Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Traditional music spices up lunch in Menteng, Kuningan

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Having a violist playing a classical song and moving from one table to another to accompany a couple's meal is a privilege in high-class restaurants.

How about having a traditional Javanese singer, sinden, and a zither player playing a classical Javanese tune and moving from car to car to enrich a couple's eating experience?

On one hot afternoon, a number of cars were parked along Jl. Karawang in Menteng, Central Jakarta. Under the shade of acacia trees along the street, couples, office workers, students and young executives were eating tongseng, a popular spicy Indonesian broth containing goat meat, in their cars.

At that very moment approached a woman clad in a kebaya, a traditional Javanese dress, complete with her konde or hair bun, accompanied by a man wearing a batik shirt and carrying a zither.

The couple offered a motorist a song in a very polite Javanese manner. Soon after getting a sign of approval, they squatted with their backs straightened and started to perform a song.

They performed a classical song called loro bronto using the traditional sinden singing method. The audience soon relaxed and slowed their eating. Those who had finished their meals, soon appeared drowsy.

After finishing their song, the performers, Jumiati and her husband Wagiyo, politely gave a sign to their audience that they were about to leave, and then the motorist gave them Rp 1,000 (12 U.S. cents).

Besides singing on Jl. Karawang, they regularly sing in Pasar Festival in Kuningan, South Jakarta.

Wagiyo, 40, told The Jakarta Post that he and his wife could earn an average of Rp 100,000 on weekdays and Rp 120,000 at weekends.

"Although most of our audience seems not to understand our songs much, they are commonly generous, giving us an average of Rp 1,500," he said, adding that people usually gave Rp 100 to street singers.

He said that sometimes people invited them to perform at wedding ceremonies or at other traditional Javanese occasions.

He declined to mention their fees, but implied that it would depend on the economic condition of the people who invited them.

Wagiyo and his 52-year-old wife first came to Jakarta six years ago from Ngawi, East Java. Since then they have regularly come to Jakarta to sing if they are not working on their farmland in Ngawi.

"We spend a month and a half at the most, after that we go home to Ngawi and come back to Jakarta the next month," he said.

Jumiati said that she had learned to sing as a little girl. She learned the skill from her mother who was also a sinden.

"My husband and I are very grateful that we inherited the skill, because relying only on farming is not enough for a living," she said.

"Too bad that not many youngsters are interested in such a skill," she said.

Unfortunately, nowadays people cannot easily find such a traditional Javanese singer to accompany their lunch.