Zubaidah Nazeer – Straits Times
Every Friday night, Lina Purba hits a dangdut club in central Jakarta with four friends and dances till late in the evening. She has been addicted to the Indian- and Malay-influenced rhythm for more than a year because of new artists such as Julia Perez, she says.
Fans like her are at the forefront of a revival of this Indonesian music genre, say those in the entertainment industry. Newer artists are fusing pop and techno into dangdut, capturing young fans like Purba, 24, and taking it mainstream.
Actress-singer Julia Perez, 31, fuses pop with dangdut, and her catchy, sometimes revealing, costumes look like something Lady Gaga might wear. Ayu Ting Ting, a 19-year-old sensation, says she fuses her dangdut with K-pop.
The trend has also seen some clubs in downtown Jakarta trying out dangdut-themed nights.
The founder of a dangdut entertainment show called Dahsyat, John Fair, said: “We are seeing more interest among the younger crowd, as young as 14 now, compared to four years ago when we started the show.”
The show’s fanpage on Facebook counts more than six million users and the show has audiences in Malaysia, Singapore and even Hong Kong and Japan. It has been the RCTI network’s top-rated show since its launch in 2008.
The music form has crossed boundaries from villages and lower-income groups to middle-income earners and city-dwellers, say music analysts.
Professor Andrew Weintraub, an American with a doctorate in Ethnomusicology from the University of California specialising in Sundanese cultures and music in West Java, was in Jakarta last month to launch ‘Dangdut Stories’, a study of the music form. He noted that while it originated in Java, its rhythm has spawned unique sounds in other Indonesian islands, and that even the elite patronize dangdut cafes.
The dangdut revival has even prompted a push for official recognition of dangdut.
Late last month, Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo called for a National Dangdut Day to preserve and claim the rhythm as Indonesian.
Last month, a group of dangdut artists banded together to drum up support for a Unesco listing of dangdut as a World Heritage art form.
Both moves are driven by what many see as a need to preserve the original dangdut form from disappearing as more artists mix and mash it with other genres.
In addition, some artists have not produced many albums because rising piracy has hurt earnings, industry observers said.
A Nielsen survey that tracks dangdut listeners said the percentage of people listening to the original form of dangdut has dipped from 93 percent in 2000 to half, or 42 percent, in 2010.
Andini Wijendaru, manager of new business for media group of Nielsen, said: “In the last few years, there have been no rising stars who do [original] dangdut, unlike pop music which continues to generate new stars.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the original dangdut form is the raunchy image that has plagued the genre for years and caused many to forget what the music is really about, said artists like Ikke Nurjannah.
The award-winning artist, famous for her song Merpati Putih and her brand of soulful dangdut, called for a clean-up of the music.
Ikke, who is also the acting head of the Association of the Malay-Indonesian Dangdut Artistes, said: ‘It is a pity that dangdut is associated with vulgar lyrics and raunchy dances as only 20 percent of the singers do that.
“Dangdut is also an art form and the music is really about soul and poetic lyrics. We should bring the beauty of the music back.”
Indeed, dangdut has had its share of controversies since 2003. That year singer Inul Daratista rocked the dangdut scene and rose to infamy with her suggestive lyrics and circular gyrations called “goyang ngebor” that became all the rage. But religious clerics and some fellow singers deemed it too vulgar.
Rhoma Irama, known as the king of dangdut and who is one of the artists behind this Unesco push, had also banned Inul from performing any of his songs in her shows.
But dangdut’s saucy image continues unabated.
Julia Perez, known as JuPe, has not only successfully merged pop and dangdut but is also famous for her revealing costumes and salacious lyrics.
Her song, JuPe Paling Suka 69 (JuPe Likes 69 Best), is among 10 songs banned by the West Nusa Tenggara Broadcasting Commission for what it described as “pornographic” lyrics. The commission labelled her songs erotic as they were deemed to have been sung in a lustful voice.
Her official fanpage on Facebook has pictures of the singer in sexy costumes. Other unofficial Facebook pages in her name have cropped up, including one calling on her fans to convince her to get surgery to enhance her breasts.
Dewi Persik, another dangdut songstress, is known for “goyang gergaji” or sawdrilling move, another take on Inul’s sexy signature move.
The two clashed in a catfight that saw JuPe charged with assault and let off with a three-month suspended sentence, adding to dangdut’s controversial image.
Its fans have been known to get into scuffles when shows in fields and outside city areas are delayed.
Jahja Rianto, the executive producer of Dahsyat, admits that dangdut has been tainted by such controversies but maintained that he ensures his crew screens the costumes and performance of the artists to remove raunchy elements from his family show.
“We don’t think the show needs such elements,” he said. “The music without such distractions is itself catchy and it will never die. It has become too much of an Indonesian symbol.”
But fans, like Lina, do not care if their dangdut is of the new pop variety or the original.
“When I hear the rhythm, it makes me happy and gets you dancing,” she said. “I don’t pay attention to the lyrics too much, and I think it is all right to have pop if it makes it catchier and fun.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times