Endah Laras: From ‘keroncong’ to film
Ganug Nugroho Adi
Endah Laras is a vocalist of Portuguese-tinged Indonesian keroncong pop music, multi-genre Javanese campursari music, and is also a pesinden (traditional singer).
Well-versed in all three forms, she is also a proficient at the guitar, ukulele, piano and gamelan as well as being a trained classical Javanese dancer.
Born into a family of artists, Endah started with traditional arts as a child. Her father, Sri Djoko Raharjo, a famous dalang (puppet master), introduced wayang (shadow puppets) and gamelan to her, while her mother, Sri Maryati, a pesinden, taught her Javanese tembang (poetry singing) and dances.
“I’ve learned all these art forms since I was four, forming the basis of my vocal and musical skills today,” said the woman who was born in Solo on Aug. 3, 1976. However, her childhood activities came to a halt after she finished primary school. Her parents separated, and Endah and her three siblings moved to Jakarta to join her father, who had married another woman, Colleen Eanychase.
“In Jakarta, I took private math and English lessons along with extracurricular activities. As the
first child, I had to do household chores as instructed by Mama Colleen to become independent. She guided our spiritual development,” Endah said.
As a student at State High School 101 in Joglo Kembangan, West Jakarta, she joined her school’s chorus group. “Pak Sitorus, my teacher, played a major part in improving my vocal ability. Thanks to his instruction, I began to command three facets of voice,” she said.
Endah’s career began when she returned to Solo in 1995 after graduating high school. A neighbor was attracted by her voice when he heard Endah singing softly.
“I used to sing keroncong or Javanese songs only faintly every afternoon. I still do,” Endah said. The neighbor then asked her to sing at his son’s circumcision ceremony.
“I was really nervous at first, as I could only sing a few songs, not to mention the musical accompaniment by Purnama Karya, a famous keroncong orchestra in Solo. After he persisted, I finally agreed,” said the mother of one.
Following her debut at the private event, Purnama Karya asked her to join the orchestra.
Consequently, Endah Laras became a professional keroncong singer.
With Purnama Karya, she made frequent performances not only in Solo but also Wonogiri, Boyolali, Sukoharjo, Klaten, Sragen and Karanganyar.
“We went as far as Yogyakarta, Semarang and Pekalongan occasionally. Once, I was invited to perform 25 times in a month, which was exhausting,” said Endah, who is also the older sister of contemporary pesinden Sruti Respati.
In Solo, Endah learned a great deal from keroncong maestros Waldjinah and the late Gesang and Anjar Any. She also honed her gamelan and guitar skills. In 1996, she studied classical arts at the Indonesian Arts College (STSI) in Surakarta (Solo), but she didn’t finish.
“There were too many shows to focus on my studies, so I had to give it up,” said Endah, who is married to Bambang Seno Birowo, a member of the Regional Council of Klaten. Her clear, full voice with its huge pitch range drew the attention of well-known puppeteers such as Ki Enthus Susmono and Slamet Gundono.
“I joined Ki Enthus for six years. He imparted a lot of knowledge while also boosting my self confidence. I am grateful to have met and collaborated with him,” said Endah in her residence in Gentan, Sukoharjo.
In 2009, with Ki Enthus, Endah Laras portrayed the Wayang icon Dewa Ruci (a Javanese mystical god character) at Tropen Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in Les Orientales Festival de Saint-Florent-Le-Vieil, France, and the 13th Suwon Hwaseons Fortress Theater Festival, Korea. In Korea she also performed with choreographer Mugiono Kasido and musician Dedek Wahyudi in a traveling show with Thailand’s Ronnarong Khampha and Thitipol Kanteewong, from 2010–2011.
Earlier, Endah, who won third place in the Bahana Suara Pelajar (students’ singing competition) in 1994, appeared in Semar Meteng (Semar Gets Pregnant), a play with Slamet Gundono at the Jakarta National Gallery and the Solo International Performing Arts (SIPA) event this year.
In 2010, she was asked by legendary wayang kancil (fable puppet) master Ki Ledjar Soebroto, of Yogyakarta, to join his Opera Wayang Dongeng Kancil (fable puppet opera) in Jakarta.
“I can work like a chameleon. When invited by an orchestra, I perform keroncong songs. With dalang, I perform as a pesinden and also a campursari singer. It all depends on what they want,” said Endah, who was selected as the top chorus conductor in high school.
Endah is quick to learn how to play musical instruments, sing different types of songs and execute classical dance movements. Her talents prompted cinematographer Garin Nugroho to include her in Opera Jawa, which was shown in Solo, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, the Netherlands and Paris.
She is again involved in Garin Nugroho’s work, this time in a film entitled Soegijopranoto, which will start shooting in the middle of November in Yogyakarta and Semarang.
“I’m cast as the owner of a hostel for foreign journalists covering the second Dutch aggression in 1949. I entertain the guests by singing. It’s a tough job, as all the songs are in Dutch,” said the woman who was also among the artists performing in the concert, A Tribute to Franky Sahilatua, in Jakarta.
Also in November, Endah will present a number of Javanese songs at the Surabaya Art Festival. She will play her ukulele while her only child, Elvira Dyah Hutari, will play the piano.
“I learned the ukulele about a year ago amid the drills for Opera Jawa. Now, this little guitar seems inseparable from me,” said Endah, who once worked to put the verses of poet Wied Sendjayani to music.
Her performance at the Solo Keroncong Festival in early October was enchanting. Judging Endah’s vocal technique, keroncong queen Waldjinah said she was the successor of the keroncong generation
“Such a position is too lofty for me,” Endah said. “I’m nothing compared to Bu Waldjinah. I’ve just tried to sing my best,” added the woman with dozens of keroncong, campursari and tembang albums along with top Javanese singers and musicians such as Mus Mulyadi, Manthou’s and Cak Dikin.
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