History of Dangdut Koplo: From Harmonium to Malay

History of Dangdut Koplo: From Harmonium to Malay

The history of the birth of koplo dangdut cannot be separated from its roots, namely the harmonium orchestra to the Malay orchestra. Koplo dangdut was also born because of the influence of jaipongan and jaranan.

For Rhoma Irama, it’s not just a matter of food. But also music. He wrote about the delight of music in Taman Ria in “Terajana”, his classical song released in 1973.

The name is Malay, 
how nice is the flute of a bamboo flute carrying a 
dangdut the sound of an 
exciting drum is absurdly 
Terajana  This is the 
song, an Indian song

Through “Terajana”, we can see anatomy as well as the biography of dangdut. Anatomically, two important musical instruments are flutes and drums. Whereas biographically, this music has its roots, or at least is influenced by Malay and Indian culture. A biographical reference question, Rhoma mentioned more sharply in the song “Viva Dangdut”.

“This is Malay music. Coming from Deli. Then it was influenced by the West and Hindi, “Rhoma sang.

In  Dangdut: Indonesian Music, Identity and Culture  (2012),  Andrew Weintraub  writes that Rhoma is tracking history in the story of Deli Malay culture — formerly included in the region of East Sumatra, now part of North Sumatra — where the Malay Orchestra emerged from pre-colonial times until the 1950s and 1970s.

Malay rhythm is indeed the core of dangdut music, however Rhoma mixes it with elements of rock music. Part of mixing rock music was evident at the beginning of Rhoma’s career: carrying a white Fender guitar that impressed him from Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple to the transition to his flagship black Steinberger.

The historical roots of dangdut can be drawn far back. Quoting  The Komedie Stamboel: Popular Theater in Colonial Indonesia 1891-1903  (2006), Weintraub said that Malay ancestors dangdut music was a traveling orchestra from Malaya (Malaysia) which anchored to Java in the 1890s. This orchestra plays many types of music: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Middle East, and European.

After on Java, the traveling orchestra went to Sumatra. There, this theater group and music orchestra are looking for business opportunities. Sumatra in the 1930s was a passionate music market. Weintraub called Sumatra together with Malaya and Selat Settlements a single market for the release of some Malay record labels at that time. Plus geographical reasons, singers in Sumatra appear more often in Malaya and Singapore than in Jakarta. This makes cultural acculturation in these regions occur naturally.

In the 1930s, radio had a major influence on the popularity of three types of music that became the initial foundation of dangdut: harmonium orchestra, gambus orchestra, and Malay orchestra.

The harmonium (OH) orchestra was mentioned by musician Husein Bawafie as “the origin of dangdut”. Harmonium is the name of a musical instrument of European origin that entered through India and spread to many countries. OH music equipment usually consists of harmoniums, violins, trumpets, drums, tambourines, and occasional tambourines. Weintraub said that OH usually played songs with Hindustan rhythms, and songs mixed with Malay, Arabic, Indian and European music. However, in the 1940s, the name OH began to fade. Some OH chose to change the term Malay orchestra.

The foundation of the second dangdut came from the gambus orchestra. The music he played was Middle Eastern music, relying on stringed instruments and small double membrane drums, commonly called marwas or marawis. Gambus and marwas musical instruments are thought to come from Hadramaut (Yemen). As a breeder, harmonium, violin, flute, tambourine, tambourine and betot are added.

One of the most famous musicians from the gambus orchestra is Syech Albar, the father of Ahmad Albar. According to historian Fandy Hutari, Albar had studied the stringed instruments to Sayid Thah bin Alwi Albar in Yemen in 1926. Albar first got a recording contract with the label His Master’s Voice in 1931. Weintraub noted, Albar’s music came from many influences, and looked in his work. Starting from Malay, Arabic, to Cuban-style Rumba.

The Malay Orchestra (OM) is a complementary piece of the two initial foundations. From various radio records, OM began to appear in Indonesia in the 1930s. One that has a classy name is the Orkest Melajoe Sinar Medan led by Abdul Halim. Although the name is Sinar Medan, this orchestra is from Jakarta.

In Weintraub’s study, the orchestra used European instruments but retained the Malay musical elements. Among other things, rhymes and phrases such as ‘great love’. Weintraub noted, Malay songs such as “Sayang Manis” and “Sinar Malacca” were accompanied by vocalists with high-pitched voices, and senggakan to cheer up singers.

After Indonesia became independent, OM began to incorporate new touches in their music: creating new melodies based on Indian film melodies. This is touted as the birthplace of dangdut. Five years after Indonesia’s independence, cultural exchanges grew tighter. Arabic, Malay, Indian, Latin American, also European – which enriched the musicality of the Malay orchestra.


COMMUNITY  Arab plays an important role in the development of dangdut in Indonesia. Besides Syech Albar, there are many names of Arab descendants who are important figures in the dangdut music world. The names included Husein Bawafie who led the Chandralela orchestra, Said Effendi (Great Rhythm), Umar Alatas (Chandraleka), and Husein Aidid (Memories).

These Arab descendants formed a network that exchanged knowledge. They play music together, discussion, and this which then unwittingly has an important influence on dangdut: recitation. Apparently, the art of reading the Koran (recitations) is the main factor that makes Malay orchestra singers become shrewd dangdut singers, with a great twist. Weintraub mentioned names like Ellya Khadam, Munif Bahasuan, A. Rafiq, Mansyur S., Elvy Sukaesih, and Rita Sugiarto.

“What they borrow from the art of reading the Koran is not specific vocal twists, but vocal techniques for setting song phrases, diction, breathing, and pronunciation,” Weintraub wrote.

The use of cengkok which is based on the art of reading the Koran which over time produces a difference between Malay music and other popular music genres at that time. So, it is not difficult for them to sing even Arabic songs.


ERA 1970s, music Malays and Indians has been transformed into dangdut. This music is then considered as folk music, especially because the base of the majority of fans is the lower class people. Weintraub cited some of the Indonesian media’s mention of dangdut fans: the small people, the common people, the jealous people, the lower class, the marginal, the periphery, and the lower middle class.

Dangdut has become popular among the people because the lyrics are close to the daily life of most Indonesian people. In addition, Weintraub stated, Indonesian pop and rock music has no historical roots or musical characteristics, “which links it to the suffering of the people.” Dangdut does not. He has strong roots, and many tell the lives of ordinary people. So, it develops in an urban environment that is “socially and economically marginalized.”

This is what gave rise to classic conflict, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Dangdut is considered to represent the tastes of the lower class people, is considered not cool, as well as squalid. This dispute is symbolized by the chaos between rock musician Benny Subardja of Giant Step, who calls dangdut “dog tai music”.

The term dangdut itself was only born in the early 1970s. The name dangdut is onomatopoeic (a word derived from the sound) kendang: dang-dut. Some musicians do not like the term that is considered to be harassing this. In  the May 5, 1979 edition of Tempo Magazine  , Said Effendi, the leader of OM Sinar Agung, said the term dangdut “came about because of the cynicism of those who were anti-Malay music.”

Weintraub writes that the term dangdut was created by the Aktuil music magazine  . However, in an interview with Meggy Z, Mansyur S. and Dadang S., the term dangdut became popular thanks to the services of Bung Mangkudilaga, a radio announcer who often promoted dangdut on Radio Agustina, Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, in 1973-1974.

Mangkudilaga took care of the event called “Sop Dangdut”. This name is interesting because it reflects the soul of the dangdut itself: mixing. Sop made from various types of vegetables, as well as dangdut made from various musical influences. With the growing number of fans, many radio is then interested to broadcast dangdut.

Another factor that makes dangdut more popular is the best-selling Ellya Khadam recordings. One indicator of the popularity of dangdut, explained Weintraub, is that many Indonesian pop musicians (who are considered to represent the sugih and gedongan people) want to make Malay songs. In 1975, according to Weintraub, dangdut already controlled 75 percent of the recording industry market.

The world of dangdut grew larger when the knight appeared around Tasikmalaya, West Java, named the Rhoma Irama stage. As a dangdut musician, Rhoma is special because it has different musical roots than other dangdut singers. Although Rhoma Minor likes to sing Indian music, she grows up listening to rock music.

When he appeared with the influence of thick rock music, many people accused him of not being original, including the journalist Remy Sylado from  Aktuil . Moh. Shofan in  Rhoma Irama: Politics of Da’wah in Nada  (2014), mentions that Remy said that Rhoma was not worthy of the title of king of dangdut because he was not original.

But Rhoma’s irregularity which then led him to skyrocket. He managed to bring the values ​​of dangdut, which is a mixture of many musical influences and the results of cultural acculturation. Rhoma injects rock and pop influences in dangdut.

“Rhoma does a lot of crosses. A  crossover  that enriches the dangdut music elements themselves. Rhoma made major changes in all aspects by doing electronics. The elements of guitar and drums that characterize rock music are so thick that they color the music of dangdut, “wrote Shofan.

Rhoma then became the dominant name in the world of dangdut, and bears the nickname of King Dangdut. Unfortunately, being a king for too long made Rhoma forget about the acculturation value he had brought first. When Inul Daratista appeared carrying koplo music as a new gag dangdut, Rhoma inflamed. Dangdut koplo is affected by Jaipong and Jaranan cultures, and is rapidly popular.

All the standards and patrons that King Dangdut built for decades slowly eroded because of the dangdut cracks that came from the East Java suburbs, a foreign and very distant place from Deli Serdang. Even though coplo is the result of cultural acculturation, merging influence with one another; same as the birth process of dangdut.

Fachry Ali in “Malay Music or Dangdut as Counter-Culture” wrote that Rhoma was an “ideologue” rather than a singer. And the king was well aware that dangdut music was “the closest stage of the transformation of the genre of religious songs.” Arguably, since the late 1970s, Rhoma has placed religion side by side with politics and dangdut. Therefore, at the beginning of the emergence of coplo which was considered to be reckless, he considered damaging the trivium he built.

But even a Dangdut King cannot stem the ever changing tastes. About 15 years since the dispute with Inul, Koplo dangdut is not dead. In fact, it is growing, experiencing an astonishing transformation. From the style of singing that is far different from the Ellya Khadam or Ikke Nurjanah era, fashion styles that are far from seronok, to marketing methods that rely more on the internet.

Later, we also know new women from the womb of the dangdung koplo, whose popularity and schedule of activities are no less than the most important people in the country. These names include Via Vallen and Nella Kharisma.

From the cross of the dangdut kingdom, from the songs “Terajana” to “Anoman Obong”, from “Viva Dangdut” to “Rarely Goyang”, we never know the direction (acculturation) dangdut music to where. But, one thing is certain, these all make us more flexible joget, and the singer gets rich.


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