Sat, 25 Mar 2000

'Dangdut' music beats liven up Yogyakarta nights

By Asip A. Hasani

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Bathed in colorful footlights, a young girl dressed in a tight, short dress swings her hips to the right and left, and then moves in a circular motion to the dynamic beat of dangdut music.

Once in a while, she exposes her thighs. And every time she does, hundreds of spectators, mostly from the lower classes, cheer. Some even shout dirty words. The dances performed by the dangdut singers, who are usually female, are always the main attraction for the audience.

The performance takes place every night at Taman Ria Purawisata, about one kilometer east of the Yogyakarta Palace, from 9 p.m. until midnight.

Dangdut, a mix of Malay and Indian music, is often viewed as the music of the lower classes. However, over the last four or five years, dangdut has become a popular middle-class entertainment, being performed at cafes, pubs and star-rated hotels.

Shikafe features the music every Tuesday night. Owned by noted Indonesian painter Sapto Hoedojo, the cafe is located on Jl. Solo Kilometer, some 500 meters east of Yogyakarta's Adi Sutjipto Airport.

Shikafe marketing manager Remo Karsono told The Jakarta Post the decision to feature dangdut music was made a few months ago.

"It is a new program, but we can see that our customers have had a positive response to it," he said.

Those customers enjoying the dangdut music at the cafe include businesspeople, politicians, intellectuals and foreign tourists.

"We have some visitors who regularly come to our cafe only on Tuesday nights, when dangdut is performed. It is interesting that white-collar people are addicted to dangdut," Karsono said.

A regional representative for Yogyakarta who is a fan of dangdut is pleased with the cafe's decision to feature this music. Although he loves the music, he did not feel comfortable going to Purawisata to watch the performances.

"I like dangdut music very much, but you know it is difficult for a person like me to fulfill my desire by enjoying my favorite music at Purawisata. What will people say if they find a legislator like me at such a place," the legislator, who requested anonymity, told the Post.

At Shikafe not only can you enjoy live dangdut music, you can also admire the cafe's beautiful interior. The cafe, which can hold about a hundred people, is artistic in its design, with Sapto's paintings hanging on the walls.

Live dangdut music can also be enjoyed every night at the cafe in Matahari Hotel. The hotel, located on Jl. Parangtritis, brings in different singers to spice up the program and ensure frequent customers do not get bored.

"We believe that most Javanese love dangdut music, regardless of their social status. That's why we chose dangdut as the main entertainment at our cafe," the entertainment manager at Matahari Hotel, Sumi Ardono, said.

Ardono added that it was cheaper to hire dangdut singers and musicians than pop musicians.

He is optimistic dangdut will continue to flourish in the entertainment world.

"Most of our customers prefer dangdut than any other live music, saying it can ease their psychological burdens better than any other music can," he said.

The dynamic beat of dangdut undeniably has the "power" to make anybody dance.

Jojo, a dangdut fan who also owns a travel agency in Yogyakarta, says he became addicted to the music after experiencing the joy of dancing to dangdut music. He said people could not appreciate the music without dancing to it.

"Just dance, follow the music, then you'll be addicted to it. It's not important whether the singer's voice is good or not," he said.

Jojo, however, said attractive female singers played a significant role in the enjoyment of dangdut. "And of course the singer's sexy outfit and her skill in moving erotically, too."

The marketing manager of New Java Cafi on Jl. Magelang, Leny, acknowledged that dangdut music had the ability to make people dance.

She said she sometimes played dangdut music to encourage customers to dance, although the New Java Cafi mainly features jazz music.

"When the music turns to dangdut, such as when we play Kopi Dangdut (Dangdut Coffee) or Terlena (Carried Away), then our guests will come on the dance floor, no matter if they are Indonesians or foreigners," she said, adding that among the cafe's regulars were a number of expatriates.

Commenting on the trend of cafes and clubs featuring dangdut, sociologist Heru Nugroho of Gadjah Mada University said in the beginning dangdut was the music of the lower classes. It is simply normal for the number of fans to grow, not just among the lower classes, but also among the middle and upper classes.

Citing an example, he said the blues was at first the music of the black slaves, who expressed their sorrow through the music, but had now become universally enjoyed.

"Being engaged in a collective dance reflects dangdut's basic element of the communal culture of the East," he said.

He said dangdut music was influenced very much by India's traditional music. However, he said that dangdut had its own growth in Indonesia.

When the majority of dangdut audiences were from the lower classes, the music absorbed what this audience wanted to express, he said.

"The singers' sexy appearance and erotic dancing became the common people's medium to free themselves from their hard lives, and even from the political oppression of the Soeharto regime," he said. "And we can find that dangdut also expresses the people's sorrow through its melancholy lyrics, but still with a dynamic beat."

He said this dynamic beat reflected the people's spirit to continue struggling for a better life.

"That's why dangdut singers, and spectators too, keep on dancing no matter if they sing sad songs or happy ones," he said.

Nugroho is convinced dangdut music will continue to grow and develop as the lives of the people develop.

"It is normal and even possible for dangdut to go international, because all cultures are dynamic, open to the influence of other cultures," he said.

Realizing that dangdut can be the music for all social classes, Purawisata aims its live dangdut performances not only at the lower classes, but also at those who are better off.

"Now we have Cita Cafe inside the Purawisata building for those of the higher classes who want to enjoy our live dangdut show," a member of Purawisata's marketing staff, Siman Hadi, told the Post.

He said a number of foreign tourists visited Purawisata to enjoy the dangdut.

"They also join in on the dance floor. I am sure they love dangdut music and that this will be a lasting impression," Siman said.