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My first 'dangdut' encounter ... in Pittsburgh

As an Indonesian, of course I know about dangdut, Indonesia's own popular take on world music. But, just like many young educated Indonesians, I am not a dangdut fan. Born and raised in Dayeuhkolot, a suburb of Bandung, I did grow up with this music.

Almost every day dangdut poured out of the house of Haji Dodo, my next-door neighbor. Every time I went to the traditional market with my mom, I heard it on vendors' radios. Too often I found myself humming a dangdut tune, along with some kids from the neighborhood.

But do I know what dangdut really is?

I never attended any dangdut concerts when I lived in Indonesia. Without my recent Pittsburgh dangdut experience, I might never have had the chance to see Rhoma Irama and Soneta perform live. If this concert had been staged in Bandung, my parents would never have let me go.

Dangdut is popular, even populist (rakyat) music. It reflects the spirit, desire, and aspirations of ordinary people, whom we call "little people" (orang kecil) in Indonesian. They are the grassroots, the marginalized ones, the underclass. This genre is often equated with backwardness and vulgar taste (kampungan) derived from the life of the kampung.

In recent years, triggered by controversies around Inul Daratista's gyrating hip movements, I've been paying more attention to dangdut. because of Inul, dangdut has become a topic within political and cultural discourses.

But events at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Islam and Popular Culture in Indonesia and Malaysia at the University of Pittsburgh on Oct. 10-12 presented me with a reality that had never occurred even in my wildest dreams: a face-to-face with dangdut legend Rhoma Irama.

I admit to mixed feelings. I was excited to meet the legend, but I was pestered with doubts. Not because I wasn't a dangdut fan but because I couldn't set aside prejudices based on the redacted and possibly distorted persona of Rhoma Irama.

My preconceived opinion derived from the way Rhoma Irama has been represented in the media in discourses on Inul's moves. The conflict between Inul and Rhoma Irama functions as a stand-in for an ideological contest between religious values, patriarchy, conservatism and fundamentalism on the one hand and democracy, individual freedom and gender equality on the other. Discourses around this conflict have reduced Rhoma Irama to a one-dimensional, conservative and fundamentalist figure.

At the evening concert, I felt at first as if I were attending just one more formal Indonesian event. But then I realized it was the first live dangdut concert of my life! Surrealism took over.

Rhoma Irama and his band, Soneta, impressed me from their first song, Dangdut. But it wasn't until the fourth number that I finally joined in dancing, Joged Dangdut. As the band worked through their fifth, sixth and seventh songs, the dancing crowd grew bigger. The more I danced, the more I felt comfortable within myself. My emotion, my soul, got involved.

That evening, I got to experience what dangdut really is. I was part of a collective ritual, yet with my personal space remaining intact. My dangdut moment briefly liberated me from status, position, taste, style, image and other labels. That moment brought out the dangdutness in me. Yes, that kampungan in me!

In many discourses about dangdut, "the people" are positioned as backward, kampungan and opposed to progress and development. Intellectuals use these notions to criticize modernity. But through dangdut, in dangdut, and by dangdut, people find their identity, expression, and aspiration as well as a way to be themselves.

Dangdut is not monolithic, not homogeneous. It is neither a symbol of backwardness nor a symbol of progress. Dangdut can be a space where social, cultural and political contradictions meet. It is a space where everyday events encounter each other. In dangdut and through dangdut, I found my kampungan side which enables me to feel more comfortable and free.


source : http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/11/10/my-first-039dangdut039-encounter-pittsburgh.html

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3 comments:

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