Keroncong Grooves

Keroncong is undergoing a revival!
The romantic and nostalgic music usually associated with retirees is now being taken up enthusiastically by the young, and they are putting their own stamp on it. At the 2013 Surakarta Keroncong Festival young performers grooved to keroncong which had been adapted to pop, rock and African sounds and rhythms. The result was vibrant, new and entertaining.

Over two nights thousands of enthusiasts crowded onto the lawns of City Hall where fifteen groups performed on a stage, decorated with plants, silhouettes of ukuleles, flashing lights and large television screens.

More than half of the musicians were school and university students. Some played the seven core keroncong instruments – ukuleles, guitar, cello, double bass, violin and flute; others incorporated electric strings, keyboards, saxophones, African and Indonesian drums. There were solos, duets and small choral groups. Musicians rocked, singers gyrated and dancers executed well-choreographed routines.

Festival organiser, Wartono, was pleased with these innovations, explaining that keroncong has to modernise if it is to survive. ‘The way to attract new players and a broader audience is to allow the young to infuse keroncong with their own musical influences and styles,’ he said.
If the recent festival is any indication, changes are taking place. Young females shunned the batik skirt, lace blouse, hair and make-up style of older performers and opted instead for mini-skirts, hot pants and shorts. Others adapted the traditional look and wore glittering, multi-coloured gauze tops over batik skirts or long dresses in velvet and shimmering fabrics. Young males looked comfortable in jeans, t-shirts, punk and modern gear instead of suits and ties.

The festival opened to rallying shouts of ‘long live keroncong’ as OK (Orkes Keroncong) SMK 8, from the state vocational high school in Surakarta, played a lively version of local favourite ‘Kota Solo’ (Solo City). After an innovative selection of old and pop keroncong, they concluded with a haunting rendition of ‘Yen Ing Tawang Ono Lintang’ (When Stars Appear in the Sky).

Teacher dancing with OK Bintang Swalayan. photo Lance Lessels

OK Bintang Swalayan, Salatiga

OK Bintang Swalayan, Salatiga, is sponsored by a local supermarket and mentored by older performers. ‘Most of the seventeen students grew up in keroncong families and really enjoy this music,’ said one of the teachers, as he proudly pointed to his two children playing violin and Indonesian drum. He believes that the young should play music of their own generation so encourages them to experiment by mixing pop, western and rock songs with keroncong. This was a competent and lively performance. The musicians looked relaxed and appeared to enjoy themselves, especially when one of their teachers danced amongst them during an energetic and animated version of ‘Bandung Selatan’.

Eight year old performer with OK Komunitas Keroncong Anak. photo Bonnie Lessels

OK Komunitas Keroncong Anak, Jombang

The youngest musician, an eight year old girl, confidently sang two songs and played violin with OK Komunitas Keroncong Anak. Her parents, both keroncong performers, enthusiastically prompted and supported from the sidelines. The inclusion of eight violins gave a rich background to their songs and the finale, a lusty rock style presentation of an old keroncong favourite, received strong applause.

OK D’Java, Surakarta, was the grooviest group.  The twenty-two university students who enjoy a wide range of musical styles regularly get together to play keroncong. Dressed in rock-style black, jeans, miniskirts, shorts, knee high boots and sneakers, they produced tight vocal harmonies and rhythmic accompaniments on a large assortment of instruments. Their renditions of ‘Ayo Mama’, from Maluku, and the Malaysian, ‘Laila Canggung’, showcased the skills of individual musicians playing complex solo riffs.

For many years people have regarded keroncong as an artifact that is stuck in a time warp, unable to change. However one of the reasons for its survival is its adaptability and capacity to absorb new influences. Once again this music is changing with the times and, as it assimilates the sounds of this young generation, keroncong grooves.
© keronconginsolo 2014

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