The red wine which was always intoxicating me I consider nothing compared to your smile, making me fall and rise.

MEGGY Z, INDONESIA DANGDUT SINGER

My spouse and I were recently in Jakarta on a sponsored trip, thanks to our good friend who just retired with high bonus. It was my second Jakarta visit and a third for her. We aimed to find out more about the city’s night life.

So, as we left the air-lock of Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta Airport, we were greeted by a unique mix of tropical heat, the aroma of big-city pollution and the tunes of the latest blazing pop classic blaring away from the aggressive taxi rank awaiting you outside the terminal.

And after traversing Jakarta’s highways and seriously overcoming the massive traffic jam, one might soon develop a hankering to hear some local music. I made mental note to get a CD each of Indonesian music icons such as Cita Citata, Ernie Djohan, Broery Marantika, Tito Somarsoena and perhaps Cholida Fitriana or simply Fitri.

For the record, I have a history with these guys — I performed with Broery in Penang in 1978; with Ernie in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) Brunei Darussalam in 2000 (for Sultan’s birthday); appearing and performing with Tito at a variety show organised by Radio TV Brunei (RTB), BSB in 2001; performing with Indonesian jazz queen Fitri (2000) at BSB’s Crowne Princess Hotel for about eight months and hosting Cita (including photo session) for her appearance at Anugerah Muzik Dayak 2016 (BCCK Kuching) as the award’s publicity and media chief.

Seriously overcrowded, fume-ridden and reeking of clove cigarette smoke, Jakarta’s main street, Jalan Thamrin, offers your best bet for Indonesia pop. And as we found out later, as we dropped by the hundreds of stores plastered along this sprawling parade, we were spoilt for choice.

If it’s pop music you’re after, you’ve options aplenty to choose from where record stores are concerned. We found that it was quite a painstaking effort to look for Fitri’s CD but were relieved due to scores of Cita’s, Ernie’s and Broery’s but only an album of Tito’s hits.

I made some purchases valued over a million rupiah — at least we were momentarily millionaires and had a good laugh thereafter. Most of the salesgirls were not so obliged to attending strangers, despite them being millionaires; after all there are many billionaires and even trillionaires in Jakarta.

Nevertheless, such intention to look for Fitri’s album was replaced by a new wave of curiosity. I found myself unconsciously browsing and choosing Indonesia’s latest and classic dangdut, the closest thing the country has produced to the salsa.

In my hands was a dangdut VCD by Mila Aruna entitled Dangdut Jripong with its leading and chart-topping hits. And there were new releases by their current and veteran dangdut stars such as Meggi Z, Evie Tamala, dangdut sensation Inul Daratista (well-known for “Goyang Inul”, dangdut queen Elvy Sukaesih and that of pioneer dangdut king Rhoma Irama, some of which featured his hits of the sixties.

Our rendezvous at the shopping malls took much of our time and spent the evening having coffee at a nearby café, just a walking distant from our budget hotel.

Back in Kuching, if one asks any middle-aged native about popular music he would most probably say dangdut. In other parts of Malaysia, dangdut is very popular too and perhaps Malaysia is the only country beside Indonesia where the music has quite a large following.

In the Philippines, only Muslim-majority Mindanao has a small following whose renditions of much more conservative as compared to their Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts.

Tiny oil-rich sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, dominantly a Muslim community does have a small group of music lovers who admire dangdut and surprisingly rock and roll, especially Elvis music, I found out during my seven years stint there since 1997.

Every now and then, singers, including dangdut artistes from Malaysia and Indonesia are invited to entertain them. Among dangdut artistes invited to perform in BSB during my time there were Meggie Z, Elvy Sukaesih as well as Kris Dayanti, though not a typical dangdut singer.

If one were to ask any Indonesian national — which country is credited with the birth of dangdut — he might not be able to give you some information. But some critics of the music would amicably agree that the name dangdut comes from the sound of music — dang-dut-dang-dut-dang-dut and that the incessant little tinker you’d hear pouring from headphones on buses around the city of Jakarta and perhaps from every bit of the Indonesian archipelago for that matter, as it is around Malaysian cities and towns and the countryside.

An onomatopoeic word coined in the late sixties — though it was not very popular then — dangdut is one of the genres of pop music, which is more or less a fusion of music with a touch of Hindi elements to it.

In Malaysia, dangdut is rather a fusion of the “orkes Melayu” or popular Malay ensemble music combined with popular Indian film music and some Western music styles. Then Indian tablas and the flutes are featured prominently in dangdut.

Most Malaysians would relate dangdut to “gelek” — not Datuk Mat Daud Kilau’s — or the movement of the hip but not like the Egyptian style.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.