Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Gamelan Cudamani – “Young Man in Love”

July 10, 2010

In the three months since I started writing, I’ve resisted high culture.  But I couldn’t resist showing you this when I saw it.  

This Cudamani group from the Balinese village of Pengosekan has excellent timing and a rich, full sound.  The additional hand movements are also unusual.  The dancer is exquisite.  It’s a superior, professional troupe.  

Although Pengosekan is said to be a low-caste village there must be something in the water there because it punches above its weight in artistic abilities.  The village is also famed for its paintings.

Before starting, the dancer is led by a priest (in white) to make an offering to a barong, which is a kind of Balinese dragon.  As with Asian dragons, the barong is a benevolent force.


Dangdut! Dian Ratih

July 4, 2010

Watching this clip I couldn’t understand why Dian Ratih is such a popular performer.  That is, she’s popular in East Java, which by headcount is incredibly popular.

To be fair, production quality is poor, there’s one close up where she’s out of focus and the director hasn’t even excluded passers-by.  It’s like they just turned up to a beach and started shooting without permission.  I’ve always found these music clips, where the performer mimes the words while outdoors, to be strange.  But she seems to make little effort to pretend to be actually singing.

She takes a few rythmic steps in one random direction then a few more back where she came from.  Well, she can’t really dance with that tight skirt she’s wearing.  Thankfully the whole embarassing affair ends abruptly after five and a half long minutes as she freezes and the camera pans away into the foliage.

That clip is dated 2007, so I thought I’d try to find see how she developed from there.  After a bit of searching, I came across this video, but for a while I thought it was a different girl:

Well, it is a different girl, but she’s the same Dian Ratih, changed so much after only a year.  Still awful, but in a different way.  What’s she done to her lovely hair?  What was wrong with her natural black hair?  And what a mess it is.  She wears three costumes, only one of them looks good and maybe thats because the water distracts your attention from it.  Definitely a lot more movement, but meaningless.  Maybe it’s supposed to look sexy?  The way her eyebrows are plucked makes her look like one of those middle aged Chinese ladies you see at the malls.  Perhaps she goes to the same beautician they do.  The kind of beautician that makes you age 20 years?  She still can’t mime to save herself.

If you thought those outfits were terrible, take a look at this:

She couldn’t decide whether the yellow or the blue, so why not both?  Equally horrid.  At least her hair is a bit better this time.  How about the back-up dancers?  She and they never meet.  What were the director’s instructions to them?  ‘Just wear whatever you’ve got.  As long as it’s a skirt.  Oh, and put on some big clunky sneakers, you’ll be dancing on grass’.  Skirt and huge sneakers, how elegant.  At least we get to see some of the attractions of Banyuwangi: a big rock in the middle of the road at 2:40 and a power line at 4:30, really makes you want to go there.

In a similarly awful vein is this clip:

It looks like something from the 1980’s.  The dancers have a nice sand patch to bounce around in their crazy jumpsuits.  At least Dian’s costumes are a bit more tasteful.  Except the one where she’s sitting on the window sill.  She’s lost one of her long glove things and wearing a beret.  For some reason smoke rises outside the house.  Is there a fire?  Are there people smoking outside?  Still a wooden miming performance, not much better than any of the previous clips.

So if Dian Ratih is so awful, why is she so popular?   Finally I discovered the answer is – LIVE!:

She’s a true performer.  On stage she actually connects with the audience and has a presence and energy.  She strangles the high notes and her costume is not very flattering, but it’s a world of difference from her pre-recorded clips.

I’ve saved the best for last:

She really sells this song.  The hair’s back to being a terrible mess and the costume does nothing for her as usual, but her onstage personality more than compensates for that.   There’s a world of difference between the performance in this clip and the one at the beginning of this post, don’t you agree?

With all that going on on stage, I love the way the camera cuts away to those sedate Javanese bapaks (dads) puffing on their kreteks.  They don’t want to go up to the stage for a better view because it would somehow be a sign of weakness to show that they are interested in the performance.

Campur Sari: Traditional Style

June 23, 2010

I’ve featured a few campur sari clips in the past couple of weeks.  The first was quite accessable, but with clear elements of Javanese traditional music, the second increased the weirdness level significantly. 

In this clip the style is far more traditional.  Although even this one is a bit more up tempo than is normal for the Javanese gamelan.  It’s also unusual for the singer to crack a smile, in this performance she can’t stop laughing as she forgets the words.  Luckily her colleague is more than happy to help her out.  The performers are wearing traditional Javanese costumes, the ladies wearing kebayas (a kind of tight-fitting blouse).  Their hair styles are also typical, although not as ornate as you might see.

The song is about a type of tree which has heart-shaped leaves and a girl who has many suitors but only loves one man.  I think you would have to be Javanese to get the point of that.  Anyhow, it’s interesting because its in the form of a parikan – a nursery rhyme, the whole of each word of a verse rhymes with the whole of each word of the next verse.  That would be a challenge if you tried it in English.  Do you know of any English poems or songs that have that form?

Campur Sari: Nyidam Sari Sung by a Girl!

June 15, 2010

This song is part of the campur sari genre, but you’ll find that it contains many more elements of traditional Javanese music (compared with the Didi Kempot song I wrote about last week).  The most obvious is the way the music slows down, stalls and stops for a little while before it picks up again.  I don’t know the purpose of this, it happens several times during this performance.  Maybe it’s to create interest?

Anyhow, I think the performance itself is quite good considering it is probably the singer’s debut.  If you listen carefully, right at the beginning, the boss in the white shirt tells her to smile (“ayo kasih senyum!”).  Later, the backing vocalist/flautist also tells her to smile and then to dance when the percussion picks up.  She doesn’t waste any time scurrying back even before she finishes her song and sits down in her place among the other female singers before the music stops .  Must be scared, poor thing. 

The unusual thing about the performance of this song, Nyidam Sari, is that it’s being sung by a girl.  It’s very unusual for a Javanese girl to sing a song which is written for a guy. 

Umpomo sliramu sekar melati

aku kumbang Nyidam Sari

Umpomo sliramu margi

wong manis, aku kang bakal nglewati.

Which means:

If you are a jasmine flower

I’m the bee longing for nectar

if you are a road

pretty girl, I will pass through it.

Here is a more typical version of this song:

Very Javanese, this version.  The singer and the girl are wearing traditional Javanese dress.  She’s very demure.  Notice the furniture and the style of the architecture?  So Javanese.  But you would hardly guess it was the same song.

The other interesting thing about the first clip, for me, is that it was taken at a wedding reception.  You can see the guests arriving and being greeted, maybe by the groom.  Notice how he touches his chest after shaking hands?  It’s customary.  You don’t need to turn up at the right time if you’re invited to a wedding, the important thing is just to show your face.  Once you’ve been greeted, you’re free to go anywhere, but the best policy is to head straight for the food.  Indonesians don’t hold back at buffets, you really need to dive in if you want the best dishes before they’re gone.  That’s my experience, anyhow.

After getting their food, you can see the crowd segregates.  The bapaks (men) go to watch the singer while the ibu (mums) settle down with the food and the kids.  In fact this crowd is spoilt because it’s quite unusual to have more than just food at a wedding reception.  They seldom put on any entertainment.  It’s quite a mixed blessing to be invited to a Javanese wedding.  On one hand, they will be disappointed if you don’t show up.  On the other, there will be no alcohol or dancing, musical entertainment (such as you see in the  clip) is rare.  It’s a bit like a Methodist wedding.

Music: Campur Sari! Didi Kempot

June 8, 2010

Campur sari is Javanese pop music.  While dangdut has some traditional themes, campur sari has more of it and is less influenced by Middle Eastern music.  It also seems to me a bit more laid back than dangdut.

Didi Kempot started his career as a busker and was discovered.  A true rags to riches story.

As you can see from the subtitles, the song is about a guy who’s girl has to leave him at this Balapan Station, Solo.  You don’t get more Javanese than Solo.   Anyhow, you can read the lyrics for yourself.  Feel free to sing along.

Here’s a remix version.  I prefer the dancers in this one:

Dangdut: Inul Daratista

April 11, 2010

This is the lady and the moves that got a few Islamic leaders excited.  If you can imagine, after decades of the pious warblings of Rhoma Irama, they started to notice that dangdut music includes much more than that.  In fact, it was perhaps Mr Irama who attracted devout Muslims to dangdut in the first place, but it has always included themes concerning love, mens inconstancy and such.  Anyhow, self-righteous anger was invoked and the fanatics almost succeeded  in banning Inul from the stage.  Thankfully, there was a reaction against this and the tide has somewhat turned against the rampaging censorship that had started to take hold of the country.  My thoughts are that after 40 years of state-sponsored oppression, people weren’t in the mood for more years of religious-based oppression.

The way I’ve written the above makes it seem like a forgone conclusion, but it must have taken plenty of bravery to stand against those so-called leaders, including Rhoma Irama.  I call them ‘leaders’ in the loosest possible way.  A true leader doesn’t simply react and follow the herd of consensus opinion, and a true leader doesn’t change his view as soon as it becomes apparent that it’s not popular.  He also doesn’t try to ruin people’s careers thoughtlessly.  Common sense finally came in the form of Abdurrahman Wahid, a former president, and Mostafa Bisri, another prominent theologian, each of whom defended her (so don’t think all Muslims are mindless fanatics). 

Well, you can judge for yourself whether Inul’s performance style is pornographic.  In my opinion, she can dance and she can sing, but she can’t do them both at the same time.  Frankly, I’ve seen better singers (you’ve seen a couple on this blog already), and I’ve seen more suggestive dancing (you won’t see it on this blog, but it’s on the internet for anyone to find).

The following video is the song which kicked off her career, and her raunchy reputation, back in 1992 – Final Countdown.  I’m not sure if this is the original clip, though, as there’s a date of 2003 and she looks a bit tired for a 13-year-old, although the dance steps certainly look 20 years out of date:

She plays a mean air guitar, doesn’t she?  I’m wondering whether she wears a false butt?  Most Indonesians have flat ones, but she’s got a nice rounded one – can’t be real, can it?

Dangdut! Dewi Ular

March 27, 2010

Dewi the Snake.  I guess it means that her voice is so sweet it even charms the snakes that co-habit the box she lives in.  Well, as you can see, her manager is so mean he keeps his pet snakes in the same box poor Dewi lives in.  He only lets her out to perform.  Notice she doesn’t spend much time in that box, she’s out of it as soon as the camera switches away.  I always think it’s a shame when a performer doesnt use her props effectively – we don’t see the snakes again in this clip.

The first song is thankfully short, but at the 1:40 mark she practically begs the audience to let her sing another one ‘mau lagi? mau lagi? (want another? want another?)’  Before they can say ‘no’, she launches into another tune.  Well, to be fair, they don’t seem too upset and they even seem to like the second song.

But how about what’s going on in the background?  I haven’t seen back-up dancing like that since Hot Gossip in the 1970s.  Not quite as risque, of course.  But I mean, really.  If you’re going to the expense of hiring a bunch of dancers to take the attention away from the awfulness of the singer, the least you could do is use a choreographer who didn’t stop learning new moves 40 years ago.

Dangdut! Susi

March 24, 2010

All I know about this singer is her name.  She has quite a unique and pleasant sound, sometimes like a mosquito, sometimes makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, always with that trembling vibrato.  It gives a sense of nervousness or vulnerability.  But you can see by her actions on the stage that she is quite comfortable performing in front of an audience. 

The group of girls smoking and chatting on the stage behind her are also singers, waiting for their turn. 

The song is a popular one, but I don’t know the lyrics.  Mabuk janda = drunk widow.  Janda can also mean widower, and it can also mean a divorced woman.  Can anyone tell me the meaning of the song?

Dangdut! Rhoma Irama

March 21, 2010

Watch the first 30 seconds of this clip for the laughs.  Listen to the rest of the clip for the golden voice of Rhoma Irama, king of dangdut.

Since I saw this clip I really need to see the whole film.  What caused her to bleed from the eyes?  Why are the workers looking the opposite direction to where the action is?  Why is he running like a girl and so slowly?  And why is he calling her Mama?  She looks to young to be his mother.  Did she adopt him? 

Quick!  Someone watch Pengabdian and tell me the answers.


February 27, 2010

Here is a fine example of this style of music.  Mostly influenced by Indian soundtracks, having a strong Middle Eastern influence, I’d be interested to know how much Indonesian influence it actually carries. The subject matter is almost always sentimental and about love. Anyhow, this girl has a good voice and pretty too. Anyone know who she is?

Middle class Indonesians deride it, but it is extremely popular among the masses. I love it, but seldom go to a performance because the audience is inevitably almost entirely composed of young Indonesian guys. Not that I’m against that. 

You can easily find a dangdut venue, it’s the place with all the motorcycles parked outside.