Fri, 03 Dec 1999

Sujud Sutrisno sings for his supper from door to door

By Ahmad Solikhan

YOGYAKARTA (JP): A skinny man with a small drum and tape recorder hanging from his neck weaves his way in and out of a rabbit's warren of kampongs, with laughing children dogging his every step.

He is no ordinary wandering singer. Sujud Sutrisno, 46, is known for entertaining with ribald songs that keep people laughing throughout the performance.

He sing songs he created himself or popular children's songs whose lyrics he alters.

Sujud's faithful commitment to his profession has won him huge popularity among people of all ages. It has allowed him to go on stage with world-class musicians, star in a movie and win awards.

Born in Klaten, Central Java, Sujud began singing on the street when he was 11 with his father, Wiro Sumitro, who was a gamelan player.

After his father died in 1972, Sujud dropped out of junior high school and sang alone in the street to help his family survive.

His reputation grew and he is widely acclaimed in Yogyakarta for the entertaining songs he warbles in a husky voice, accompanied by a lively drum beat. He wears a jovial false mustache and dark eye shadow which makes him look like he is continually crying.

He usually receives between Rp 100 and Rp 200 from each household. Some well-to-do admirers often hire him to sing several songs for up to Rp 1,000 each.

Sujud said he was often overwhelmed by such orders. When he is too tired to sing, he will switch on the small tape player hanging from his neck, lip-synching and cavorting to the tune. His enthusiastic performance usually does the trick.

Thanks to his reputation, Sujud was chosen to appear in Pelajaran Cinta (Love Lesson), a romantic film starring Rano Karno and Lydia Kandow, in 1979.

But he has repeatedly refused offers from dangdut music groups Teratai and Intan Sahara to join them as a drummer whenever they perform at Yogyakarta's Purawisata People's Entertainment Park. He politely said that he did not want to be bound by a contract, but wished instead to have the freedom to wander, singing his peculiar songs which are especially popular among children.

He said it was difficult to alter the lyrics of dangdut -- an Indonesian hybrid of Arab and Indian music -- to suit his style. Besides, singing on the street earns him a lot more money than singing on stage with a group.

"People may say that being a street singer is not prestigious but it is OK, I can earn about Rp 26,000 a day," he said proudly.

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of street singers in Yogyakarta since the economic crisis began in 1997, but hardly any of the newcomers are cut out to be singers. Many have no instruments and only clap their hands while singing at busy street intersections and shopping centers.

Their presence is a nuisance for the general public. Those who do not want to have their peace disturbed by the wandering singers put up stickers on their door reading Ngamen Gratis, meaning the singers can sing if they want to but they will not receive payment.

But the sticker does not apply to Sujud, whose reputation led him to perform at Jakarta's Ismail Marzuki Cultural Center in 1979, because he has steady clients in 20 neighborhoods throughout Yogyakarta. He visits each neighborhood once every three weeks to ensure his fans are not bored with his routine.

The father of two children is on the street from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., confining his operations to housing complexes and considering it "taboo" to perform at places like restaurants and recreation sites. He said he was aware that showing up at such places would ruin the people's good time. Neither does he sing on public buses, believing he will be damned for causing more inconvenience on the crowded buses.

In his standard outfit of knee-length shorts, vest, sneakers and a cap, Sujud is often hired to perform in other cities like Jakarta, Semarang, Surakarta, Purwokerto, Magelang, Madiun and Jambi. He sets a fee of Rp 350,000 for a show outside Yogyakarta; a show in Yogyakarta costs Rp 150,000 for a commercial event and Rp 100,000 for a noncommercial event, plus accommodation.

Sujud, who has created 45 songs, usually sings between 15 and 20 songs in each show.

He claimed that one of his shows was recorded by a Westerner, who reproduced it on cassettes and compact discs in the U.S.

He complained he received no royalties from the sales.

"In fact, I want to bring the case to court but I don't have the money," said Sujud, who has changed drums four times in the course of his 35-year career.

In 1988, he received an award from Yogyakarta governor Paku Alam VIII for his dedication to arts and culture.

Sujud loves his profession and does not have the slightest idea about when he will hang up his drum for the last time. "I don't even think of changing professions. What's more it is difficult to find a job nowadays."

He once joined the Alam Theater and performed in several plays with Sapto Raharjo, one of Yogyakarta's leading artists. He has also performed on the same stage with international performers like Jamaica Percussion Solo, Indian Drum, Ron Reeves Percussion Australia, Chinese Drum Music and Percussion Orchestra from Switzerland during the First Indonesian International Drum Festival in 1992.

The wandering "drum artist", as Sujud is affectionately known, lives in a modest house in the Badran neighborhood of the city. He admitted he was not as energetic as he used to be. One day, he said, he would retire to help his wife look after her food stall.