Bengawan Solo (River Solo) is a legendary Indonesian song. Composed by Gesang Martohartono in 1940, it was the first widely popular song to be written in Indonesian language.
Gesang, a singer and bandleader in Solo, wrote the song in 32-bar AABA Langgam form, intending it to be accompanied by a keroncong orchestra in keroncong asli style.
The lyrics tell of the majestic River Solo that flows through Central and East Java and has historically dominated the lives of the local people: it supports and sustains them but also regularly brings misery when it floods. The language is poetic and nostalgic. The melody, easy to sing and remember, appeals to a wide audience.
Bengawan Solo became an instant hit throughout the archipelago when the local Japanese community promoted it on radio during the Japanese occupation of Java (1942-1945). After the Japanese surrender the song assumed significance as a nationalistic symbol in the Indonesian struggle for independence (1945-49): it was in the language of independence and it aroused feelings of national pride and patriotism.
Most frequently played in keroncong style, Bengawan Solo is also performed in pop, country, reggae, rock, regional Indonesian and other styles. The lyrics have been translated into regional Indonesian, English, Japanese, Chinese, Tagalog, Thai, Burmese and many other languages.
The song became so popular in Japan that it was believed to be a Japanese song and marketed as such. In 1990 Indonesia won a copyright dispute against Japan and Gesang subsequently received royalties for his composition.