Dangdut, the Indonesian popular music
Dangdut is a genre of Indonesian popular music that originated in the 1960s. The vibrant and constantly evolving musical form that draws on Arabic, Malay, Indian and rock influences exploded in the 1970s with acts such as Rhoma Irama and Elvy Sukaesih. Rhoma added Western rock to the music and political content — much of it Islamic — to the lyrics, earning him the ire of President Suharto but creating a unique sound; most other dangdut still sounds like Indian film music.
Typical of the mainstream is Elvy Sukaesih, the other great star from the golden age, or Camelia Malik. More recent years have seen a dizzying series of stars, including Evie Tamala and “disco-dangdut” by Ade Irma, Sendak Oriel and others. Especially since the late 1990s dangdut has reached a broader following in Indonesia.
Dangdut, once the music of the poor, is upwardly mobile these days. Dangdut has been becoming respectable for a long time. It has a special power for Indonesians precisely because it is Indonesian, not Western. Dangdut also has meaning as “Indonesian” in a different sense, as virtually the only cultural form not identified with any particular ethnic group. It bridges all these regional identities. It is, however, perceived as strongly Muslim, even though its lyrics deal more with romance than religion, and as such is disliked in predominantly Christian or Hindu areas. There is dangdut sung in local languages, and that is powerfully local, because very few Indonesians can speak a regional language other than their own.
Most major cities, especially on Java, have one or more venues that have a dangdut show several times a week. The concerts of major dangdut stars are also broadcast on television. Sometimes the singers became the subject of much controversy and criticism from conservatives over their suggestive, erotic style of dancing during televised shows.
A dangdut band usually consists of a lead singer backed by four to eight musicians. The term has been expanded from the desert-style music, to embrace other musical styles. Modern dangdut incorporates influences from Latin, house music, hip-hop, R&B, reggae and even Western classical music. Soon, Indonesians will get a taste of new take on the roots of dangdut music. Arreal’s album, Dangdut in America, which features a lively mix of songs in both Indonesian and English, is scheduled to be released in November 2008.