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Learn to love 'dangdut'

This article was published by The Jakarta Post on October 27, 2008. Read the article on The Jakarta Post, here

It may sound funny but I do have a theory that one of the reasons why Indonesia's young generation is losing its national identity is because it hates dangdut.

It's so obvious, no young and educated Indonesian likes dangdut. And I'm not just pointing my finger at my fellow young Indonesians, I have to admit, I don't like it either.

We young Indonesians don't like it so much that we have framed it as one of the most laughable topics for many years.

We feel sorry for people who actually dance to the rhythm of dangdut; We feel sorry for people who like Rhoma Irama. We laugh at them so happily knowing that their music is so kampungan (old fashioned) and our music is so much cooler.

We can sing any famous American singer's songs perfectly and we know the lyrics by heart.

Modern music concerts are common in this country, and it seems to me that every single one of them can easily attract a large number of young and educated Indonesians.

The Java Jazz Festival, for example, has been packed with young and educated Indonesians for four years, although when the festival was first introduced many people thought the tickets were unreasonably priced; but young Indonesians came anyway.

The same organizer just held an R&B festival called Soulnation which was successful in drawing a lot of young Indonesians -- they paid tickets worth at least Rp 200,000 (about US$20) and didn't complain. They came dressed in the latest R&B outfits, mimicking their idols, like Akon and Ashanti.

What's wrong with not liking dangdut one might ask. Well, it's not wrong, as one of my best friends pointed out to me that you can't blame someone for liking one type of music just as you can't blame someone for liking nasi goreng (fried rice).

But what we don't realize is that dangdut is our national treasure; It's part of our national heritage. What we don't realize is that dangdut is the music of our country, just like Project Pop said in its song "Dangdut is the music of my country" a few years ago.

What we don't realize is that when we laugh at dangdut, thinking that it's stupid music, it's like laughing at keroncong or any other Indonesian traditional music genre.

Sometimes I wonder why we can't fall in love with dangdut when young African Americans are so proud of their R&B and rap.

One of the reasons may lie in the fact that we are too arrogant to like the same kind of music that low-income Indonesians like; That we don't want to put ourselves on the same level as mas-mas and mba-mba (respectively older brother and older sister in Javanese).

If that is the kind of mentality that we all share, then I think we should feel sorry for ourselves for thinking that dangdut is so kampungan and that those people who like it just don't have any taste in music. We should feel sorry for ourselves for not realizing how music, like language, could be a very effective medium to unite us all.

Imagine if all young Indonesians, whether rich or poor, could at least agree that dangdut is something we all could enjoy together. We would be more united.

Apparently it's the responsibility for anyone working in the dangdut industry to find a way to make the music more attractive to young and educated Indonesians, such as my friends and myself.

At the end of the day, I'm not encouraging you to like dangdut. Music is about one's personal preference, after all. But what I'd like to encourage us all to do is instead of mocking those who like dangdut, to rather respect them for being able to express their "Indonesianity" a little bit more than we can.

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