Latihan at Waljinah’s

It’s Friday night, time for the latihan (practice, rehearsal) in the converted garage at Waljinah’s house. Chairs line the walls and the front of the garage, whilst down the back seven keroncong musicians prop on stools and tune their instruments. Out in the narrow street, food and drink sellers have set up benches and tables and a small crowd of neighbours sits on mats or stands around chatting, eating, drinking and smoking.

The Keroncong Queen has fulfilled her dream of establishing a singing school for the next generation of vocalists, especially females. She teaches many styles of singing and says the keroncong technique is difficult to master. Even those with musical and vocal training find it hard to produce the correct tone or to convey the emotions of the lyrics. They need to perform in public, to communicate with an audience, she adds.
The latihan provides this opportunity in a relaxed and supportive environment. There is no criticism or judgement, no sense of comparison or competition, and vocalists take part because they want to.  In fact many singers perform several nights a week on the circuit of keroncong latihan. If numbers are low, the atmosphere will be informal, a night of fun and laughter as the microphone is passed around for impromptu singing. If an important performance is approaching, singers will be practising inside the house as well as in the garage. On special occasions, such as Waljinah’s birthday, guests might be invited inside to eat and drink.

Because of her busy schedule Waljinah can’t teach very often, so she leaves the running of the school to her husband, son and other experts. She attends when she can – to the delight of her students.

It is six o’clock and eager young singers, aged from seven to fifteen, arrive with supportive parents. They hand their music to the teacher who checks the starting note then does a quick run through on his keyboard. Waljinah adjusts the microphone and gently encourages a tiny girl to sing. She begins nervously and then warms with the supportive claps of the audience. A young boy is next. His voice is strong and he moves confidently to the keroncong pop rhythm.

After three hours the young ones leave and the adults arrive. For a while there is chaos as motor bike, becak and car drivers negotiate a path through the crowd to drop off their passengers. There’s also a buzz in the air as friends in this close-knit community greet each other. Inside the garage the older students discuss their songs over glasses of tea and platters of fried snacks. When the first notes are played, a vocalist takes the microphone and the crowd quietens. People come and go all night as the sounds of this lyrical and comforting music fill the neighbourhood. There’s no rush. When the repertoire of songs has been played the vendors pack up and the keroncongers quietly and happily go home!

young singer at latihan in Waljinah's garage

latihan in the garage

© keronconginsolo 2014

The Queen of Keroncong

Two people died as the crowd pushed and shoved to watch Waljinah sing. She has never forgotten the tragedy that took place during the 1968 promotional tour for her album ‘Walang Kekek’ (Singing Grasshopper). On another occasion she had to jump through a window at the back of the stage, so she could change her blouse because it had been torn when the audience grabbed her. The twenty-one year old ‘Singing Grasshopper’ was so popular that enormous crowds gathered whenever she performed.

Waljinah has an exceptional and unique vocal talent, a golden voice that has earned her countless awards and the title ‘Keroncong Queen’.

Born in 1945, her talent and passion for music were apparent from a very young age: she sang Javanese verses with her mother, practised songs with her older brother, and learned traditional Javanese songs from the women at the batik factory where her father worked. They used to sing while they put wax designs on fabric and Waljinah found she could easily remember the tunes and soon joined in.

She was chosen to represent her primary school in singing contests and at only twelve years old won the prestigious title ‘Ratu Kembang Kacang’ (Queen of the Peanut Blossom). When recording contracts and invitations to perform flooded in, her parents made the decision to withdraw their daughter from school to pursue a musical career. Waljinah recorded thousands of songs and won many awards including a national radio competition in 1965, after which she was invited to sing at the Presidential Palace.

Waljinah married twice. Her first husband and father of their five children, died in 1985. Both husbands strongly supported her roles as mother and professional singer.

Always immaculately groomed, Waljinah usually performs wearing lace blouse and batik skirt, with her glossy black hair pulled tightly into a bun and makeup accentuating her classic beauty. She attributes her health and longevity to jamu (herbal medicine); drinks ginger or plain tea to preserve her voice; rests and meditates daily; and finds great comfort and strength in her spirituality. She advises others to avoid stress and to live life gracefully.

These days this Living Legend enjoys a more relaxed lifestyle and, despite health problems, still performs, appears in public to promote keroncong and supports the aspiring students at her singing school. She says she has all that she could ask for and has enjoyed a wonderful career.
© keronconginsolo 2014

Andjar Any

Selamat Jalan Andjar Any
Anjar Any, one of Indonesia’s most prolific writers, died in Solo on November 13th 2008. Whilst well regarded for his short stories and poetry, he was most widely known for his lyrics for keroncong songs. In his final days, family and close friends serenaded the 74 year old with some of his favorite keroncong songs and among those at his side was Waljinah, the Queen of Keroncong, who sang the very popular ‘Jangkrik Genggong’. Within three months of Andjar Any’s death Niek Piyatni, his beloved wife and companion of 50 years, had also died.

Born in Ponorogo, Andjar Any displayed a strong interest in writing at a young age and began his working life as a journalist. He produced over 2,450 pieces including 1000 songs, most of which were in the keroncong style. 

During the 1960s Andjar Any collaborated with local vocalist Waldjinah, a partnesrhip that produced thousands of songs, including the still popular ‘Yen Ing Tawang Ono Lintang’ and ‘Jangkrik Genggong’ . Usually sung coquettishly by Waljinah, Jangkrik Genggong was in fact a satirical parody of the situation in the early days of the New Order regime when a number of politicians were wavering between their loyalty to Sukarno and to Suharto. It tells of a very large but cowardly cricket that chirps noisily during the quiet of night but becomes silent when another creature, especially a human, approaches.

Through one of those quirks of coincidence that frequently occur in Indonesia, I met Andjar Any. It was November 2006 and I was in Solo to gather information on the local keroncong scene. I’d taken time out to buy batik at the bustling and chaotic Pasar Klewer and, after a random choice of stall-holder, selected the material and negotiated a price. While wrapping the goods in newspaper and string, the stall-holder asked the reason for my visit. ‘You must meet my uncle, Andjar Any’ she said, grasping my hand and threading a path through the crowds and countless batik stalls. We emerged into daylight only to plunge into the darkness of a small office on the side of the market where I was introduced to Andjar Any’s daughter. Within minutes, she had phoned her father, called in her becak driver (always at the ready on the street in front of the office) and I was on my way to Andjar Any’s house.

The diminutive Niek Piyatni ushered me in and introduced her son, a doctor, who explained that a number of ailments had virtually put an end to his father’s career. Shortly afterwards Anjar Any appeared, walking with great difficulty and in obvious ill-health. His voice was almost inaudible, the result of a chronic breathing problem.

However, over a cup of tea Andjar Any garnered his energy and was soon quite animatedly telling his story, showing photos and some of the many awards he had received, including those from Presidents Suharto and Megawati Sukarnoputri. He provided a wonderful snapshot into his life, especially of his passion for writing. When inspired he used to stop everything to ‘go with the moment’ and could finish off a song in several hours. He still received the occasional commission to compose for special events. Andjar Any assured me that although keroncong appeared to have waned in popularity, the scene in Solo was alive and well, with many younger musicians taking up the music and being supported by older players. The role of HAMKRI (The Association of Keroncong Artists in Indonesia), which he helped establish and chaired for its first 12 years is, he added, instrumental to the survival of keroncong.
After taking a number of photos I departed, honoured to have met an Indonesian musical legend.
© keronconginsolo 2014

Endah Laras: Bunga Anggrek

Endah Laras, accompanied by Orkes Keroncong Swastika, thrilled the crowd at the 2013 Surakarta Keroncong Festival. She came on stage singing and strumming a small ukulele and in a performance of contrasts she moved, danced, laughed and sang like a bird. You could hear a pin drop when her clear voice soared lyrically in this absorbing and mesmerising rendition of ‘Bunga Anggrek’ (The Orchid). Then the mood changed as she light-heartedly joked and urged the audience to sing the humorous ‘Ayo Ngguyu’ (Let’s Laugh). With her full voice and huge pitch range, Endah is spoken of as a successor to Waljinah.