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The beauty of dangdut, a style of Indonesian popular music with folk elements, is immense. It brings together local traditions, Indian, Arab and Malaysian rhythms. At the same time, dangdut is a fusion style that also adopts the best aspects of Western music.
Dangdut emerged in Jakarta in the late 1960s. The style reached the peak of its popularity in the 70s and 80s. Today, the style is gaining a lot of fame in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. The rest of the world is catching up, as well.
Typically, a dangdut music band has several members. There’s a lead singer and anywhere between four to eight musicians. Some of the instruments that are very typical for the dangdut performers include flute, mandolin, tabla, gendang, drums and a synthesizer.
By 2012, dangdut became predominantly popular in the western parts of Indonesia. A couple of dangdut sub-genres have also developed. The most prominent ones include koplo, pop, rock, sunda, jaipong and even dangdut house.
In many ways, dangdut music is a cultural phenomenon.
In Indonesia, dangdut is the only cultural expression that isn’t associated with one single ethnic group. It bridges regional differences, identities and cultural specifics across the country.
This is the main reason why major cities have at least one dangdut venue. These are particularly prominent in Java where dangdut shows take place on a regular basis. Performances by major dangdut musicians are typically broadcast on national television.
Over time, dangdut performers have gotten some disapproval by religious authorities in the country. The main reason is the liberal, Western appearance of performers. As a result, various famous dangdut performers started protests in defense of the so-called “flamboyant” style.
Regardless of the conservative opposition, dangdut remains a prominent aspect of Indonesian culture and art. Dangdut performers are often invited to provide the entertainment during weddings and other social events.
Dangdut has grown in appeal. It is so prominent that even some Indonesian television shows have a theme that is dangdut-centric. There have even been talks about suggesting this unique Indonesian style for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Anyone who visits Indonesia will quickly come in contact with the rhythm and the diversified nature of dangdut music. It can be heard blaring from the loudspeakers of the minivans (bemos) on the streets. It is on television, on the radio and in the club. In essence, any Indonesian experience is going to include dangdut in one form or another.
Today’s dangdut music is a bit more influenced by Western pop and rock than its predecessor. Urban Arab pop has also had its impact on making dangdut such a colorful music.
While dangdut is upbeat and engaging to listen to, the music has social and political value, as well. It’s long been a form of expression and a chance for musicians to make a statement. Social criticism and focus on family values are very typical for some of the most prominent dangdut tracks.
While the previous sections of this dangdut overview give some idea about the sound and the feel of this music, it’s important to touch upon this aspect of dangdut in bigger detail.
Some people describe dangdut music as sultry. Others see it as seductive and exotic because of the numerous cultures and musical heritages that it represents.
Dangdut music is melodious. Instruments and vocals work together to create audio harmony. While modern dangdut is much more commercial than its predecessor, the music remains true to its roots and its heritage.
Obviously, every dangdut performer has a unique style. Their vision shapes up the music, making it even more diverse and rich. Listening to some individual performances is the best way to understand the immense potential of dangdut and familiarize yourself with all of the sub-genres and dangdut expressions.