I was sitting at a warung on the side of a little street just off Thamrin (Blora, Purworejo, or something like that) with a friend of mine the other week and another friend of his called Ho turned up.
Ho is a skinny Indonesian guy with long dreadlocks, a beat up guitar and a harmonica. He spent quite a lot of time on the street as a kid, and now makes his living busking on buses and along the streets of Jakarta.
We spoke about life, music, politics and so on and then traded songs for a little while. I played some Johnny Cash, he played some Iwan Fals, I played some Ween, and he played this. It's a pretty simple reggae song that Ho wrote about the wonders of cheap, tasty tofu and tempeh (and, in obligatory reggae style, a random reference to marijuana).
Why reggae is so popular in Indonesia is one of life's little mysteries. Any guy on the side of the street can play you No Woman No Cry and can mumble vaguely English sounding words to just about any Bob Marley song you'd care to name.
The standard off-beat skank in reggae is a very natural rhythm, you hear it in all sorts of musics all over the world. Possibly most notably for the purposes of this post, it is also very prominent in all sorts of Indonesian music, especially Sundanese Jaipongan. You even get the reggae triplets and other rhythmic figures that people would consider idiomatic to reggae.
I guess it's a credit to Om Coxsone and his buddies way over there in Jamaica that the style of music they developed can be so universally accepted and timeless.
If you're on the lookout for good reggae in Indonesia then fear not. The two most famous reggae bands in Jakarta at the moment are Tony Q Rastafara and Steven & Coconut Treez (who I randomly met at a party last night, or at least Steven and a coconut tree). You can catch them at a bunch of different places around town, but most often BB's in Menteng, some place in Citos I've never been to, and Wapress in Blok M.
Failing that, just stop by a warteg when you see a dude with a guitar and try your luck...