FEATURE: Reviving ‘Keroncong’
YOGYAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The renowned song “Bengawan Solo” by maestro Gesang marked the opening of the keroncong market in Kotagede, Yogyakarta, held to revive the music believed to be of Indonesian origin.
The song “Bengawan Solo” was in the air. Javanese singer Endah Sri Murwati, or Endah Laras as she is more popularly known, sang the song attractively with the company of the Swastika Keroncong Orchestra from Surakarta, Central Java.
The song marked the opening of the keroncong market in Kotagede, Yogyakarta, held last Saturday (December 12).
Noted filmmaker Garin Nugroho, who is originally from Kotagede, officially opened the event, officially called “Pasar Keroncong Kotagede” (Kotagede Keroncong Market), initiated by famous composer Djaduk Ferianto and the local community.
“This is the right place to host the event, the right start for the revival of keroncong, which can accommodate any kind of music — just like Kotagede, which also grew in the past as a melting pot for various cultures thanks to its being a trading city,” Garin said.
He said Kotagede, which was established in the 16th century, was even older than Yogyakarta that was set up in the 17th century, making it a perfect place to “market” keroncong, which is also believed to have been born in the 17th century.
The head of the Yogyakarta Provincial Cultural Agency, Umar Priyono, praised the event, saying that the togetherness shown at the event, the first ever, would strengthen the harmony in Yogyakarta in the future.
“Believe me, Yogyakarta will be more colourful in the future. As you can see here, keroncong can collaborate with other kinds of music instruments,” Umar said at the opening ceremony.
Other performers included veteran keroncong singer Subarjo HS of Kotagede, a five-time winner of the legendary 1970s Radio Television Star championship in the keroncong category, who sang “Keroncong Moresko”, believed to be a milestone in the development of keroncong music in Indonesia.
Jazz singer Iga Mawarni and multi-talented singer and performer Didik Ninik Thowok also performed at the event.
A total of 16 different groups performed on the three stages prepared by the organising committee in the northern yard of the Kotagede traditional market, in Sayangan village and in Sopingen Hall.
“If the event turns out to be a success, in the future we will also invite other groups from outside Yogyakarta,” Djaduk said.
In initiating the event, Djaduk said he was inspired by New Orleans, US, as a jazz city.
He wanted to make Kotagede a keroncong laboratory in which keroncong became a daily part of people’s lives and not just something for tourism.
Kotagede, he said, has all the requirements to become a keroncong laboratory — not only because of its being known as a heritage city, a silver city, an ancient city, but also because of the uniqueness of the town’s people in terms of creativity.
“I found Kotagede an ideal place to be the New Orleans of Indonesia for keroncong,” Djaduk said.
To make keroncong more acceptable for a wider community and a heterogeneous public, Djaduk said the event invited varied groups, from mainstream classic and contemporary to modified keroncong.
He said it was for the same reason that guest stars like Iga Mawarni and Didik Ninik Thowok were invited to perform at the event beside veteran keroncong singer Subarjo HS, with comedians hosting each of the stages to create a fresher and merrier atmosphere.
Interactive spaces were also created during the performances in which the audience was welcomed to come up onto the stages to perform.
Keroncong researcher Victor Ganap of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) Yogyakarta said that keroncong deserves revival efforts, considering that it was music of Indonesian origin.
Quoting his research, Victor said keroncong, which many believed to have originated in Portugal, is in fact a national asset that emerged and grew in Indonesia.
The music, he said, was heavily influenced by gamelan orchestras, as shown by compositions created by Kusbini of Yogyakarta and by traditional Javanese macapat songs as shown by the compositions created by Gesang of Surakarta.
“The only legacy that Portugal has in keroncong in the cuk and cak music instruments, also known as ukulele, which are no longer in existence there. You will not find keroncong in Portugal,” Victor said.
Victor believed that with such deep roots, keroncong would survive over ages and would never die. “I welcome this event. I am sure this will help to revive keroncong,” he said.
Yogyakarta provincial councilor Arif Noor Hartanto said keroncong has been an inseparable part of Kotagede people’s lives as seen from the presence of different keroncong orchestras up to the present.
Arif hoped such events would not be just short-term projects with no future programs and pointed out the need to involve the community as an inseparable part of sustaining the whole program, apart from the local administrations’ support to facilitate the event.
“With the special status fund it has, I am sure Yogyakarta has more than sufficient energy to continue reproducing artistic processes like this,” said Arif, who is also from Kotagede.