Here's why Iwan Fals matters: because boy bands don't take on dictatorships. They don't stand up when everyone else is hunkering down. They don't put to song what others are afraid to put in print. Pop stars should give a damn--when they do, remarkable transformations are possible.
When Iwan Fals held a benefit concert for flood victims in a Surabaya stadium in 2002, it was the group's biggest performance in more than a decade. Though not as prolific as he once was, his face is still visible on the mud flaps of three-wheeled pedicabs and on street-side food stalls in the smallest of villages across the Indonesian archipelago. The fame of Iwan Fals lives on -- especially in the hearts of the country's underclass -- because his message will always matter. In the crowd, 22-year-old Ali, a waiter in mud-caked sandals and pants rolled up to his knees, says he's waited since he was a child to see his idol: "He's the voice of the people. "And he has been a thorn in the side of those who would abuse their power.
In 1984, Fals was hauled in for a song that touched a nerve with the then Suharto regime. Mbak Tini (Miss Tini) told the story of a hooker who opened up a roadside coffee stall and married a truck driver hauling dirt. Problem is, the husband's name was Suharto and the wife was short and fat, not unlike the First Lady, Ibu Tien (Mrs. Tien). Fals insists that the song was not about the former First Couple. But he is as unconvincing now as he was then. Fals was confined to his hotel for two weeks while officials drew up charges ofinsulting the head of state -- which could have led to jail. In the end, he was never prosecuted, but from that point on, Fals was rebel, hero and star all rolled into one. Today, there is no Suharto around to needle. But Fals' reminders to legislators not to sleep through hearings, and calls to fight oppression have never been more relevant.
Excerpt from "Croonin' with a Conscience: Iwan Fals sings a timeless message of justice for all"
(Time Magazine, April 29, 2002)