Interview: Q&A with Franki Raden – IMEX (Indonesian Music Expo)

Just over a month ago, Franki Raden and his team orchestrated another successful edition—the third in its history—of IMEX, the Indonesian Music Expo.

Launched in 2022, the event undertakes the ambitious and exhilarating task of exploring and showcasing the diverse musical expressions from the 17,000 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago. Over four days, from the 9th to 12th of May, musicians, industry delegates, and music lovers gathered in the scenic hilly jungle setting of Ubud, on the island of Bali, to immerse themselves in traditional, contemporary and forward-looking Indonesian music.

Now, with this year’s event wrapped up and preparations for next year’s edition not yet underway, it is the ideal time to reach out to the event’s founder and dedicated custodian to learn more about IMEX, his ‘sacred mission’, and his perspective on Indonesian music and the world music world.

What drew you to work in the music industry, specifically with traditional Indonesian music?

I am first and foremost a composer, but I got my degree in ethnomusicology, so traditional music has been my passion since I was a composition student, especially after I lived with the Dayak tribes in Borneo in the mid-1970s, long before I studied ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After spending four years teaching at York University and the University of Toronto in Canada, I returned home to Indonesia to work in the field again. Due to Western musical hegemony, I discovered that traditional music in many regions of Indonesia is a dying art form. Yet, this is the music we inherited from our ancestors. Knowing that so-called “world music” has a large market in the global music scene, I finally decided to work in the global music industry with the goal of gaining access for our world music products. This is the only way to prevent our super rich traditional music from fading away due to Western cultural hegemony in my homeland.

You’ve played a pivotal role in establishing IMEX as a key platform for Indonesian music. What was your initial vision for the festival, and how has it evolved over time?

IMEX was actually inspired by the book published in the 1980s entitled “Global Pop & Global Market” by Paul Taylor. This book states that for the past several decades the global market for world music has reached 10% of the total music industry in the world. Since Indonesia is a country that has tremendous musical resources, I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to gain access to the global market. Based on this thought in 2020, I organized the virtual Indonesian Music Expo (IMEX) in Ubud, Bali with the support of the Film, Music and Media Directorate at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology. In 2021 we officially launched IMEX at WOMEX in Porto. In 2022 we held IMEX offline for the first time in Ubud, Bali. In 2023 we managed to convince WOMEX to become our global partner. This year is our third IMEX. We’re still a baby but with WOMEX as our partner, I think we already have trust from many key stakeholders of the global music industry.

Indonesia boasts a stunning array of musical traditions. How do you navigate the challenge of representing this diversity while ensuring a cohesive festival experience?

My background in ethnomusicology has enabled me to study music cultures across the country. Yet, I am also a composer who approaches music mainly from the perspective of aesthetics. By combining these two disciplines, I can present a festival with a vast array of musical diversity and yet still find the relation of one music culture to another to form a cohesive repertoire of music festival that allows the audience to have an in-depth musical and aesthetic experience.

Are there specific traditions or emerging styles you are particularly keen to highlight?

Yes, I am particularly interested in highlighting a dialectic of ancient or sacred music with progressive or visionary new musical creations that are based on indigenous culture in my festival.

Can you explain the process of selecting and curating artists for IMEX, how you balance showcasing established artists with rising talent, and any particular collaborations you are eager to pursue?

Since 2024, IMEX has basically been an open call showcase festival with a team of curators who select the submissions. However, if we simply based this process on open calls, we would not be able to present indigenous music performed by great masters since these masters certainly would not be interested in submitting their music. Therefore, for IMEX 2024, we combined an open call approach with the idea of presenting and preserving our ancient and sacred music performed by their masters.

How does IMEX collaborate with international festivals and industry figures to increase the visibility of Indonesian artists globally?

Since 2022, IMEX has, among others, WOMEX as our global partner. WOMEX, in this case, helped us through the open call process as well to select delegates who have strong interests in dealing with Indonesian world music groups, either inviting them to their festivals or residential programs.

How do you envision the IMEX festival evolving in the coming years? Are there any new elements or initiatives you’d like to introduce?

We are actually planning to equip IMEX with a workshop program for emerging Indonesian musicians to make them able to compete with highly established international musicians from across the globe. Yet, at the same time, we are also thinking of developing IMEX to become an international showcase festival instead of only focusing on Indonesian musicians. Of course, this will become very challenging for Indonesian musicians but that is the whole point: they have to be ready to compete with other musicians in the global market sooner or later.

How is IMEX adapting to the rise of digital platforms to support Indonesian artists in the changing music landscape?

To me, the digital platform has indeed extended new possibilities, but it will never replace our drive to listen to live music. I think we shall think of technology as a tool to expand our civilization without sacrificing the important value of our social interaction.

Beyond showcasing musical talent, what broader goals do you hope IMEX achieves for Indonesian music and culture?

I hope IMEX someday can become a call to make all musicians in Indonesia aware that there is room for them to become professional musicians that rely much on their own cultural backgrounds. Having said that, this also means that the musicians have a duty to preserve and develop music culture in their own backyards.

How does IMEX engage with local communities in Bali and beyond? What kind of educational or outreach initiatives are connected to the festival?

Our outreach program deals with two aspects. Since IMEX is held in Ubud, we first direct our outreach program to the Ubud community. In Ubud, there are groups of young musicians who are interested in preserving by learning and performing ancient Balinese music such as Gong Gede and Gamelan Gambang. Therefore, this year we gave these communities of young musicians the opportunity to perform their music. Yet, our educational program is called IMEX Academy but it still needs to be materialized. The idea is to prepare many young talented musicians across the country to become professional musicians that can compete with foreign musicians in the global market. I am still looking for funding in order to do this crucial empowerment program.

Beyond music, how does IMEX promote cultural understanding and appreciation for Indonesia’s rich heritage?

IMEX first and foremost is actually a meeting ground for our own musicians who come from various regions across the huge country called Indonesia. Musicians who performed at IMEX have never met each other and also have never heard each other’s music. Through IMEX they finally realized that Indonesia has indeed highly diverse and rich music culture. The idea of understanding that they have different social, cultural, and religious backgrounds yet they are all dealing with music as a means of expression that can live together in the same space is highly crucial in my opinion. Through IMEX, musicians who come to perform and meet international delegates also hear by themselves that all the delegates valued IMEX because of the diversity of music that is presented on the stage, not simply because of the quality of the music. This certainly makes the IMEX musicians aware that they all have a significant share in Indonesia’s rich musical heritage.

What are some unique challenges of organising a music festival of IMEX’s scale in Indonesia?

The most unique challenge in organising IMEX is to create a balance in various aspects of the festival, especially in presenting the high quality of indigenous musical expression and the popularity of music being presented. The ideal is actually to create a good balance between a showcase festival that aims to impress international delegates and a popular festival that can attract a good crowd. That is the most difficult thing to do in sustaining IMEX as a music event.

IMEX has attracted attention from global music entities like the WOMEX Academy. How do you envision IMEX’s role in advancing Indonesian music on the world stage in the future?

I envision IMEX someday will become a crucial platform for exposing the high quality of Indonesian indigenous music culture and intriguing new musical creation to the international market. If this is happening, it will in turn become a driving force to preserve and develop our rich musical resources as well as to maintain a high quality of professional Indonesian musicians.

Looking ahead to this year’s IMEX Festival, what are some anticipated highlights, and what are you personally looking forward to?

As you mentioned, Indonesia can be said to be one of the richest musical repositories in the world. Therefore, I am going to keep digging and exploring musical resources that are still very much hidden in the remote places of many tribes in the islands of Papua, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Sumatra, and the eastern part of Indonesia and present them on IMEX’s stage next year.

What elements of the IMEX festival are you most proud of, and what makes it stand out from other music events?

What I am most proud of IMEX is our capacity to be able to present such a diverse and high quality of music from literally across the country, from Aceh in the far west all the way to Papua in the far east. You will never see this musical panorama in other music events here in Indonesia.

What do you hope international attendees will take away from their experience at IMEX?

Well, I am expecting our delegates with their capacities as festival directors, promoters, booking agents, or media persons can become our messengers for a global audience who witness that Indonesia can still contribute intriguing musical expressions to the world that define our humanity despite many damaging acts caused by war, politics, and greediness.

Can you share a memorable moment from a past IMEX festival that encapsulates why you do this work?

I am always touched and almost cry every time I meet all musicians (young and old) who came from across Indonesia in Ubud, Bali where I held IMEX. I always thank God that I have the opportunity to meet them in my lifetime. It’s so precious to be able to share the same time and place with all of them through IMEX. They provided me with high fighting spirit and encouragement to continue doing IMEX despite so many huge obstacles that I have to face every time.

In brief, what significance does IMEX hold for you?

IMEX is a sacred mission for me. I think this is the task I have been assigned by my ancestors who have created such an immensely beautiful and rich musical heritage in this largest archipelago in the world.



Discover more about IMEX and start planning for next year's edition HERE