Posted by: mel | September 7, 2009

Letter: Bengawan Solo in Mandarin

Jakarta Post |  Reader’s Forum | 7 September 2009

I refer to the article entitled “Singing of the river” about Gesang Martohartono, (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 3).

I am a Singaporean working in Jakarta. I grew up with Chinese songs – some of which would be considered in the nostalgia category. The Mandarin version of “Bengawan Solo” is one of the versions I grew up with. This melody has been used in foreign productions and performances.

I had always wondered about the source of this beautiful melody. I thought it must be so old that copyright no longer protected it – by most international standards, copyright protects a work during the life of the author plus another 50 years after the author’s death. I thought it was probably Indonesian and created and written many years ago. Through the Post article, I found out that the composer was Gesang Martohartomo, who is very much alive at 92 years old.

I am not against the protection and taking stock of traditional culture and know-how, following the recent row with another ASEAN country. However, because of the current state of the international treaty, it is debatable whether really old traditional culture is protectable.

I wonder if any steps have been made to ensure that Pak Gesang’s efforts are recognized by the recording companies of these Mandarin record productions or at public performances outside Indonesia. We have here a living heritage whose works are still very much within the realm of copyright protection. I am sure Pak Gesang created the work for the love of art – but his creative efforts should still be acknowledged as his works get commercially exploited overseas.

May I suggest that the Indonesian government give greater focus to Indonesian creative works that are still within the realm of copyright protection.

Kin Wah Chow 


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