The Jakarta Post
Born Muhammad Sodiqin, the man is better known as Cak Diqin.
To lovers of campursari, a blend of gamelan and modern music, Cak Diqin is quite familiar. Most of the over 100 songs he has written are popular and frequently sung at various receptions, public entertainment events and karaoke halls.
Campursari is indeed the taste of everyday people. Introduced in the early 1970s, the genre combines pentatonic and diatonic instruments. In its various developments, new elements have been included like langgam (Javanese pop), keroncong (Portuguese-tinged Indonesian pop) and dangdut (India-inflected Indonesian pop). Its lyrics convey people’s daily affairs with humor and satire.
Born in Banyuwangi, East Java, on April 13, 1964, Cak Diqin was brought up in a family of devout Muslim farmers. “As a child, my parents, as full-time farmers, only taught me to recite the Koran,” said the youngest of four children.
Cak Diqin’s talent was instead shaped by the rural neighborhood where his family lived in Banyuwangi, which was steeped in traditional arts including Banyuwangi-style gamelan music. There used to be gamelan performances, ludruk (traditional East Javanese drama) and wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) almost every night.
“Formerly, after religious recitations and study, I watched gamelan, wayang and traditional dance performances that were frequently held in the yard of the district office. My father didn’t forbid me from going to the shows as long as I had finished reciting,” recalled the father of five from three marriages.
That pastime led to his Javanese art training in a village kerawitan or traditional art group, incorporating gamelan, nembang (poetry singing) and dance. As a sixth grader, Cak Diqin began joining his group’s art programs in the village, in which he was dancing, singing Javanese poetry and displaying his talent as a comedian and player of musical instruments.
“With that I could afford to buy books and school uniforms,” he said. Finishing primary school, Cak Diqin had a tighter schedule, with several kerawitan and ludruk troupes to meet performance orders. Occasionally, he left town for various events, working as an entertainer at events ranging from weddings to circumcision ceremonies.
“I was so preoccupied with the entertainment business that I failed in my second-year high school exam due to my long absence for the shows. My father was furious. I wasn’t allowed to perform for one year,” Cak Diqin said.
Graduating from high school, he was a welcome civil servant on account of his exceptional gifts in the performing arts. Assigned to Jayapura in Papua for 15 years, starting in 1986, in 1993 he was sent to the faculty of choreography at the Indonesian Arts College (now institute) in Surakarta to study.
In 1994, Cak Diqin started learning campursari from the maestro of the genre, Manthous, in Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta. In the early 1990s, campursari was entering its heyday. For four years, Cak Diqin learned the music as well as its management. He was finally entrusted with the job of art manager of Maju Lancar, Manthous’ campursari group.
“I’m fortunate I’ve been able to learn a lot from Manthous, [keroncong diva] Waldjinah, [singer/songwriter] Gesang, [songwriter] Anjar Any, [shadow puppet master] Ki Narto Sabdo, and other popular puppeteers,” he said.
His love of traditional arts prompted Cak Diqin to resign as a civil servant though he held the post of cultural inspector at the time. He felt he could only be successful by focusing on one goal and felt guilty if too much of his time was devoted to arts rather than his civil servant duties.
“I left my civil service career and chose the arts because I feel comfortable with the arts,” said Cak Diqin.
Now residing in Surakarta, Central Java, the man is not only known as a singer and songwriter. He is also strongly determined to further boost the growth of this music. In 2011, for instance, he organized a campursari festival to attract talented artists in the genre.
“I’m concerned the growth of campursari is now stagnating. The festival was one of my attempts to find new talent for this music,” he said at his home in Mojosongo, Surakarta. According to Cak Diqin, his concern is due to the general assumption that campursari is inferior to other types of music.
“Campursari is capable of presenting dangdut and keroncong though it has a different setup. It’s very dynamic,” noted the artist, who was awarded by the Indonesian Records Museum (Muri) for a spectacular campursari show that lasted 33 hours, 33 minutes and 33 seconds in 2007.
The husband of Yanuk Andriani Kurniasih acknowledged the fairly recent appearance of campursari compared to other musical and performing arts. But it is its young age that makes it open to further development.
“The embryonic stage of campursari thus enables it to be further explored. I have a dream about this music going international someday, like gamelan and keroncong,” said Cak Diqin, who once entertained Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong.
He has also set up the Campursari Center of Indonesia (CCI), a forum to accommodate campursari communities. Through the CCI, Cak Diqin hopes to popularize the music.
“The CCI also strives for the preservation of campursari by staging regular shows … In Solo [Surakarta], campursari often collaborates with wayang kulit and ketoprak [Javanese history-based plays] at Sriwedari or Taman Balekambang,” he said.
At present, Cak Diqin is preparing an album, Cintaku di Jawa Timur (My Love in East Java), along with the East Java governor and deputy governor, as well as several regents. He has also just completed his cross-cultural campursari album, Jawa–Kutai Timur (Java-East Kutai), and a religious one, Senandung Syi’iran Gus Dur (Sublime Gus Dur Poems).