January 2017

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Despite the rainy season there were lots of keroncong events on in January.

A small crowd of regulars went to HAMKRI’S Sunday night latihan and by 9 pm seven musicians and several vocalists were on stage ready to entertain not only the audience but also the visiting Malaysian film crew that took lots of photos and audio.

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HAMKRI latihan Jan 2017

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Wartono

HAMKRI chairman, Wartono, works tirelessly to motivate and encourage musicians to continue playing keroncong. ‘It’s my obsession,’ he says.

‘I try to attend two latihan every night. I just arrive, greet everyone, drink tea and watch. I don’t even need to talk – just the fact that I come shows respect. Sometimes they ask for help, and if it’s possible I do something. I like to revisit them each month.

Sometimes I push them.
One group had lost interest and only met for the social gathering. They tried to start playing again but stopped after three latihan.  I told them I knew of a group that was looking to start up and needed instruments.
“You’re not using your instruments. Do you want to sell them?” I asked.
They were angry. “Who said we want to sell? We’re still using them and we’ve got a latihan next week.” They resumed playing.

Many groups can’t afford to hold latihan: they don’t have the money for instruments, snacks, cigarettes and petrol. Often they can’t do paid performances because they can’t afford to rehearse. The performances and jam sessions at HAMKRI are good because everyone can take part.

We support young people: we encourage them to innovate, to sing any song they like with the keroncong style accompaniment; and we include them in the Surakarta Keroncong Festival. The audience always applauds them strongly, so then they become self-motivated and want to keep playing.’

HAMKRI committee members are volunteers. ‘The meagre HAMKRI funding wouldn’t cover paying staff. What’s important is that we work together for the sake of keroncong.’ The organisation is actively supported by local musicians who are full of praise for Wartono’s commitment.

In a recent two week period, Wartono made four trips to Yogyakarta to watch performances and latihan and to talk to a researcher; went to Bandung, Jakarta and Semarang; interviewed performers; was interviewed for national media; visited Waljinah; and maintained a constant communication of messages and photos for his more than 2000 Facebook followers.                                                                  (Interviews 2014, 2015)

HAMKRI

During the past three weeks in Solo we saw groups innovating their keroncong with humour, dance and American country music; strong support for young musicians; latihan and performances day and night.

vocalist and musicians at HAMKRI

Sunday latihan at HAMKRI Headquarters      photo by Wartono

A focal point for many keroncongers is HAMKRI (Himpunan Artis Musik Keroncong Indonesia) headquarters. This association of keroncong artists works out of a small lock up shed beside the pendopo at Sriwedari. The space is crammed full of instruments, music stands, photos, trophies, paperwork, paraphernalia and the relatively new sound system. The crackly, erratic old system that had inefficiently competed with the sounds of dangdut and pop and the funfair activities in Sriwedari has now been replaced. A kind supporter has loaned them equipment which provides balanced sounds and, importantly, drowns out the competition.

On Sunday evenings, as the HAMKRI seniors arrive on their motorbikes a couple of younger members set up the sound system in the shed, spread out the mats in the pendopo and scout around among the fans for vocalists. The crowd of mainly older males also includes females, young couples and family groups, many of whom know each other. Several of them relax at the nearby wedangan warung which does a consistent trade in drinks, boiled peanuts and fried snacks.
The MC calls for volunteers to play the instruments and after a polite lull seven musicians go into the shed, select an instrument and tune up. They’re soon joined by one of the eager vocalists who discusses the starting note for a well-rehearsed song. The the music begins.

Friday night performance at HAMKRI

on stage in the pendopo

The Friday night performances take place on the stage in the pendopo. Groups offer or are invited to perform a bracket of songs. HAMKRI chairman, Wartono, visits local latihan regularly, encouraging musicians to continue playing keroncong, establishing support networks and also inviting them to take part in the Sunday concerts. Well- known artists such as Waldjinah have performed here, as have keroncongers from Jakarta, Yogyakarta and New Zealand, villages, cities, schools and universities.The evening concludes with a ‘jam session’ which gives local musicians another chance to play and sing together.

Anton DS and OK Sahabat

Anton Danu Saputro (DS)* and his wife Lis relax in comfortable old chairs on the verandah of their Baluwarti home. On the couch nearby two university music students are practising the ukulele under the guidance of an older musician, while further away a young flute player is working on his technique. One by one the musicians arrive on their motor cycles. It’s 9.30 on Monday night and the OK Sahabat community is gathering for a latihan.

OK Sahabat has changed its name several times since the1950s when Anton and a few friends from keroncong backgrounds decided to form a group. ‘We taught each other, experimented and practised a lot because we wanted to play well,’ says Anton. ‘Then we decided to have a musical director.’
Currently the talented Mulyadi* composes and notates complex parts for each instrument, teaches, plays flute and conducts the orchestra. The group has been acknowledged for the high standard of its music: for the distinctive harmonies of its large violin section and the vigorous rhythms of interlocking ukuleles. Mulyadi also coordinates their regular vocalists: Lis, Mulyadi’s wife Murti, and T. whose grandfather was a founding member of the group. Their repertoire includes old favourites, songs by Elvis Presley and The Beatles, and modern songs that they hope will appeal to young people.

The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, as if old friends have come together. Anton says the cohesive and supportive community that has grown up around this group is very important. Others agree. T. is happy her children are part of this ‘healthy, happy family environment’; S. says this group ‘promotes good values’; and most people like the fact that young musicians are always welcome to drop in and learn, jam and rap with the old experts. Several people prefer this community to other kampung groups where the latihan is just an excuse to get together and drink alcohol. ‘When this happens the music gets loud and rough and the atmosphere isn’t pleasant,’ says P.

Anton chose not to turn professional, to take out recording contracts or to appear on television, preferring to perform at local private and public functions. He received many awards and acknowledgements in recognition of his service to keroncong.
(Nov 2010)

 * Sadly both Anton DS and Mulyadi are no longer with us. Their legacy will live on.

© keronconginsolo 2014

OK Sahabat on stage

Between songs at Taman Budaya Surakarta

Interviews with musicians

Interesting comments from some of the amazing musicians who practised down the lane behind Warung Timlo Maestro in 2006

P. 23 years: I grew up with keroncong. Gesang was my grandfather, my mother used to sing and my father played. There were lots of instruments around to learn on. I started with guitar, because it’s easy to play. I like old songs and new adaptations of modern songs: Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ sounds really good played keroncong style. This group wants to preserve keroncong because it’s our local music and heritage.

G. youngest player: I played bass guitar in a band and started learning keroncong three years ago. I like it because it’s traditional. I’m also in another keroncong group that won a competition against musicians who had played for twenty years. We were fortunate because we had only been together for two years.

Senior violin player:  I taught myself to play when I was at primary school. I’ve been helping these young students for two years. They could play other music but not keroncong because they didn’t understand its special characteristics. The spirit of keroncong is the essence of the culture of Solo.

Senior flute player: I like keroncong and don’t play any other music. I played all the instruments when I was young and learned flute more than twenty years ago. It used to be easy to work every night but now it is difficult to earn a living because keroncong is not popular. People prefer to use recordings at ceremonies and celebrations.

K. 29 years: I play gamelan and campur sari and taught myself to play the ukulele by watching others. I’ve been with these musicians for three years but also play with other groups. I like the sound and rhythm of keroncong.

Young female vocalist: I love singing and learn songs by listening to cassettes. I haven’t yet performed in public.

Male vocalist, 30 years: I don’t have a musical background. I’m self taught and sing Langgam Java because it’s part of Javanese culture and suits my personality. I work at weddings for my own entertainment, not to earn a livelihood. That would be too stressful. I come here often because I like the family atmosphere.

Slamet Subagio: I wanted to give the students with the opportunity to improve and to play regularly. I didn’t want them to continue as street musicians. We hoped to provide positive activities in a good community.
© keronconginsolo 2014

Some of the crowd at Timlo Maestro - supporters of schoolboy musicians

latihan near Timlo Maestro in 2006

click photo to enlarge                                         

 

Keroncong for young and old

According to many people a group of students plays keroncong at a timlo warung near the Mangkunegaran palace. It’s June 2006 and we search for weeks but do not find them, so decide to go out around midnight for one final search. And there, in front of Samudra Electronics, Jalan Diponegoro, is a large banner promoting Warung Timlo Maestro. It’s one of the many lesehan eateries that pop up on the streets after dark when owners spread out rattan mats and serve their specialties to the locals, many of whom sit and socialise until early morning.

Despite finding the venue, we haven’t found the keroncong, so we are quite surprised when one of the waiters says he knows where the boys practise. He leads us down a dark narrow lane beside the warung. It’s very quiet until we turn a corner and find an unexpected scene. A large crowd of people is sitting on mats in dim lamp light listening to a young female vocalist and a keroncong orchestra.

young and old musicians practising behind Timlo Maestro

latihan in a back street

click photo to enlarge
One of the men invites us to sit, offering glasses of hot sweet tea and snacks of boiled peanuts and bananas as he explains that the older violin and flute players are teaching the young boys about keroncong.

The students usually play keroncong rohani (spiritual) at religious services at the Christian Junior High School (SMPK) they attend. Although they enjoy this, they also like to play other forms of keroncong, so three years ago they started busking. Slamet Subagyo, the owner of Warung Timlo Maestro, was impressed with their initiative and enthusiasm and asked them to join a few older musicians, vocalists and friends at a latihan. He hoped to set up the sharing of skills at a night of his favourite music. It was so successful that three years later they continue to meet.

The latihan is very lively. There’s lots of chatter and laughter and the noise level rises when some women dance the poco-poco (line dance) to a keroncong cha-cha rhythm.

Co-organiser, Bagong Bayuaji, observes that everyone benefits from the latihan: the young develop understanding and technique, older musicians enjoy the opportunity to share their knowledge and to perform regularly; vocalists practise singing in public; audience members have fun.

He praises the friendly, relaxed atmosphere of the latihan, adding that a large and cohesive community has developed because the love of keroncong has united their hearts.
© keronconginsolo 2014