Tracing The Origin of Dangdut’s Inferiority

Looking at its history, dangdut began to emerge and was starting to get known by the people of Indonesia during the era of the New Order government. At that time, the target of development and modernization was always associated with foreign investment – everything from the West (Britain and the United States), and also the practices of Western-style consumerism. The development and modernization target gave rise to the assumption that the working class in Indonesia was underdeveloped simply because of their limited access to Western cultural products. The same thing happened in the pattern of production and consumption of popular music in Indonesia. Unlike pop and rock in Indonesia, most of which are influenced by popular Western music, which is considered as a reflection of modernity, dangdut, which is strongly influenced by Indian, Arabic and Malay music is considered as backward music.

Up until this day the origin of the term ‘dangdut’ was still unclear, but according to Remy Sylado (in Pioquinto, 1998) the term was first coined by musicians in Bandung in the 1970s. A condescending term, dandgut is an onomatopoeia of the drum rhythm, which produced the sound ‘dang’ and ‘dut’, when played. But it wasn’t until 1972, also according to Sylado, that the term dangdut was introduced to the general public when a magazine called Aktuil used the word ‘dangdut’ in their articles as a term with derogatory implications.

To dig deeper into the origins of dangdut’s inferiority, Ceres Pioquinto (1998) described the social context that causes prejudice and bias against dangdut. Pioquinto explained that the hierarchy between Indonesian pop and rock with dangdut was similar to that of noble and folk art, which had been in existence for a long time in Indonesia. The increasing popularity of dangdut since its inception in the early 1970s has made Indonesian pop and rock musicians, whom the majority of came from the middle and elite class, began to feel rivaled. To maintain its existence and interests, Indonesian pop and rock musicians at that time began to create and spread various discourses based on aesthetic, economic, and ideological factors to form boundaries while degrading dangdut. These three factors were also used by Indonesian pop and rock musicians and fans to reaffirm and established their place in the realm of the popular Indonesian music industry.

Adding to Pioquinto's search, Andrew Weintraub (2006) suggested that dangdut does not belong to a particular social class nor it is a category or attribute that refers to a particular social class. Furthermore, Weintraub said dangdut is one of the cultural practices that actively play a role in shaping the structure and meaning of "the people" in the context of Indonesian society, which is why dangdut oftenly referred to as music of the masses. As such, the process of forming the meaning and structure associated with dangdut as a form and style of music is inseparable from the circulation of ideology and representation carried out by media (television, radio, and print media) and governmental institutions. This can be seen as the community’s perception of dangdut shifted when the attitude of Indonesian media and government towards dangdut changed.

After gaining a place in various media in Indonesia and being regarded as national music by the government, dangdut has advanced to a new status and is now equal to other popular music in Indonesia, especially Indonesian pop and rock. Dangdut, which previously was a music that developed mostly among the middle to lower class society, is now becoming an established musical style, with its own place in the Indonesian music industry. Dangdut was even becoming a new trend that determined the direction of Indonesian music scene up until this day. Over time, dangdut has been perceived in various images and assumptions by the Indonesian society. The existence of dangdut in Indonesia’s popular music industry has made it constantly intersecting with numerous parties along with their interest, which brings out the many purpose and meanings of dangdut.
Pioquinto, C. (1998). A Musical Hierarchy Recorded: Dangdut and the Rise of a Popular Music. Tokyo: International Christian University Publications, Asian Cultural Studies
Weintraub, A. (2006). “Dangdut Soul: Who are ‘the people’ in Indonesian Popular Music?” Asian Journal of Communication. 16:4, 411-431