Dangdut Stories: A Social and Musical History of Indonesia's Most Popular Music

By Johnston, Jesse A. | Notes, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Dangdut Stories: A Social and Musical History of Indonesia's Most Popular Music


Johnston, Jesse A., Notes


Dangdut Stories: A Social and Musical History of Indonesia's Most Popular Music. By Andrew Weintraub. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. [vi, 258 p. ISBN 9780195395662 (hardcover), $99; ISBN 9780195395679 (paperback), $24.95.] Illustrations, index, music examples.

Dangdut Stories offers the first booklength study of dangdut in English. It contributes to studies of global popular musics, ethnomusicology, and Southeast Asian studies through an in-depth cultural study of dangdut, a style of popular music that has been described by many as Indonesia's de facto national music. Unlike previous English-language studies that have largely focused on the genre's relation to nationalism, Andrew Weintraub offers new areas of focus, including gender, class, ethnicity, and media. He shows how the music is a "vivid reflection" of national politics and offers a detailed reading of dangdut as an aesthetic and ideological practice in modern Indonesia (p. 13). To do this, Wein traub offers descriptive analyses of many significant dangdut (and predangdut) songs, writes about its lyrics (source of the title's "stories"), and presents biographies of major performers. Con - sistent themes throughout include the hybrid roots of dangdut (from sources as varied as Hindi film music, Jimi Hendrix, and Melayu music in the Malacca Straits), the music's status as a "contact zone" for issues of cultural hybridity, Islam in public life, the role and representation of women in Indonesian society, and tensions between local and national musics in Indo nesia. The book is based on Wein traub's fieldwork, participant observation, interviews, music lessons, research on articles from popular print media, and Internet sources.

The book may be divided into three sections. The first (chapters 2 and 3) explores the roots and influences of "proto dangdut"; the second (chapters 4, 5, and 6) traces the development of the genre in the 1970s-1990s, with particular attention to major artists and political trends; and the third (chapters 7 and 8) traces changes in dangdut since 1998. The first section describes debates over the roots of the genre, as major performers espouse conflicting stories about its genesis. Some (like Rhoma Irama) link it to Indonesian and Islamic roots in North Sumatran Melayu culture, while others (like Elvy Sukaesih) stress its status as a uniquely Indonesian and highly participatory form of music. This dichotomy illustrates the book's central rhetorical device: dangdut is used by various people and groups in various ways to accomplish disparate cultural and ideological ends. When Rhoma Irama stresses Melayu roots, he claims dangdut as a precolonial and Islamic expression; when Elvy Sukaesih claims it as uniquely Indonesian, she focuses on the music's emotional immediacy and participatory elements. Thus, people talk about music in ways that constructs various "ideological positions" (p. 35).

The first section also emphasizes the culturally hybrid roots of dangdut. Musical traits of "proto dangdut," established in these chapters and traced in more detail later in the book, include poetic conventions, increasingly complex musical form, influences (instruments, melodies, and ornamentations) from Indian film music, and the chalte rhythmic pattern (which, Wein - traub suggests, may have origins in India, Malaysia, or even Latin music). By the 1970s these hybrid elements had assimilated into a new genre called dangdut.

The book's second section traces dangdut from the 1970s through the late 1990s. Chapter 4 describes the early associations between dangdut and "the people" (rakyat), suggesting that the music's purported relationship to the popular masses varied depending on who was describing the music and why. This chapter also presents a biography of Rhoma Irama, the "King of Dangdut," and a discussion of his major recordings (pp. 93-106). Chapter 5 turns to the 1980s, with a particular focus on the representation of women in songs and musical films, with a particular case study of music by Elvy Sukaesih (the "Queen of Dangdut," pp. …

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