Iwan and Adek of the Bamboes record songs in their home-made studio - photo by Julia Gerlitz
UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 2 | Feb. 2, 2006
Student Brings Music of Street Children to the World
By Brian Lin
Julia Gerlitz can hardly contain her excitement. Her favorite
band has just finished recording its first album.
But The Bamboes is not your run-of-the-mill teenage garage
band. Most of the band members, aged nine to 21, are homeless
and panhandle the streets of Indonesia between practice sessions.
They play on instruments made of recycled vodka bottles, beer
caps and plastic buckets.
Gerlitz, a fourth-year Psychology and Political Science student,
was just starting an internship last spring at Indonesia's
Education and Information Center for Child Rights (KKSP),
non-governmental organization focused on helping street kids,
when she was introduced to a group of children who "hang
out" at KKSP's shelter in the northern Sumatra capital
"The shelter's manager asked some of the kids to play
me a song they had written to break the ice," says Gerlitz,
who at the time spoke no Bahasa Indonesia, the national language.
"I didn't know what the songs were about, but something
happened as soon as they began singing -- their body language
changed, they transformed into a more confident and joyful
version of themselves."
As time went on, 13 of the kids who live at the shelter began
"jamming" regularly at Gerlitz's urging. Then she
met Reza Kowsari, a UBC engineering graduate student who was
in the area doing seismic guidelines research, and a plan
was hatched to record an album.
"A good friend of mine, Siavash Dezvareh, is a professor
at the Sound and Audio Engineering school (SAE) in Kuala Lumpur,"
says Kowsari, who is now looking for sponsors to produce the
CD in Canada. "When I told him about the kids and their
music, he volunteered to come to Medan to work with the kids.
He also convinced SAE to fund the equipment rental and studio
time for post-production."
With specifications and instructions from Dezvareh, the kids
went to work building their first sound-proof studio in a
corner of the shelter. They collected recycled materials and
enlisted their friends for the handy work.
"Before this project, the kids were just living day
to day, their biggest concern being where their next meal
would come from," says Gerlitz.
"Building the studio and recording the album gave them
the motivation to look past today, and for the first time
in their lives, they had a reason to strive beyond just surviving
what's dealt to them."
The kids chose 12 songs and came up with their band name
-- The Bamboes. "They picked bamboo because it can survive
almost anywhere and it grows stronger in groves -- just like
the street kids themselves," says Gerlitz, who has translated
the lyrics into English.
"What truly amazes me about these songs is how altruistic
they are," says Gerlitz. "There is so much compassion
and sympathy in their songs, even when they depict some of
the most gruesome situations, which is remarkable considering
everything -- poverty, war, abuse and natural disasters --
the children have been through."
As the project progressed, Gerlitz has also noticed more
hopeful notes in their songs. "They want to use proceeds
from the CD to build a music school for street children,"
says Gerlitz. "Since I left them in December, they've
organized a charity concert in the tsunami-ravaged town of
Banda Aceh, where they raised money and taught other street
children to play music."
"That's the most amazing part of this journey. I saw
the positive impact on children when they felt someone believed
in them -- how it motivates them into doing great things,"
says Gerlitz, who is visibly proud of the kids who affectionately
call her "Bunda" which means "mama" in
Born and raised in Nelson, B.C., Gerlitz says her parents,
a teacher and a nurse, have always instilled in her the importance
of giving, a concept reinforced when she arrived at UBC and
saw an emphasis on global citizenship in the curriculum.
"You get so much more back when you give. It's a cliché
because it's true, and in the case of this internship, I learned
so much about myself, about the world around us, and about
how to overcome adversity."
As for the album, Gerlitz, who along with Kowsari funded
part of the project out of their own pockets, is aiming for
a spring / summer release, provided they can find a Canadian
"It just goes to show that even young students can initiate
projects that make a difference," says Kowari.
"For everyone involved with the project, where the music
came from and how it was made is as important as the songs
themselves," says Gerlitz, who is designing a booklet
with lyrics and profiles of the band members.
"We want the world to hear their songs and know their
For pictures and a song clip go to www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/ubcreports/slideshows.