Fri, 23 Jun 2000

More youths turn street singing as crisis drags on

By Prabandari

YOGYAKARTA (JP): For bus passengers and commuters from Solo (Surakarta) to Yogyakarta, pengamen (street singers) are very familiar. They get on the bus at every major bus stop and get off at the next one.

After the crisis almost sank the Indonesian economy, the number of street singers kept rising. There are many reasons why these people choose to be street singers. Poverty is the most common. A street singer will get at least Rp 15,000 per day and, if they are lucky, they can earn up to Rp 40,000 a day.

Ateng, a dwarf street singer from Klaten, said that he didn't have any other occupation or skill but singing. His physical handicap hasn't allowed him to find employment with a company. But despite the physical handicap, Ateng never feels inferior. He is always optimistic and proud and tells people about his two wives.

"Ladies and gentlemen, here I sing to get money for my children, wives and WIL," this is a familiar prologue for the bus passengers. WIL stands for Wanita Idaman Lain, which means mistress. Ateng's prologue makes male passengers smile or laugh and women embarrassed.

Yanto, owner of a restaurant in the Klaten bus Terminal, believes that street singers get more money than the average Indonesian. Every night, street singers will come to his restaurant to change money. This is "mutual cooperation": Yanto needs the coins, and the singers need banknotes of bigger value.

Bayu, a street singer, always takes his mini guitar when he gets on the bus. Accompanied by Agus, he will first hum a tune before singing traditional songs. His favorites are Campursari songs, a blend of Javanese traditional pentatonic music with modern music.

Campursari is very popular in Solo and Yogyakarta. When Bayu sings Mawar Biru (Blue roses) or Randha Kempling (New Widow), the passengers usually move their feet and mumble a few of the lyrics. At the end of his performance, Bayu usually says that he wishes to receive money from the passengers.

"If you don't have any coins, I will be happy enough to receive your banknotes. If you want to give me a ring, bracelet or necklace, I'll very much appreciate it," he says before he begins collecting money.

Bayu said that older women are usually generous and never think twice before giving him money. Sometimes, especially when they love the song, they will give him up to Rp 1,000.

Before the crisis hit Indonesia, there were only about 10 street singers that passengers saw regularly on the bus serving the Solo, Klaten and Yogyakarta route, but after the crisis their number increased to hundreds.

Nyadi, the manager of shelterhouse Rumah Singgah Anak Mandiri (RSAP) in Yogyakarta blamed poverty for the increasing number of street singers.

"Crisis makes it more difficult for people to earn their living, and the poor suffer even more. Many factories have been closed down, and people have lost their jobs. The whole society is depressed and as a result, there are more children running to the streets to seek a living," Nyadi said.

He added that runaway teenagers usually don't have the skills to do any other jobs but singing.

"I always try to give them motivation to make a decent living. Asking them to save and avoid the consumptive way of life doesn't work," Nyadi said hopelessly.

He added that the street singers, especially the teens, are very comsumptive. They use their money to buy cigarettes, sex services, drugs and other nonproductive things.

"Sometimes I call on the people not to give them money. They need attention, education and love more than money," he said. "Being a street singer is the easiest way to get money, so they never think to seek for another job."

"Many university graduates fail to get jobs, and I think it is not a sin to be a street singer. No use going to school if in the end we can't get a good job," said Sobur, a street singer in Yogyakarta. He said that he ran away from home at the age of eight.

"I'm happy to be a street singer. I can move from one city to another only with this simple icik-icik," he added. Icik-icik is a homemade musical instrument comprised of a string of Coke caps played by striking it against the other hand.