Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 8 March 2018 • Destination
I would have never guessed that a woman in a Javanese ‘kebaya’, batik sarong, and a ‘sanggul’—traditional Javanese hairdo—would be able to do a cartwheel, land on a split, and slid herself still in a split position all the way to the other side of the stage. No respectable Javanese lady would have done such a thing. But then again she wasn’t a lady per se. She was a queen, part of the Hamzah cabaret show in Yogyakarta, and predictably she was entertaining.
That Javanese woman was one of my favorite performers that night. I wasn’t surprised to find her funny throughout her duet performance of a Javanese song, but I had never expected to see her do a such a ‘complicated’ gymnastic program on stage. She was one of many queens of the estimated one-hour show, whom I clapped and cheered for. Some other performances that I also enjoyed was from Celine Dion, complete with a lip sync thank-you monolog from some live performance. I don’t know where she sourced her audio but I’m a believer. She was Celine. I’m sure she was! Her costume during ‘I Surrender’ came extremely close to Celine Dion’s live performance in Las Vegas in this video, down right to the colors of her eyes. Dedication! The final performer was, of course, a good full-on entertainer, climbing tribunes and crotch jiggle in an audience’s face. And the Whitney Houston cover had the smartest gimmick of all.
However, there’s no point of me describing the acts because as Miss Celine Dion said herself “we change the routine every week.” All anyone needs to know is that I recommend this show, especially as an activity with your friends, old or new. Despite some acts are better than others, they do a pretty darn good job for a week of rehearsal.
The Hamzah cabaret show has made a name for itself. Although not necessarily seen it, many Indonesians that have been to Yogyakarta would have heard about the show held at the batik shop formerly known as Mirota. Hamzah, the owner of Mirota, had recently changed the name of of this particular shop, located at the far end of Malioboro, to glorify his hame in his creation.
Hamzah is no stranger to drag as he himself used to perform as Raminten, his character taking the persona of a Javanese woman. Bulan, a travel blogger that had just moved back to Yogyakarta being closer to her family roots, had told me that Hamzah is a generous man that was willing to help kids through college in exchange for them to work on stage for entertainment. I’m guessing he knew, there will always be a crowd for the queens. Bulan said his philosophy was something around ‘one shouldn’t be ashamed on how they pay for their education as long as it’s ‘halal’ money.’ Whether this makes you cringe or not, I couldn’t agree more.
Watching the cabaret show in Yogyakarta did spark some questions in my head, such as ‘why is there no open drag performance in Jakarta, the most diverse population in Indonesia? How can the Yogyakarta people be in such peace considering the country’s weak stance on diversity that challenges religion and LGBT (although there are rumours that there are disruptions)? Does the public figure, or perhaps the Sultan himself, have some intervention on keeping the show alive?’ Questions I have yet to answer in the future.
For the time being, I was very much entertained by the show. In a state of questioning my believes in travel content and to perceive doing what I do, the show had re-convinced me that the world is full of oddities worth sharing, always igniting me to share my experiences with others. It’s also a breath of fresh air considering queens are usually found working on the streets or as slapstick objects in TV shows. It’s nice to see them accept much (but not enough) love from the audience.
A big shout out to Bulan, Hanif, and Aji for wanting to accompany me watching the show that I wished I had watched so much sooner.