The recent Krontjong Mendoet performance at the newly established Galeri Indonesia Kaya is a combination of two old things – keroncong music and Rara Mendut, a story from an ancient Javanese tome – that surprisingly feels fresh and new.
Roro Mendut is a classic Javanese love story from the Babad Tanah Jawi (history from the land of Java) about Mendut, a girl from a fisherman village in Pati, a town in the northern coast of Java, who was taken from her home and became involved in war and battles for power.
Director and lyricist of the performance, Khatulistiwa award-winning poet Gunawan Maryanto said he was inspired by Mendut, who stood up against the men who wanted to take advantage of her.
“Perhaps we can read this woman and how she persevered in the center of Mataram’s power hundreds of years ago,” Gunawan, who is also a resident artist in Yogyakarta-based Teater Garasi said as he opened the performance with his narration about Mendut.
Mendut’s beauty enchanted a Pati authority figure, Adipati Pragola, who proposed to her and took her from her home by the sea, which she loved. Later in the Mataram Kingdom, at the time in the 17th century when it was under the rule of Sultan Agung who was waging war to overpower Java island, Pragola was killed in a battle by Tumenggung Wiraguna, a Sultan Agung commander. Wiraguna was also lured by Mendut’s beauty and tried to make her his property. She was again taken away, this time heading south to the hinterland.
“How far was the journey? I sense the smell of the sea is waning and the mountain breeze blows hard to erase my memory,” Theresia Wulandari, the vocalist in the performance sang.
Gunawan said his version of Mendut was also inspired by Y.B. Mangunwijaya’s, Roro Mendut, which was the first novel of a trilogy. In the trilogy, Mangunwijaya or Romo Mangun emphasized the open spirit of Northern Java women as opposed to the decadence of the power-hungry men in the Mataram Kingdom, which was centered in the southern hinterland.
Mendut refused to be Wiraguna’s property but Wiraguna tried to force her hand by imposing some kind of tax on her. Mendut devised a strategy to earn money. She decided to sell hand-rolled cigarettes, but not just an ordinary one. She sold expensive ones by rolling them by herself and licking the thin paper. The ones that she smoked beforehand were tagged at an even more expensive price. Soon, her cigarette stall was packed with besotted men, among them was young man Pranacitra, who fell in love with her. His love was not unrequited and they later died together while trying to escape Wiraguna.
Krontjong Mendoet for Indonesia Kaya is produced by Garasi Enterprise and performed by Keroncong Irama Tongkol Teduh, a keroncong group comprised of young musicians from Yogyakarta. The one performed at Djarum Foundation’s Galeri Indonesia Kaya was a much simplified performance from Krontjong Mendoet’s premiere in Teater Garasi studio in Yogyakarta last year.
The musicians who played the 40-minute performance in Jakarta were: Yuniawan Setiadi, songwriter and vocalist, Erwin Zubiyant, songwriter and guitarist, Theresia, Ardetya Eka Suni on the mandolin, Syamsul Islam on bass, Agus Salim Gunawan on the cello, Ega Kuspriyanto on the ukulele and Sigit Sky Sufa on violin. Keroncong is rooted in fado, a style of music brought by Portuguese sailors who landed in the archipelago.
Krontjong Mendoet for Indonesia Kaya is the second performance hosted by the gallery on the eighth floor Grand Indonesia in Central Jakarta. The gallery and the small auditorium, with a capacity of 150 people opened on Oct. 10. The first free performance was a dance performance called Ethnic for Urban by the EKI Dance Company. The performance program schedule had been filled with performances every weekend until December. The next performances include music group Kuno Kini and monologue by Happy Salma.
Beside the auditorium, the gallery had several interactive screens where visitors can take their picture wearing a digital Indonesian traditional costume and can take a journey above Indonesian ocean landscapes. The screens are equipped with technology where people can touch the screen through air. The gallery also has a showcase where Indonesia handicrafts were on display.
To reserve a ticket for performances, visit indonesiakaya.com.
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