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Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut: Among the Indonesian Folk Music, Dangdut Agendas, and the Fabrication of Woman Body

Story / Review


By Martha Betaubun, ‪Desca Angelianawati
Jul 10, 2022

Asef Saeful Anwar’s name seems to be more familiar among the Indonesian academia rather than among those in the Indonesian literary arena; such a lamentable fact regarding to the number of books he has ever published. Despite his occupation as a lecturer at one of the universities in the small city of Yogyakarta, Asef – as what we call him is also a linguist and a dangdut music enthusiast. This book Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut – To a Dangdut Radio (Channel) – Eng. translation, is not an exception to this phenomenon. The uniqueness of this book lies beyond its veil: mainly focuses on a radio channel which keeps playing the old dangdut music. This is not a niche topic within the literary arenas simply because some other Indonesian writers, such as Kedung Dharma Romansha to give an example has ever gone through dangdut music in one of his books. So, what differentiates Asef’s book Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut with other books? Let’s check them out!

Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut: an ode to old Indonesian Dangdut songs

Some people may question what kind of dangdut music is. Well, dangdut is most likely an agglomeration of Indonesian folk music which comes as a mixture from Arabic, Hindustani, Malay and local folk music. It is very popular in other Malay countries due of its melodious instrumentation, vocals and beats. Through the embrace of engulfment, this music has gone through several trends.

The so-considered old dangdut includes strong Indo-Indian music influence in its basis of harmony, theme, rhythm and beat to their songs. One can hear these kinds of types in Ellya Khadam, Mansyur S, and Rhoma Irama, known as the King of Dangdut. However, the trend of this music has shifted recently to a rather new “beaty” rhymes which may include the such local songs in which a singer may sing a song in one of the Indonesian dialects in dangdut style. Some of them even mix it with the disco music similar with what one can hear a while back in Trio Macan’s song entitled Kucing Garong.

The readers may only find such mellow and slow-type of dangdut music in Asef’s Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut. Asef as the author  implores the reader to trace back the so-considered old dangdut sang by Caca Handika, Evie Tamala, Mansyur S, and Ine Sinthya. Names which be unfamiliar to our youthful ears anymore. Asef implores his readers to see the story behind it or making up another version of the story which suits to his interpretation of the songs.

In the story Janda Complex for instance, Asef tries to present his interpretation on Tuty Wibowo’s song Mabok Janda. In the story, a young man keeps falling in love with a widow whom she happens to be a dangdut singer? Does the love story go smoothly and end happily? Ah, it rather goes up and down like driving on a bumpy road and a twisted ending, in which the heroine – a dangdut singer says”

“Dalam mimpiku…setelah kita menikah, kamu tiba-tiba tidak lagi menyukaiku. Kamu mencampakkanku sebagai istri…berselingkuh dengan janda kembang. Katamu dalam mimpi, kamu sudah tidak mencintaiku karena aku sudah bukan janda lagi…”

(In my dream… right after we get married, you do not love me any longer. You kick me out (as your wife)… by having an affair with a widow. What you’ve said in my dream was that you do not love me simply because I am no longer a widow).

In addition to this romantic theme, Asef wraps his stories into a dangdut radio channel namely Dede Malu – Dendang-dendang Masa Lalu hosted by a cheerful lady named Siska Kawai. All the stories are presented similar with a real radio channel with the advertisements and radio jingle;

“Sebab semua masalah ada dangdutnya, dangdutin aja masalahnya…”

(There’s a dangdut song for every problem, so sing it along…). – raw Eng. translation.

Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut: caught between dangdut songs and their hidden agenda

I have been falling in love with a song sang in the Javanese dialect in which the lyrics say;

“Tenan, dek. Elingo, yen mantan nakokno kabarmu. Tandane iku ora rindu. Nanging kangen kringet bareng awakmu.” 

(Trust me, sis. Bear this in mind, if your ex asks how you are doing, it means that he does not only miss you but also miss being “sweaty” with you).

The word being “sweaty” here is interesting as it can be interpreted in some different ways. The first one is that the ex misses 7 some activities which involves “a sweating” activity like doing some sports. Another way of interpreting it is that the ex of this sis misses to conduct an activity which involves both parties to get all “sweating” in the pleasure department you-know-oh.

So, let’s return to the question, “What makes Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut intriguing?” The answer is simply because Asef does not only present his stories but also tries to unveil the hidden agenda behind those old dangdut songs. In the story Satu Cerita Empat Lagu Nelangsa, for instance, Asef tries to unveils four songs Undangan Palsu, Mandi Kembang, Gantungan Baju and Angka Satu sang by Caca Handika.

In Undangan Palsu, Asef mentions some probabilities based on his interpretation. Telling an unknown man who has received a wedding invitation. Little did he knows that Salamah, the lady whose name is written in the wedding invitation is basically the same girl he has been dating for some while. At these points, Asef then starts giving his arguments and invites his readers to see the “flaws” and the agenda behind this song. A question which rises is like “how can somebody who date a girl for some while does not even know the name of the girl? Her address? And every detail about her?”

In another story Dia yang Mengaku Termiskin di Dunia, telling a story about a guy named M who always thinks that he is the most unfortunate one in the world. He happens to fall in love with Camelia, a crazy rich girl who turns out to be the daughter of the owner of the karaoke he has been working at. As times goes by, both creatures fall for each other’s charms. Here comes the troubles! M starts thinking that he does not deserve Camelia because their social statuses: he who comes from a humble background and has nothing to offer to Camelia. The story ends like the song: tragically. Yet Asef hits the points there and presents it from the linguistic perspectives throughout his story. This certainly becomes one of the highlight of the books.

Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut: the socio agenda and the fabrication of dangdut singer’s (body)

Yes, as an Indonesian, I am very much familiar with dangdut music. I can also say that I grew up with such popular dangdut musicians and I still keep idolise Ainur Rochimah who is widely recognised with her name on stage: Inul Daratista. I remember in 2003, Inul’s fame started with those Indonesian ‘morale-protectors’ blowing out their anger because of her dance: Goyang Inul or Goyang Ngebor (drilling dance- Eng) due to her hip motions.

The conservative Muslim organisations like the Indonesian Muslim Council (MUI) called for a ban on her concert. The reason: Goyang Inul is too erotic, too vulgar and is against the Indonesian moral values – both ethically and morally. She was even criticised by her dangdut seniors, most vocally the King of Dangdut, Rhoma Irama, causing pros and conts.

Inul was full of tears back then while seeking for forgiveness from her seniors in the media. Some prominent Indonesian Islamic clerics like Gus Mus, Cak Nun and the ex – Indonesian president Gus Dur stood for her along with some prominent figures in the Indonesian entertainment industry. Krisdayanti, wisely said that people couldn’t intervene one’s freedom to express herself in art. However, what touched me and I remember the most was when Mas Butet Kertaradjasa once said:

Inul, yang bisa menyumbat rezeki, yang bisa menentukan nasib orang, yang bisa menggariskan hari depan orang, Cuma Tuhan… Jadi tetap saja menyanyi dan goyang. Jangan takut, kecuali sama Tuhan!”

(Inul, God is the only one who can determine people’s fate and outline the future! Keep singing and dancing! Fear God not humans!)

Yet Inul kept moving forward! Her stage performances and music videos were all over including in the form of VCDs and DVDs. Despite of the pros and conts, we cannot neglect a fact that Inul Daratista has given a new colour to the Indonesian dangdut music.

Inul’s case is an example on how women’s expression and their celebration on their body and art can be politicised to legitimise the masculine domination in this case and to maintain the system (patriarchal values). Asef as the writer also does not neglect this issue.

In the story Beberapa Alasan Menikahi Biduan Dangdut, telling a story about Rasim, a guy who wants to marry a dangdut singer. He holds a belief that there will be a singer who will accept him the way he is and would like to live a simple life with him. This rises the stigmatisations of the dangdut singers: a dangdut singer is an “easy” girl whom people can book and pay then toss her on the bed like a prostitute.

The stigmatisation also covers the lamentable fact in the Indonesian society seeing these singers whose movements on the stage are inviting and tempting from the dark spotlight. Asef through his character rises his opinion regarding this issue by saying;

…ia percaya ada penyanyi dangdut yang bisa diajak tidur, tapi tidak semuanya. Ia masih heran mengapa penyanyi dangdut sering hanya dinilai dari kondisi mereka saat di atas panggung: menggundang berahi… Mengapa banyak orang tak mau memahami penyanyi dangdut dari lagu-lagu yang mereka nyanyikan. Bukankah banyak dari lagu-lagu itu yang mengungkap kesedihan, kebahagiaan dan tak berhungan dengan berahi?”

(… he believes that there is such types of dangdut singers who can be dragged to bed (for sexual pleasure), but it does mean that they are all the same. He often questions why people most likely see a dangdut singer from their performance on the stage which is often tempting…Why can’t they understand them from the songs they are singing? Most of the songs unveil their lamentation and happiness which does not merely involving (sexual) desire?)”

Interesting ha!

Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut: a wrap-up

I know that Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut is supposed to be a light reading. I often giggle offer some stories presented and wrapped in a cheesy yet easy-reading language style. However, my heart still constricts when I reach the parts that contextualise the prejudice and the stigmatisation towards the dangdut singers. To become a woman is a hard work. Yet it really seems to be a harder work for being a woman in places where patriarchal values are unconsciously established. A place where women are mostly seen as a desirable body on stage and a (sexual) commodity.

I also cannot help myself but to think about one verse from my favourite French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu once said that masculine domination is so anchored in our social practices and our unconscious that we hardly see it. Dangdut music which is supposed to be an enjoyable entertainment for everyone through its melody and beat is without exception.

Thanking Kebab Reading Club for discussing this book a while back. A summary of their discussion can be seen in their Instagram @kebabreadingclub . Leaving you the list of the old dangdut songs in Asef Saeful Anwar’s Pada Sebuah Radio Dangdut in this link https://spoti.fi/3bH02vo  while singing;

“Cinta satu malam oh indahnya… cinta satu malam buatku melayang la la la la…”


Martha Betaubun,—a senior lecturer at one of the universities in Merauke, Papua—co authoring this post with Desca Angelianawati. She spends most of her time travelling among Merauke, Asmat, Mappi and some other parts of Indonesia either for work or for leisure. Greet her at marthabetaubun@unmus.ac.id 





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