Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Waldjinah's ups and downs to prominence

Singgir Kartana, Contributor, Surakarta, Central Java

Fifty-seven years ago, a small girl sang a song while she watched over four goats grazing in a field in Purwotomo, Laweyan, Solo. The song, The Rainbow, was sung haltingly with a slight falter to her voice. Still, the girl's face beamed as she was in high spirits. Little did anyone know at that time that this same little girl would grew up to become one of Indonesia's most popular singers.

Fifty-seven years later, she has five grandchildren. She is Waldjinah, a famous singer known nationwide for singing keroncong and other traditional Javanese songs. She has made thousands of songs popular on the hundreds of albums she has released on long play, cassette and compact disc. Her golden voice has earned her dozens of awards.

Waldjinah was born to a poor family in Surakarta on Nov. 7, 1945. She was the tenth child born to her parents, Sri Hadjid Wirjorahardjo and Kamini. Her father earned a living as a laborer painting batik patterns on plain unbleached cloth. Her mother sold rice and Javanese salad at the Mangkuyudan intersection. Every time her father took his drawings to the boss in Laweyan, little Waldjinah would accompany him.

While she was at the batik-making factory, she listened to the women workers singing traditional Javanese songs, such as dhandhanggula, sinom and pangkur. She developed an interest in these songs and tried to sing what she had heard.

When she was in the fourth grade at elementary school, she won first prize in a traditional Javanese song contest open to elementary school students in the Laweyan district. When she entered junior high school, she began to sing keroncong. In 1958, the Surakarta radio station of state-owned RRI broadcasting station cooperated with the film-making company Perfini, then led by Usmar Ismail, to organize a keroncong festival that used Kembang Kacang (peanut blossom) as the compulsory song. Waldjinah again won first prize.

Her success marked a new phase in Waldjinah's early career as a singer. Lokananta, then the only recording company owned by the state, gave her an opportunity to record her songs. Kembang Kacang was the hit from her debut album, recorded on long play vinyl records.

Unfortunately, Waldjinah could not continue her studies after junior high school due to her busy singing and recording activities. On February 12, 1961, she married Soelis Mulyo Boedi, a mathematics teacher at a private junior high school in Surakarta and also a singer of the Irama Sehat keroncong group led by Gesang. She gave birth to five children during their marriage: Bambang Hery Santosa, Harini Dwi Astutiningsih, Erlangga Tri Putranto, Ary Mulyono and Bintang Nurcahyo.

In 1965, Waldjinah came in first during a national-scale keroncong singing contest held by state-owned radio broadcasting station RRI in Surakarta. She was invited by then president Soekarno to the State Palace in Jakarta to receive an award for her singing talent. Afterwards she received many more invitations to sing and she was able to raise the standards of her family.

In 1966, Waldjinah and her husband set up Bintang Surakarta, a keroncong music group. This group would accompany her during her recordings and stage performances. Earlier, she joined other groups, such as Ksatria, Irama Baru, Cempaka Putih and Irama Sehat.

Two years after the inception of Bintang Surakarta, she released her Walangkekek (Grasshopper) album. This song instantly became a hit and would be recorded three more times. The song earned her her nickname Walangkekek.

"During a Walangkekek promotional tour in Malang, two people were crushed to death in the pushing and shoving to watch me sing. I cannot forget this tragedy," she said.

In 1972, Waldjinah and her group performed in Suriname. The proceeds from her Suriname tour went to building a house in Mangkuyudan, Surakarta, where she still lives to this day. A year after she returned from Suriname, she received an invitation to perform in Singapore.

In her career as a singer, Waldjinah has traveled practically all over Indonesia visiting places, such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Malang, Lampung, Pontianak, Banjarmasin, Bali, Ujung Pandang, Manado, Maluku, Bengkulu and so forth. The foreign countries she has visited include Malaysia, Singapore, China, Holland, Britain, Greece and Japan.

Waldjinah has earned dozens of awards, which is evidence of her loyalty to keroncong and traditional Javanese songs. In 1958, for example, she was given an award as the Queen of Kembang Kacang from Perfini. In September 1965, she received a prize from then president Soekarno as the winner of a national-scale keroncong contest. Then in February 1985 she got an award from the Surakarta Chapter of the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) in connection with National Press Freedom Day. Two years later she earned an award from the then minister of public works, Suyono Soerodarsono. In August 1994, she received an award from state-owned television station TVRI in conjunction with the 32nd anniversary of TVRI.

In 1993 she received the Bhakti Budaya (Cultural Dedication) plaque from the Javanese Culture Institute of Surakarta. Two years later she earned the Upakarti award from the government. The next year she won the Citra Adhikarsa Budaya from private television station SCTV. In 1997, she got the Budaya Bhakti Upradana award from the Central Java governor. When she celebrated her 54th birthday in 1999, she was bestowed with the honorary name of Nyi Mas Tumenggung Hajjah Waldjinah Kencong Laras Madyo from Pakubuwono XII.

On May 15, 1999, she performed in Japan at the Shizuoka Grand Prix music festival held at Shizuoka Art Hall. After her performances, she got an offer to record the songs composed by Gesang, including, among others, World at Peace, Handkerchief, Tales, Village Edge and the world-famous Bengawan Solo (Solo River). "The performance in Japan was most impressive for us. The public greatly respected my songs. Well, I have performed there six times," she said proudly.

Although she started with keroncong, in 1995 she began to devote herself to traditional Javanese songs, a blend of keroncong and the Javanese gamelan. She later appeared as a special guest in a performance by Didi Kempot. She has been involved in the world of women singers of traditional Javanese songs since 1990, particularly in the shadow puppet shows by Ki Manteb Sudarsono and Anom Suroto. This performance was aired on one of the private television stations.

Waldjinah's husband died in 1985 and she remarried. Her second husband, Didit Hadinanto, and one of her children, Ari Mulyono, helped her a lot in managing her group. Before the financial crisis hit Indonesia in 1997, her group did not set a price for a performance. Today, however, the group's fees are fixed: Rp 5 million for performances outside Surakarta, and Rp 2.5 million for performances in the city.

Waldjinah has 31 long-play albums containing 242 songs that she sings herself, and 176 cassette recordings boasting a total of 1,524 songs. Unfortunately, nearly all recording companies that recorded her songs have now gone bankrupt or been closed.

Waldjinah sings songs composed by other composers, including Gesang, Anjarani, Nartosabdo, Didi Kempot and Manthous.

Some of her hit songs include Yen Ing Tawang Ono Lintang, Walangkekek, Caping Gunung, Lara Branta, Nyidham Sari, Putra Nuswantara, Putri Solo, just to name a few. Waldjinah has also written some songs, such as Patience, Telo Tulodho, Kites and From Darkness to Light. "Pak Gesang has helped considerably with the lyrics of my own songs," she added.

Waldjinah's popularity did not happen overnight. She has certainly been down the long and winding road of fame. She still remembers how her mother objected to her ambition to become a singer. Her mother, like most people of that time, believed that a woman singer was tantamount to being a cheap woman.

What are some of Waldjinah's special qualities? Apart from her golden voice and her unique voice manipulation, which is evident from her singing, Waldjinah is a self-made person. She is also very social and easy to be around. Even in her advanced age, she always tries to look her best.

"Many people think I've had a facelift. In fact, I keep myself healthy by drinking Javanese herbal concoctions. I have ginger drinks or just plain tea," she said.

Waldjinah dresses quite casually, too. Her reasoning is that she needs to wear the appropriate dress to conform with the prevailing situation. The most important thing is that the dress needs to be decent and pleasing to look at. She also believes that the Javanese style of getting dressed has to be maintained. That's why every time she appears in public she will wear her kebaya (Javanese women's traditional blouse) and have her hair put up in a bun.

"Someone asked me whether I keep up with the fashion trend. I have just realized that every year this trend changes. Who on earth introduces these trends? I don't care about these things, in fact," she said smiling.

Artists may enjoy immense popularity and then later see it slip away. Fame is fleeting. In Waldjinah's case, all through the year 2000, there were virtually no requests for recordings. Then she did not receive as many orders for performances as before. Prior to the onset of the 1997 financial crisis, she got an average of 15 invitations, but she only gets five invitations at most these days.

This is no indication that Waldjinah is losing her fans, although she said that the number of her fans had greatly declined as the type of music and other trends are on the rise. She said that only people aged over forty made up the majority of her fans.

Despite the rather gloomy situation, Waldjinah has made up her mind to devote herself to keroncong and traditional Javanese music. She also has a plan to set up a music school, especially for keroncong music and traditional Javanese music. This school is expected to nurture young people's interest in keroncong and traditional Javanese songs. This would ensure, she argued, that keroncong and traditional Javanese music would not fade away.

Apart from singing professionally on TV or live on stage, Waldjinah always finds time for her five grandchildren. She also plants flowers in her front yard. Sometimes, she is invited to sit on a panel of judges in local music or singing contests. Then she regularly invites artists from Surakarta for a get-together at her own house.

"One thing stands out in my career. It was the time when I collaborated with Chrisye in 1999 for an album titled Satu Musim (One Season). I felt honored to perform with him," she said.

She has all that a woman could ask for: a nice house in Mangkuyudan, Surakarta, cars, luxury furniture and great popularity. Her name has gone down in the annals of music history. She has introduced the outside world to keroncong and traditional Javanese music and songs. She deserves to be called the real envoy of performing art. Her golden voice has made Waldjinah a living legend who will be remembered from one generation to the next.