Heat Waves: I’m a Survivor

Our Heat Waves summer series invites musicians to reflect on song lyrics that are forever lodged in their heads or hearts. This week, Luky Annash credits Destiny's Child with his survival of the heat, and the maddening traffic, in Jakarta.

Animation of Jakarta traffic

People in the Northern Hemisphere associate the month of May with spring, and those in the Southern Hemisphere, with autumn. But if you live right under the equator line, 350 out of 365 days are basically summer. So it was May, and it was hot, in 2001 when ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child came out. I'd just come back to Jakarta after a couple of months in Sydney where I'd been staying with my brother, who was studying there.

It was in the Jakarta traffic that the song finally revealed its true meaning to me ...

Like almost everybody else in the world, I’d been a fan of the Houston-based girl-group since their first major single, ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’, in 1999. In the years after their breakthrough hit, I'd lived through many Destiny’s Child-related highs (the release of ‘Jumpin Jumpin’) and lows (confusing changes in line-up before they finally settled on Michelle Williams, Kelly Rowland and Beyoncé Knowles), but I was hooked on their music and was always excited when a new single came out. ‘Survivor’ was released at the peak of my love for their music. I remember many people not liking it, because it wasn’t as great as some of the earliest Destiny’s Child stuff. But I was ecstatic about the release. In those first few weeks (okay, months) after my return to Jakarta, I could not stop listening to it.

Fast forward to 2005. This was the year I got my motorbike licence. I was still in Jakarta, it was still hot, but now I had a Honda scooter that I drove every single day – to work and back, to friends’ places, anywhere I needed to go. The arrival of my scooter marked the beginning of a whole new 'Survivor' phase. Those obsessive months of listening to the song in 2001 – after returning to Jakarta from the relatively mild climate of Sydney – had cemented in my head this idea that oppressive heat and ‘Survivor’ were connected. Jakarta’s traffic is notoriously terrible and has been consistently dubbed the worst in the world. I quickly found that driving a scooter around this congested metropolis, with the hot, stinking wind blowing in my face, was something that I just couldn't do without ‘Survivor’ playing in my ears. And it was in the Jakarta traffic that the song finally revealed its true meaning to me: encouragement.

I'm a survivor (what?)
I'm not gon' give up (what?)
I'm not gon' stop (what?)
I'm gon' work harder (what?)
I'm a survivor (what?)
I'm gonna make it (what?)
I will survive (what?)
Keep on survivin'(what?)

In movies, motorcyclists ride along with a gentle wind blowing in their hair. For motorcyclists in Jakarta, it’s a hot blast of contaminated CO2. And the harsh truth is you’re battling a lot of road-rage, too: cars, motorbikes, food carts and naughty pedestrians, all squeezed together in one spot, and all coming towards you from different directions.

Listening to 'Survivor', I felt caffeinated

I would get stuck in traffic for four to six hours a day. At times, I would dream of living in a city like Oslo, Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but then I would play ‘Survivor’ and everything seemed to get better – or, at least, it pushed me through this daily madness. It was empowering. It was enlightening. For me, the song had the vibe of a bullet train approaching at full speed: a thing that just could not be stopped. Before I started drinking soy flat whites every morning, this song was my soy flat white. Listening to 'Survivor', I felt caffeinated.

My favourite part of the lyrics is the repeated ‘What?’ in the chorus. This helped me stay vigilant; alive to the possibility of dangerous contact with pedestrians, rickshaws, food carts, buses, trucks, other scooters and whatever else was on the road that day.

In 2014, I came back to Australia, and now I live in Melbourne. Although road-rage in Melbourne is nothing compared to what I used to survive in Jakarta, the peak days of summer are a lot hotter than any of those 350 days. When I walk outside in Melbourne on 40-degree days, I sometimes get those old feelings of extreme discomfort and stress. But when that happens, I remind myself that I have lived through much more challenging days in Indonesia. Like Michelle, Kelly and Beyoncé, I’m a Survivor.

Animation of moving motorcycle

Which song lyrics have stayed with you?

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Portrait of Luky Annash

Luky Annash is a Melbourne-based musician and a graphic designer who grew up in Jakarta and Singapore. 

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