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

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

Warung Timlo Sastro

Timlo and keroncong often go together in Solo: several warung feature fulltime keroncong groups and also specialise in this tasty soup.

Warung Timlo Sastro is not far from Solo’s main traditional market, Pasar Gede. It’s on an extremely busy corner: three lanes of cars, motorbikes, trucks and buses roar past on one side; people crash and clatter as they load market produce onto large vehicles, trolleys and becaks on the other side; and on the opposite corner, just two metres from the warung, is the rubbish recycle depot where trucks dump loads of garbage and workers manually sort it into recyclable piles. The smell of rotten vegetable matter permeates the area.

It is midday on Wednesday. Four musicians sit on stools on the narrow step between the eating area and the roadway. Behind them a faded green plastic awning promotes the restaurant and hides the view of the rubbish. The plastic donation bucket waits at one end of the step.  However, as patrons can exit from several areas, many don’t contribute. This compares less favourably with other warung where departing customers have to walk past the collection bowl in full view of musicians and other patrons, and are more likely to contribute.

The lunchtime crowd surges in and out, eats and chats, barely listening to the music; waiters shout orders amid the clatter of pots, crockery and cutlery from the cooking area; and the sounds of the cak, cuk, cello, guitar and singer merge into the noise.

The scene is different on Sunday morning. Although still busy and noisy, there’s a more relaxed feel as the crowd of families and friends lingers over the music and food. The original four musicians, plus a flautist, interact with the audience, some of whom volunteer to sing. In between brackets the players explain that members of this group have performed here for twenty years. As with other warung groups, they have a pool of performers who form small groups, play daily at a couple of venues and share the income.

These experienced and versatile musicians are committed to preserving keroncong, which they feel is in danger of dying out. They try to attract a broad audience by presenting a varied repertoire of keroncong and they actively encourage young performers to take up the music. Several keroncong musicians praised the generosity of this group, saying they value the training and technique development they were given as well as the opportunity to perform with the group. Undaunted by the fact that the audience cannot always hear them, or by the fact that they can barely hear each other, the musicians play on, engrossed in their music.
© keronconginsolo 2014