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)
Langgam Senja Di Kampung Pandan sung by the composer Dwiono Hermantoro, accompanied by HAMKRI musicians, at the latihan on Sunday June 1 2014.
At the end of the clip he asks the listeners if they like his new composition and when they respond enthusiastically he offers to provide notation and encourages them to perform the song.
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.
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.
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.