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Didi Kempot's sad Javanese songs strike a chord with younger generations

Gisela Swaragita
Gisela Swaragita

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, July 30, 2019  /  03:28 pm
Didi Kempot's sad Javanese songs strike a chord with younger generations

Didi Kempot collaborates with the Ring of Fire project at Jazz Gunung in Probolinggo, East Java, on July 27. (JP/Tarko Sudiarno)

Young people are surprisingly among the many fans of Didi Kempot, a popular singer of the campur sari (a blend of traditional Javanese and modern music) genre.

These faithful followers, young men and women who call themselves “sad boys” and “sad girls”, find Didi's cheesy, lovelorn lyrics sung in Javanese relevant to their own ill-fated love stories. They’ve dubbed the singer Lord Didi, the Godfather of Broken Hearts.

Born Didi Mulyadi in Surakarta, Central Java, on Dec. 31, 1966, Didi has enjoyed his steady yet humble popularity since the start of his music career in 1989, as well as his reputation as the prince of love songs for the Javanese people, who are scattered across the archipelago. CEO Agus Mulyadi recently posted a Twitter thread on why Lord Didi deserves more attention from music enthusiasts.

The thread, which quoted another tweet about Didi’s recent concert in Balekambang Park, Surakarta, which was attended by a young crowd singing their broken hearts out, quickly caught netizens’ attention, garnering more than 7,000 retweets and over 5,000 likes.

Didi himself has jumped into the Twitter pool with his official account @didikempotid, which since June has collected more than 65,500 followers.

On YouTube, a video of Didi's concert, which was attended by fans of various ages and captured by YouTuber Gofar Hilman, trended for several days.

On July 23, Didi headlined a concert in Cikini, Central Jakarta, which was held as part of the National Awakening Party’s (PKB) 21st anniversary celebration. Instead of a religious or political atmosphere, the event boasted a lively ambiance enlivened by a crowd of old and new fans who merely sought to enjoy his show.

Runi Ayu, 24, a resident of Kedoya in West Jakarta, attended the concert as a “sad girl”, saying it was an experience like no other.

“I was so happy to be among the crowd of Didi Lovers, sweating together, singing songs about heartbreak,” she told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Runi said she sang her heart out during Didi’s hits, “Banyu Langit” (Water from the Sky) while remembering her ex-boyfriend. 

“The lyrics ‘nganti kapan tak enteni sak tekane’ [I will wait forever for you to come back] reminds me of my ex, for whom I have faithfully waited although he is not waiting for me,” she said with a laugh.

“I saw that these people [the audience] are sad inside, but singing and dancing together heals all of our pain!”

Runi, who was born and raised in Bandung, West Java, said she became familiar with Didi Kempot’s songs during her university years in Central Java four years ago.

“His music was often played at the angkringan [food carts unique to Yogyakarta and Surakarta] where I used to hang out. I became familiar with the music but I can’t say that I’m a die-hard fan." 

Read also: 100-hour 'campursari' performance breaks MURI record

Another member of the crowd that night, 26-year-old graphic designer Hikmah Prahara, saw a different side to the phenomena of Didi's popularity among the younger generations.

“I love listening to his song because they remind me of my hometown in East Java. Didi’s music is the cure to my homesickness and makes me proud to be Javanese,” he said on Monday.

He added that he enjoyed the Didi Kempot phenomena as he could have more campur sari karaoke sessions with fellow Javanese migrants in the capital city. 

“I feel proud, but I am also annoyed by new fans who snobbishly feel as if they know more about Didi Kempot,” he said, laughing.

Music researcher Irfan R. Darajat from Laras Studies of Music in Society told The Jakarta Post that to understand the phenomena, we have to investigate the history of sad songs in Indonesia.

“There was a time when heartbreak songs were not seen as [trendy], and indie music, with its exclusivity, tried to avoid cheesy heartbreak songs,” Irfan said on Monday.

He added that there had been recent effort to raise up music that was once considered “uncool”.

“It’s very hipster; we can say it’s a ‘hipster-washing’ even. Some indie music festivals started to invite dangdut and kasidah [Islamic pop] music groups. Via Valen [a dangdut diva] can sing on Net TV, for example.”

Irfan said Didi Kempot offers a rooting, site-specific, exclusivity of heartbreak songs in Javanese, which fits perfectly with the hipster-washing pattern.

“People have a tendency to want to be different from others, for example by turning what is disliked by the majority into something popular,” he said.

Didi’s shot to mainstream fame, he added, should not degrade the maestro and present him as something “[…] weird, cult-like, kitsch or whatever and make Didi’s music seem like something exotic. That’s what worries me,” he said.

“Didi Kempot is cool, and he has been cool since the very beginning [of his career]. Although his current level of popularity may be temporary, he has die-hard fans who will root for him until the end of time.” (kes)


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