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!
© keronconginsolo 2014