festival, Prague, 2016


Hans van Koolwijk’s amazing bamboo flute organ, vs. Intertation Festival, Prague, 2016


With drum master Ninh Lê Quan at the Vs. Interpretation Festival, Prague, 2016.

March 26+28, 2016: Montevideo, Uruguay

Two solo concerts in Montevideo, courtesy of the tireless organizing efforts of Nandy Cabrera. Nice gigs, and Montevideo turns out to be a very appealing, relaxed city.



Shared one bill with Brian Mackern, interesting Montevideo-based musician with an unusual set-up:


But whew! One year and two weeks into this tour and I am tired. It didn’t help matters that  a problem with the electrical power at the venue of the second concert destroyed more than $1000 of my stuff.

One more stop in Lima before home….



With Marcelo Monteverde and Nandy Cabrera in Montevideo


March 24, 2016: Valdivia, Chile with Fred Frith

How wonderful to play a duo concert with Fred Frith after a year on the road. Fred is both my longest musical collaborator and my longest continuous friendship. We first met and played together in 1978, which would be nearly 40 years ago. Fred plays on my very first record, Getting A Head, released on the Rift Label which Fred started and then invited me to join. My first trip to Central America was actually a mission for Rift, with the idea of releasing an LP of Central American music as a fundraiser for the revolutionary movements there. That trip changed my life. Voice of America, which was also a collaboration with Fred (and Phil Minton), was my last release before immersing myself in the Central American movevments for a decade. Attention Span, my first recording after all of that, was another collaboration with Fred (and John Zorn).

Anyone sensing a theme here? 😉

Fred has been a friend, mentor, collaborator, and inspiration. The only problem is I don’t see him as much as I would like these days, and definitely do not play with him as often as I would like. This concert was a reminder, as if I needed one, and what a treasure this guy is.

Many thanks to Benjamin Vengara for organizing everything in such a kind and thoughtful way, and to Paulina Rojas for being my facilitator of everything Chileno.

Sadly, I came away from Valdivia with no photos. If you have a nice picture of the show, please send it to me. 🙂





March 8-9-10-11: Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires

Whirlwind time in Buenos Aires at the Teatro Colón. Four concerts of my music in four nights. Many different projects. Two world premieres. Barely keeping up with it all. The most exciting part, for sure, was the world premiere of my new project, “A Book of Hours,” with Phil Minton​, Audrey Chen​, and Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø​. Theo Bleckmann​ was very sadly unable to participate due to illness. Tonight, the final concert will feature my long time close friend and collaborator, Pierre Hébert.

I have worked with Phil Minton now and again since 1980, and no matter how often I hear him he never ceases to amaze. This was my first opportunity to work with Audrey and Henrik, two exceptional musicians. Audrey was simply sensational.

In April we will do the European premiere in Prague at the Versus Interpretation Festival, this time with Theo Bleckmann participating. This live “A Book of Hours” ensemble is my first ensemble project for quite a few years, and I could not be happier with it. My hope is that we tour and perform as much as my Say No More Ensemble toured in the 1990s.

Big big thank yous to these amazing musicians, and to Miguel Galperin of the Centro de Experimentación at the Teatro Colón for making these four days possible.


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