Monday, August 20, 2012

Dian Nada Big Band with Wulan Affandi

I spent the holiday of Idul Fitri in Kananga, a small and rather isolated village in Kuningan not far from Cirebon, at a siang-malam organ performance by Dian Nada Big Band from Kabupaten Cirebon. Organ, a scaled-down version of dangdut, has expanded in size in recent years. The organ (i.e. synthesizer) still dominates -- setting the tempo through a drum track, filling in musical parts, using exciting house techniques ("Everybody!") -- but Dian Nada's band included also two guitars, a sax, a bamboo flute player (who pulled out flutes of various sizes during the show), a kendang drummer and his assistant who played the cymbal, and occasionally a tambourine, played by the group's leader Sinarudiyan (aka Dian). The shows featured singing by Dian Nada's regular stock of 5 female singers (who appeared to be in their teens and 20s), a few songs by Dian himself, plus sets by Wulan Affandi, a "guest artist" invited by the tuan hajat especially for the show.

This was an intimate, rather low key family affair celebrating a wedding, with an audience of at most 150 people (and sometimes much less). In the afternoon, family members all danced on stage handing out stacks of 2000 rupiah bills to the singers. The newly married couple did a couples dance, holding hands, complete with spins etc. Videographers and photographers went up on the small stage and took pictures. The language  of the songs and much of the banter between the musicians and singers was in Cirebon Javanese, which the Sundanese audience could comprehend only partially. But this didn't seem to matter much. The food was unusually tasty for a hajatan, but wasn't offered in huge portions. (I was offered only one meal during the time I was there and got to snack on only one koci before they all disappeared.) People were very respectful of my presence, and didn't ask many questions even when I was on stage.

My host at this event was Wulan Affandi, a lecturer at ISIF-Cirebon who is just about to start an MA at Universitas Indonesia, and who heads her own group as well called Wulan Entertainment which offers both organ concerts and also full tarling shows with drama and lawakan acts. Wulan has been performing as a professional penyanyi organ from her early teens and is one of perhaps a few dozen singers in Cirebon and Indramayu who are known to audiences through their VCD and DVD albums (still referred to here as "kaset"). Wulan has her own record label MB Records and a small studio in her house that is run by her father. She releases normally one album a year, sometimes under MB Records but sometimes under larger labels. I had a chance to speak with Wulan at some length about the world of "tarling modern" (modernized tarling), a term she and other artists sometimes use to describe this fusion between tarling dangdut and organ.

Her "team," as she refers to her group, is managed by an intermediary, who contracts performers, rents equipment (sound, panggung etc). None of the performers are directly contracted by Wulan herself - though she does bring along a support team to all performances including a driver (who also is a radio presenter, works for MB Records, and runs a sanggar tari), a dresser, a woman who roams around the audience hawking Wulan's albums (priced at 5000  and 10,000 rupiah a piece) out of a plastic bag and a young man from Jakarta who has been with Wulan for the last year and a half.

In conversation, Wulan expressed her dissatisfaction with video piracy and overly formulaic video clips, and spoke about the difficulties in juggling her studies with running a tarling modern group. She is soft-spoken and very respectful with everyone off-stage, and confident and clearly enjoys herself when on stage.

I've been to organ shows in the past, of course, but always at a remove as a spectator. Wulan brought me on stage to engage in a short dialogue with her, and sit with the musicians and singers. What I enjoyed very much about the shows in Kananga was the chance to observe up close the world of the singer - stopping on the way to the show to buy from a kaki lima the latest albums of rival singers to learn recent hits on the car's small DVD player; the long process of putting on makeup and costumes; the enormous amount singers sweat on stage (Wulan apologised for smelling of sweat when her crew took her picture with me after her afternoon show); the intimate environment of the little on-stage green room/bullpen where the singers sit before and after they go on stage (drinking water, texting, consulting agendas, cooling down, re-applying makeup, gossiping).

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