“I Sing, (It) Doesn’t Mean I Want to Sell My Body”: Bad Stigma Haunts Dangdut Singers

Dangdut is a popular music among Indonesian people. Dangdut is considered will entertains and makes listeners forget their problems for a while. However, the fate of female dangdut singers is not as fun as their dances because they often experience sexual harassment.

Indonesian people knows dangdut and millions of them love this music.

The music genre has been able to adapt. The music, a mixture of Malay, Indian, Arabic, Chinese and European music, began flourishing in the 1960s in Indonesia. 

Dandut singers, both male and female, will attain their popularity quickly as dangdut songs are very easy to digest and the lyrics are close to people’s lives and experiences. Those singers who have performed in big cities like Jakarta are considered top-selling singers, just like King of Dangdut Rhoma Irama, or Inul Daratista.

However, how about the dangdut singers in the small cities or towns, who still perform from stage to stage in order to survive?

In November 2022, a viral video showed a campursari singer in Sragen Central Java who reported spectator for harassing her while singing. 

Campursari is a blend of traditional Javanese and Modern music genre.

Octavia or Via, 21, experienced harassment while entertaining people with her campursari group BMJ Music in Srimulyo Village, Goncang Distric, Sragen on Sunday, 6 November 2022 at 3 P.M local time.

“The incident took place at Mr Trimo’s house, address as Dukuh Asri, Srimulyo, Gondang, Sragen. During ngunduh mantu (welcoming in-law tradition) event,” Octavia said recently.

Via, who is from Ngablak Village, Kroyo Urban Village, Karangmalang, Sragen said that the male spectator had been repeatedly reprimanded, especially after the way of his dancing made the singer uncomfortable.

“At the beginning of the incident, I’ve warned the perpetrator while dancing [with me] from the previous songs. He obeyed.  Only when he asked for the song tittled Satru 2, we danced together, (however) at that time he started to repeat his bad attitude. He has been reprimanded to step backward,” she added.

The harassment was occurred after that.

 “In the middle of the song, the perpetrator spontaneously grabs my left breast,” she explained.

The incident went viral on social media because entertainment programs were broadcast live. Furthermore, Via finally reported the spectator to the police.

” I have reported it to the Sragen Police,” she said.

Fitri, 42, is also a dangdut singer. She feels that people have wrong assumption about dangdut singer. The assumption is that dangdut singers can be booked for sex service. 

“I sing dangdut, it doesn’t mean I want to sell my body. It is my good intention to sing dangdut to make a living on the path that I like. Singing has been a hobby since I was little,” he told Konde.co, in late January. 

Fitri, who is from Ponorogo, East Java, believes that dangdut singer is a noble profession that cannot be underestimated.

“Firstly, not everyone can sing, secondly, singing dangdut is not easy. It takes years of practice and a lot of experience to be able to sing using dangdut’s crooks. Thirdly, being a dangdut singer doesn’t mean we just dance all the time. We should have self-quality so that we can give positive energy to the audience,” she said.

She said that if the singer’s attires were polite, it will give dangdut singers a selling point. 

However, Fitri emphasized if the singers wear open clothes doesn’t mean they are wrong and those who are more closed are right. 

Fitri believes, this assumption gives a stigma to female dangdut singers, although they must wear open attires due to market or audience demands.

“Clothes affect the singer’s performance. Costumes for dangdut singers are part of an interesting show. Costumes can be adjusted according to the event. If you are at an official event, of course you have to dress formally. If it’s a casual event, you can wear casual clothes,” explained the mother of two.

Not just singing dangdut, Fitri admits that she has to work hard to enrich her musical literacy so that it can liven up the stage even more.

“I can sing various types of music, not just dangdut, I can sing pop music if someone requests it, campursari, eastern people’s music such as Ambon and Papua, even rockdut music (a combination of rock and dangdut music),” she explained.

Even though Fitri has such a skill, she admits that there are still spectators who are ignorant trying to poke or make fun of her. 

“Usually when I perform in the village, some of the audience is drunk and then gives a saweran by poking the intimate body parts of singers, I personally anticipate it in various ways, I avoid it gently so that it will not disturb the celebration,” she recalled. 

As a member of the community, Fitri tries her best to shift the stigma against her profession by living in a good society.

“I actively participate with the community where I live, if we are polite and respectful they will also be reluctant, they will not think negatively, they even support my job, including taking care of my child when I work,” he said.

As Fitri’s husband is sick, Fitri has decided to be a dangdut singer to earn money.

“I use my hobby to earn money, so the enthusiasm sometimes comes from everywhere. My family including my husband are very supportive. The earning as a dandut singer is also enough to support my family,” Fitri said

Harassment Against Dangdut Singers

The Art Coalition Research Coordinator Ratri Ninditya agrees that female dangdut singers are indeed more vulnerable to sexual violence acts than the male singers.

“In particular, we have never conducted research on the sexual violence experienced by dangdut singers. We concern that in the general, women who work in the entertainment and arts industries are vulnerable to sexual harassment, both from spectators and fellow industry players,” she told Konde.co, Monday (30/1).

In fact, the room or stage where the singer performs is sometimes very unsafe, Ratri said.

“The role of associations/unions/associations is very important here. Associations need to protect female dangdut performers, both in creating safe spaces and supporting social and economic security. They also need to involve female dangdut actors as decision makers in the association to solve this issue,” she added.

Ratri revealed that Dangdut is a specific cultural phenomenon, with different practices in each region.

“It is necessary to make the standard of procedure (SOP) to clarify what is permissible and what is not, it needs clear and strict sanctions for those that are violated. Again,  SOP creating must involve female dangdut performers. SOPs also can’t be used as a tool to censor their expressions,” she stressed.

The censorship of expression means there should be unilateral censorship of the expressions of the artists, both creators and performers

According to Ratri, the dangdut industry (as other music and art in Indonesia) is still dominated by men as decision makers.

“It makes the bargain position and power of female actors remain weak. What needs to be further investigated: whether the practice of dangdut in various contexts has so far been carried out with the informed consent and choice of female actors, with knowledge of rights and risks as well as access to various protection services,” she explained.

She admits that the Art Coalition has yet to focus on designing SOPs to have safe stage and show for dangdut singers

“In this phenomenon, we must target on familiarization of rights, risks, and access to available safety nets, including reproductive health services,” Ratri concluded.

(Translated by Nani Afrida)

Devi P. Wiharjo

Beberapa tahun jadi jurnalis, sempat menyerah jadi manusia kantoran, dan kembali menjadi jurnalis karena sadar menulis adalah separuh napas. Belajar isu perempuan karena selama ini jadi perempuan yang asing pada dunia perempuan, eksistensialis yang hobi melihat gerimis di sore hari.

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