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ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Salam Harapan’, Dialita choir’s next chapter

Stanley Widianto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, February 14, 2019  /  09:02 am
ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Salam Harapan’, Dialita choir’s next chapter

Songs of hope: ‘Salam Harapan’ (Greetings of Hope), Dualita choir's second album, represents the next chapter in their lives. (Courtesy of Dualita choir/-)

We have held onto the story of the Dialita choir for quite some time now. Dialita stands for diatas lima puluh tahun (over fifty) in reference to the age of its members. On stage, the ladies brim with a cheerful disposition, as if their lives depend on it.

And they probably did depend on it. The connecting thread between these ladies is that they are relatives of political prisoners of the 1965-1966 Indonesian pogrom; some of them were prisoners. Their sins, if there were any, weren’t worth the many trips to prisons, from Bukit Duri to the Plantungan camp.

But it’s been more than 50 years, and they formed their choir more than a decade ago not as a means of deliberate activism but rather to maintain the bond.

Salam Harapan (Greetings of Hope) is their second album, the next chapter in their lives. It’s easy to write the word “career” instead of “lives”, but that would not seem right — their work has always been an extension of themselves, an avenue for their personal stories.

Salam Harapan is wonderful. First, it is more of a “various artists” record, as the choir isn’t the only one singing. Rumah Bonita, the production label run by the musicians Bonita and Petrus Briyanto Adi, invited the choir into the house. Thanks to their collaboration, Salam Harapan exudes indelible warmth.

Second, the album is a document of the lyrics written by the prisoners at the time. What separates it from their debut album, Dunia Milik Kita (The World Is Ours), is that its lyrics were written by female prisoners. These lyrics weren’t set to music; they could’ve rotted in some drawer in someone’s house.

Take the song “Mawar Merah” (Red Roses) sung by Junior Soemantri. The jazz-inflected cut tells of an ill-fated romance set in prison — it is sung as though it were an alluring ballad.

“Tani Menggugah Hati” (Farming Inspires the Heart) tells the story of women adorning a garden in the camp. You might see a thread here: There’s hope in times of hopelessness.

Which makes the title Salam Harapan quite fitting.

Musically, Salam Harapan is a veritable feast. The influences stretch from jazz via folk rock to pop. Some songs are retreads from Dunia Milik Kita, like “Ujian” (A Test), sung by Kartika Jahja. It is unfortunately an inferior cut, as the first version is a collaboration of the pianist Leilani Hermiasih (who goes by the stage name Frau) and the choir — a haunting dirge. 

My favorite track is the opener “Tetap Senyum Menjelang Fajar” (Still Smiling as Dawn Comes) sung by the clarion-voiced Sita Nursanti. Opened by the gentle strum of the acoustic guitar, the folk-indebted song later opens up; you’d be forgiven to think that the American folk band Punch Brothers helped out with this piece. It later segues into the second track, “Tani Menggugah Hati”, sung by the choir — you can just imagine the smiles on the ladies’ faces.

Mothers feature heavily on Salam Harapan — and this includes separation and the love that remains. “Lagu Untuk Anakku” (A Song for My Daughter) is terrific, and Bonita absolutely murders the song with her full vocal range. “Ibu” (Mother), sung by Endah Widiastuti, only has the singer and her guitar — and the result is moving and subduing.

Salam Harapan closes beautifully. The second-to-last track is the title, and it has all the collaborators including the choir sing an anthem of hope. Fittingly, the closer, “Aku Percaya” (I Believe), is a stage only for the choir. After everything, they still believe in hope, as if their lives depended on it. (ste)

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