The Jogja Hip Hop Foundation is coming to the Mondavi Center next week with a message in the traditional Javanese language.
The foundation director Mah "Zuki" Marzuki, a.k.a. Kill the DJ, said by phone from New York that the group's goal is to have fun rapping in its traditional language and living by the mantra,"Boom, boom and live wise."
The Jogja Hip Hop Foundation performs Thursday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center on the UC Davis campus.
Traditional Javanese elements such as gamelan music and artwork seen in shadow-puppet theater are used throughout the show, as are documentary-style videos that play in the background and show the group in everyday life.
In a video, "Visibly Smart," on the New England Foundation for the Arts website, www.nefa.org (Jogja Hip Hop Foundation's 2012 tour is presented through the foundation's Center Stage program), band members are dressed like urban skateboarders with loose clothes and hats cocked, walking in front of graffiti on warehouse doors in the green-and-gray streets of an Indonesian city.
A subtitle reads: "A portrait of daily life in Jogjakarta." (The Jogja Hip Hop Foundation comes from the Indonesian province Yogyakarta, also known as Jogja.)
The music in "Visibly Smart" begins with serene off-beats that slough into buzzing industrial rhythms.
These rhythmic layers form a base for the rappers' fight stance as they bust into poetics of their native language, interlaced with traditional singing.
The touring group is composed of seven members, including four rappers, a DJ and a filmmaker.
"About 70 percent of the rapping is about social issues," Zuki said. "We live in a democracy, but really they are controlled by an oligarchy."
The Yogyakarta province still is governed by a pre- colonial monarchy. Corruption is the biggest issue the group cuts into with its music.
"There are too many corrupt politicians," Zuki said.
As Jogja Hip Hop Foundation director, Zuki said, his goal is to bring a new form of expression to American culture. There are rappers in Africa and other parts of the world using American elements of music-making, "but this is combined with our own traditional methods," Zuki said.
"It's really good for Americans to see another kind of hip-hop. It's not about being flashy; it's about everyday life."
Zuki said his job as director means he guides the music's spirit. He drives the music, songwriting and video creation.
"In the beginning, I (did) everything," he said. "Now, we have a team of beat makers, and a manager and other professionals. So I focus on writing and rapping."
Zuki spent 10 years in the underground art scene in Indonesia before making an album. While experimenting in visual art and electronic music, he grew fond of groups such as Afrika Bambaata, Run DMC and Public Enemy. He also liked listening to his friends rap in traditional Javanese.
Zuki started a collective for contemporary artists who used traditional Javanese styles compellingly. The collective turned into the Jogja Hip Hop Foundation.
The artists discovered their talent in forging musical raps with modern poetry and ancient texts. They recorded their first album after establishing the foundation, the songs born out of 18th century literature and poems by Sindhunata, a Catholic priest.
Center Stage, the New England Foundation for the Arts program behind the Jogja Hip Hop tour, was created by an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, to offer Americans opportunities for more cultural understanding by bringing in contemporary artists from around the world, said Suzanne La, Center Stage manager.
The group will spend its time in Davis participating in workshops as well as performing, La said.
And Zuki said the groups members will do a little shopping.
"I look forward to exploring more American culture," Zuki said.
JOGJA HIP HOP FOUNDATION
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, and Nov. 30 and Dec. 1
Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center for the Arts, UC Davis campus
Cost: $30, $26 subscriber add-on, $15 students
Tickets and information: www.mondaviarts.org, (530) 754-2787 (The ticket office is closed Thanksgiving week but reopens Monday.)