Dhani Offers a Message of Peace and Tolerance Amidst Rock Beats and Arabic Rhythms

August 15, 2006

Source: The Wall Street Journal


On August 15, 2006 The Wall Street Journal reported, "'Why did I choose an Arabic beat? Because the Muslims think it's a Muslim song. It's not! It's a universal song.' So explained Dhani, the pony-tailed, baby-faced founder of one of Indonesia's most popular rock 'n' roll bands, Dewa, on a recent afternoon here. Blasting a track from the group's latest album, 'Republic of Love,' Dhani explained how his faith, Sufism -- a mystic, tolerant form of Islam -- informs his music. Despite appearances, Dhani, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, is a very different kind of rock superstar. He's promoting moderate Islam -- vocally -- in a linchpin country in the war on terror. Crammed into the back seat of his minivan while Dhani lounges upfront, I struggled to scribble down his words, barely audible as the booming bass shook the seats. 'Wahai jiwa yang tenang!' ('O serene soul!'), blared the opening riff from the first song, 'Warriors of Love,' with a strong drumbeat backing it up. The tune's title in Indonesian, 'Laskar Cinta,' is a play on 'Laskar Jihad' ('Warriors of Holy War'), Indonesia's homegrown, al Qaeda-linked terrorist group. But the song couldn't be more different from what they preach; Dhani sings about religious freedom, weaving in Quranic references easily recognizable to Dewa's primary audiences in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, and neighboring Malaysia. It's a conscious strategy; a cynic might even dismiss it as a marketing ploy. Dhani explains that he tucks messages of tolerance and peace beside Western, straight rock beats and halting, syncopated Arabic rhythms. Western-minded types and even radicalized Muslims buy his albums -- and, one hopes, his tolerant vision, too."