The high green wall is hidden amongst furniture wholesalers and car repairers. A parking attendant in fluoro orange uniform stops passing traffic and directs drivers in and out of tiny spaces nearby. The passengers stream in and out of a narrow doorway.
Behind the wall is a small warung in a sunny courtyard. Brightly painted murals of mountains, streams and greenery cover the walls; birds whistle from cages in trees; fish swim in a small pond; and the cigarette seller sits behind a tiny window amongst the scenery. Nearby three musicians languidly strum and sing.
It is seven o’clock on a Sunday morning and all seats are taken: families and friends are enjoying breakfast and keroncong. A group near the door makes room for us on a long wooden bench and we order timlo, an enormous bowl of broth filled with chicken, noodles, eggs, vegetables and slices of sausage. The sounds of keroncong compete with the clatter and chatter of patrons who also request favourite songs, sing solos and contribute to the donation box on a stool near the door.
The musicians have performed here for twenty years – ten hours a day, seven days a week. Most of them come from the same neighbourhood and learned to play keroncong when they were young. They used to borrow instruments from older players so they could go busking in the streets and shopping centres, but when this did not bring in much money they tried playing in front of popular warungs. Before long one of the owners invited them inside with the offer of free drinks, occasional cigarettes and a cut of the donation box.
They now have a pool of twelve versatile musicians, each of whom plays several instruments, which means they can form small groups and perform at different venues on the same day. Today they will work at two warungs and at a village wedding. This maximises the income, which is then shared amongst them.
When the violinist plays the introduction to ‘Bengawan Solo’ the parking attendant suddenly appears in the doorway singing the first line. The crowd claps and he obliges with a resonant rendition of this famous local song complete with smiles and dramatic gestures. At the same time he keeps a watchful eye on the traffic outside and, after finishing with a quick bow, goes back to his real job.
The noise level rises again and keroncong fades into the background until a young woman sitting nearby starts to sing the evocative sounds of local Javanese keroncong. Staff and customers fall silent then join in the chorus and clap the familiar rhythms. The young vocalist usually sings traditional Javanese songs but comes here because she loves singing keroncong.
The musicians stretch out their legs and lean against the mural to ease their backs. Although at times they appear to play automatically, as if their thoughts are in another place, they say they enjoy the regular work in this bustling environment.
© keronconginsolo 2014