By day, Yacko Oktaviana teaches commerce to college students. By night, Yacko the rapper shows up - and she's here to educate. Yacko's tackling street harassment, one song at a time.
The Indonesian artist first signed as a recording artist at 16, subsequently releasing a single called Nongkrong (Hanging Out, 1996) with her group at the time, Pumpkin Crew. It was the beginning of a path that would lead her to becoming one of the very few female emcees in Indonesia. Yacko has three albums under her belt: Refleksi (Reflection, 2005), Mendua (Two-timing, 2008) and The Experiment (2013). The last one was dubbed one of the best albums of the year by Rolling Stones Indonesia.
But more than two decades into her career, Yacko has found out that the world hasn’t changed much from when she first debuted - especially when it comes to society’s treatment of women. Tired and furious, Yacko composed her latest single, Hands Off, where she raps about street harassment she and the women around her experience on the daily in Indonesia. Some of those women make appearances in the accompanying music video.
Globetrotter spoke to Yacko about Hands Off and the movement she's started to fight street harassment in her country.
Globetrotter Magazine: What was the song-writing process like?
Yacko: I usually keep all my lyrics on my phone or my lyric book. So, Hands Off was one of them and it was not finished yet. I wrote it when I experienced street harassment when I was riding my bicycle on my way to the office. But at that time the lyrics were still a scratch, not even one verse. It was part of how I express my emotion.
Then there’s this one time where I approached [music producer] Mardial to write me a song, so he sent me the beat. And when I heard the anthemic beat I was, like, “This is it! I’m gonna use the lyrics for the music.”
Globetrotter Magazine: Was the writing process harder for you because it came from real-life experience?
Yacko: When I heard the beat, the lyrics came along. I tried to recollect some bad memories of street or sexual harassment. I had horrible experiences being catcalled when I was riding my bike on my way to work and also had people grabbed my breast when I was crowd surfing in a gig.
I also did some research from friends who have spoken up about this issue before me. I was inspired by few activists, like Kartika Jahja, Melanie Subono and also some communities who fight for the similar cause. They are Mari Jeung Rebut Kembali, Bersama Project and HollaBack Jakarta. The more I gain information, the more disgusted I feel.
This issue is really critical. The data that I got from the 2016 annual report of Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women showed that the number of sexual harassment increased to 11,207 cases compared to last year. And sadly the [perpetrators are so often] someone that the victims know. To make it even worse, many people assume that this is normal and just part of a joke. In other cases, people blame it on the women who dress provocatively. Moreover, the government also needs to approve the regulations on this issue as it has been proposed but has not been regulated yet.
So, the songwriting was not hard but it was kinda an emotional process.
Globetrotter Magazine: What was the process behind creating the music video?
Yacko: There’s only one person that I got in touch with when I was about to make the video, and that was Jovan Arvisco. I have worked with him before for my two previous videos, Ink & Paint and Thang. And I was really confident that he had some ideas that we could execute together. And he did! He actually came up with lots of ideas. We agreed on having a simple video that features different characters of women, because that is the main point. Street and sexual harassment can happen to anyone, from a hijabi and other women from different backgrounds. The idea is to show that we all say no to street and sexual harassment. We looked at a few references and locations. Initially we wanted to do the shoot on the pedestrian walk at the busy Sudirman area (Jakarta's business district) on a Saturday afternoon, but we thought there would be a permit issue. If there were only five to eight women it might be fine, but we had 21 women! It might cause a problem and we were afraid that we couldn't get the scene that we wanted. So, we moved the shoot to Twilo Skate Corner and the surrounding area in Kemang, [in South Jakarta].
Globetrotter Magazine: How did you gather the women for this video?
Yacko: They all are in my circle of friends. I figured that it might be easier to start from my own circle, although I also tried to send Direct Messages to public figures’ Instagram accounts. So the first person that I approached was Kartika Jahja. She suggested that I should also have a meeting with Shera Rindra from Mari Jeung Rebut Kembali. Together, we listed down women from different backgrounds that we could contact. So I messaged them one by one through WhatsApp, telling them the background of the song and [sending them] the SoundCloud link. And most of them agreed to participate because they feel the message of the song and most of them also had bad experiences with street or sexual harassment. Some of them, like Melanie Subono and [actress] Adinia Wirasti, couldn't make it due to their busy schedules.
So the video featured 21 badass women from various backgrounds and characters. From fashion retailer, musician, lecturer, rape survivor, activist, legong performer to hijab-wearing women. Among them are Kartika Jahja, Ika Vantiani, Dyana Savina and many more.
I also received support from HollaBack Jakarta and Lentera ID. I got their contacts from Rebekah Moore (at the Bersama Project). They drew the street chalk art in the video, where they wrote some of the lyrics using chalks. The outcome looked so dope!
Globetrotter Magazine: What do you hope to achieve through this song and video?
Yacko: I hope to encourage and empower women to fight together, to speak up and to share about the harassment they face. I also hope to raise people’s awareness [and inspire them] to be brave in helping the victims of street and sexual harassment, and reporting the harassment to the police. The message is clear, we will not accept or tolerate street and sexual harassment any longer.
Globetrotter Magazine: You refer to Hands Off as a movement. After the song and video, what comes next?
Yacko: I hope that this movement will keep snowballing by having more musicians remake the song. At the moment Kartika Jahja has agreed to remake the song. I am hoping to have more musicians to be on board, it doesn't matter what the genre is and it doesn't have to be from women as long as the theme is similar. From then a CD will be released to the public in which people can buy it. The profit will be donated to the Women Crisis Center in Indonesia. I am also planning to create Hands Off merchandise. Currently I am communicating with DAI Studio, a jewelry design studio that already made customized earrings for Hands Off. Again, the plan is to have the profit donated to the Women Crisis Center that look after victims of sexual harassment. Not only that, I am in a discussion with a venue to create a series of discussions or talk shows that is related to Hands Off. Just gotta settle this one by one.
Globetrotter Magazine: Tell us about your musical inspiration and rap style?
Yacko: I grew up listening to rock and pop music like Michael Jackson and Queen, but I fell in love with rap when I first heard it. I always love Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott, but I do not limit myself from listening to other kinds of music. I listen to Porter Robinson, Silverchair, John Legend, Daft Punk, Pendulum and many more. I like to experiment too, although I’m rapping, the music can also be drum and bass, juke or electronic. So when it comes to rap style, I probably don't have a specific one but when people hear it, they probably know that it’s me.
Globetrotter Magazine: What’s next for you?
Yacko: Still be doing my routine, which is teaching during weekdays and definitely running the Hands Off movement. Doing several gigs. Also doing a collaboration project with few musicians. Releasing my next single. And I got an invitation from Berlin to perform there this December, hopefully this will happen.