I’m off the coast of Bali in Indonesia, and it’s seriously hot, with a big dose of humidity on the side. Today I’ve decided to take a bike ride around the island of Gili Air where I’ve been staying for a few lovely days. I’ve opted for the fat tire bike, although I’ve been warned that walking might be easier, and right about now, when I’ve been walking the bike through thick sand for 20 minutes in the breezeless air, I begin to understand the advice. Just then, the sweet sound of an acoustic guitar beckons me from a beachside bar on the north of the island.
I park the bike and belly up to the bar, sweating buckets, and order a pineapple juice. On my right is the only other patron, who looks to be about 16 years old with a big mop of curly hair and is the owner of the guitar I heard. He’s playing Patience by Guns ‘n Roses, and my appearance seems to have him flustered and shy. “You’re good,” I encourage him, and he rewards me with another verse. But then he peters out, and I’m afraid the sweet sound will end before the bartender finishes juicing my pineapple. I wrack my brains. What can I do to keep the music playing? I resort to the only thing I can think of: I start singing.
“I’ve been walking the streets tonight,” I sing. “Just trying to get it right.” I’m rewarded with one of those huge Indonesian smiles and a few more bars of guitar. “A little patience,” he sings tentatively. “Ahh, patience.” Shit, I don’t know the next words, so I wing it. “I need you. Yeeeaaah, I need you. Whooooa, I need you.” My effort has the intended effect. My guitarist is suddenly inspired and starts wailing on the acoustic. I continue my made-up lyrics, and suddenly we’re in harmony, and a few minutes later we let the song a natural death. We high five each other while he thinks up his next tune.
“How did you learn guitar?” I ask my new friend. “Everyone in my family plays,” he tells me. “Everyone on Bali and Lombok is musical, especially people my age. There’s really nothing else for us to do here.”
Two hours and dozens of amazing duets later, I get back on my bike again, knowing that this unplanned afternoon is one I will treasure forever.
That’s the most magical thing about this part of Bali: the music. Every boy between the ages of 12 and 18 seems to own a guitar, and let me tell you, they know how to play it. Just go for a walk down the sand alongside the beach, and any time of day you’ll be greeted by music in the most unexpected places. It’s street music at its finest, because there’s not even a real street to support it.
Months later I’m home in San Francisco and my husband is watching a segment on 60 Minutes about a 12-year-old jazz piano prodigy. “I’ll bet you anything he’s from Indonesia,” I say. Sure enough, he is, and he’s amazing. Musical talent is one of Indonesia’s best kept secrets, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s reason enough to visit this magical land.
Learn about Joey Alexander on 60 Minutes here