Everyday keroncong 2

The ‘everyday keroncong’ group has moved. It now plays in a large airy building with high wooden ceilings and walls lined with decorative wood panels. The new venue is spacious and has a more upmarket feel about it. The interactive buzz and the colourful murals, pond and birds of the old warung have been left behind (see post 13 March).

The singing parking attendant, in his fluoro orange uniform, has been replaced by a young man in a brown and grey striped jacket and black trousers. This uniform is now stipulated by local government as part of the promotion of local heritage and culture.

Behind a large awning that promotes the warung are rows of motorbikes and, in the narrow space between the bikes and the step to the eating area, are two familiar musicians. They strum, pluck and slap rhythms on their ukulele and cello and take turns to sing a variety of keroncong. They work the same long hours as before, interspersing brackets with breaks for drinks and cigarettes, but there’s a sense that their music is now a background to the food and chat. Customers occasionally pause to listen and several contribute to the white plastic donation box as they leave.
© keronconginsolo 2014
click photos to enlarge

musicians now sit amongst the motorbikes

music amongst the bikes

View of the musicians and eating area

separated from the customers


Everyday Keroncong 1

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.

playing in a warung

everyday keroncong in the warung

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.

keroncong in the warung in front of colourful mural

perfect backdrop for keroncong

© keronconginsolo 2014