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A Keronchong Band
Indonesia, The Land Of Keroncong
Perhaps, a lot of my western readers are not familiar with keroncong music of Indonesia. You may even mispronounce the term “keroncong”, which is pronounced as “ker ron chong”. It is also spelt as “kroncong”. I think most western readers have never heard of keroncong music in their lives. Music cannot be described exactly in words. Otherwise they won’t be called music. Here I shall try my best to describe in words what keroncong music of Indonesia is about or “sounds” like. At the end of this article, you will get to enjoy listening to the unique rhythm of real keroncong music of Indonesia.
In this article, I shall describe keroncong music, the keroncong musical band, a bit of history of keroncong music, its maestro and the most famous keroncong song “Bengawan Solo”.
What Is Keroncong Music
No words can aptly describe what keroncong music is. The only way is to listen to it. So at the end of this article, we will together listen to the joyful and relaxing keroncong. Be that as it may, let me try to describe a bit about keroncong music, with the help of “Wikipedia”. Keroncong music is unique to Indonesia. The music is very melodious. Listening to keroncong music soothes the souls and relaxes the senses. The beat is rhythmic interspersed with interlocking sounds of the various western musical instruments. Keroncong music is created by the interlocking sounds of two ukuleles, a cello, a guitar, a bass, a flute and a violin.
Keroncong is one of my favourite music. Living in a cosmopolitan country, I am exposed to all types of music. Each type has its own uniqueness. But keroncong music of Indonesia stands out amongst the rest in terms of rhythm and melody. I can never get tired of listening to keroncong music. It soothes my nerves and relaxes my senses. Now let the expert describes in words what keroncong music is all about. This is from Wikipedia:
"Kroncong, is an onomatopoeic approximation of the sound of the rhythmic background to the music created by the interlocking of instruments playing on or off the beat. This background rhythm runs faster than the (often) slow vocal or melody, and is created, typically, by two ukuleles, a cello, a guitar and a bass." (my addition: "and a flute and a violin.")
A Little Background On Keroncong
The term “keroncong” most like was derived from the rhythmic sound of “krong-chong-krong-chong” typical of all keroncong music. This repeated rhythmic sound is created by two ukuleles, comically named “chak” and “chok”. The “chak” has metal strings while the “chok” has nylon strings. Along this “krong-chong” rhythm, the guitar, flute and violin complement the musical ensemble. The keroncong music can be played solely on the instruments themselves, but most often is accompanied by a vocalist. A typical keroncong piece usually starts with elaborate introduction by the flute or violin, followed by the guitar, and continues through the two ukuleles, with their signature “krong-chong-krong-chong” rhythm.
History has it that keronchong music originated in the 16th century in Indonesia when sailors from the Portuguese Empire brought Portuguese musical instruments and music to Indonesia. After 1880, the old fashioned keronchong evolved into the modern keronchong genre with the introduction of the ukuleles into the keronchong bands when Hawaii invented the unique little “guitar”.
Keronchong music enthusiasts and the local music industry have been trying to revitalize the popularity of keronchong music with the introduction of latest musical instruments like the saxophone and keyboard, and variations of singing style like rap and modern pop. Recently in 2008, at the Solo International Keronchong Festival, the local Chinese there presented a fresh cross-culture approach when they used traditional Chinese musical instruments to create keronchong music.
The Town Of Solo (Surakarta)
The Bengawan Solo River
Gesang And "Bengawan Solo"
Ask anyone in Indonesia or those who know even a little bit of keronchong; what is the most famous keronchong song. The answer is a definite “Bengawan Solo”. And ask anyone who is knowledgeable of keronchong; who was the most famous keronchong maestro. The answer is a definite “Gesang”. The trilogy of “Gesang-bengawan solo-ukulele” sums up the very essence of the classic keronchong music.
Let me introduce the great keronchong maestro. His name was Gesang Martohartono, born on 1 October 1917 and recently passed away on Thursday, 20 May 2010, at the ripe old age of 92. He was most commonly known simply as Gesang. Gesang was born in Central Java in the small town of Surakarta, more commonly called Solo. Gesang was a self-taught musician who knew nothing about musical notation. Nevertheless, his profession was writing songs and singing at local functions like weddings and other social occasions. He became a famous composer-singer in Central Java.
In 1940 at the age of 23, Gesang was inspired to compose what was to become the iconic keronchong masterpiece. For the lyrics, Gesang got his inspiration from the town’s famous river, the Bengawan Solo River. Gesang aptly titled the song “Bengawan Solo”. The song is about the Bengawan Solo River, which flows through central and eastern Java from its sources near the town of Solo (official name is Surakarta). The Bengawan Solo River is the longest river in Java, providing an important waterway for trade and agriculture.
The Japanese who occupied Indonesia during World War II, brought the song with them to Japan after the War ended. From there and throughout Southeast Asia, the song “Bengawan Solo” became very popular and famous, and has been translated into many languages.
In 1983, as a tribute and honor to Gesang for his untiring contribution to keronchong music, the Japanese government built a park by the Bengawan Solo River and named after him. Gesang also received many accolades throughout his long singing career, including one from Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Gesang was also presented with the "Bintang Budaya Parama Dharma" medal by the President of Indonesia.
Photos Taken from My Cd Album
My Very Own Keronchong CD Collection
When I bought this keronchong cd, I didn’t expect that it would become a collectors’ item in time to come. Little did I know who this old gentleman was, except his name was written on the cd jacket as Gesang. I bought it simply because I liked keronchong music.
To add value and status to this cd, it was recorded and produced at the JVC Studio in Tokyo, Japan, on 1 April 1994. This was certainly no April Fool’s Day. During that time Gesang was already 76 years old when he was performing at the special “Gesang’s Tokyo Concert”.
I am proud to share here, the photo shots taken from my original cd album. Take a look.
My Favourite Keroncong Song : Jembatan Merah
Although the keronchong song “Bengawan Solo” has always been the most famous and most popular keronchong song and an iconic song symbolising musical Indonesia, my favorite keronchong song is "Jembatan Merah" (Red Bridge). "Jembatan Merah" was also written and composed by Gesang himself. “The Red Bridge” is the famous red bridge crossing the Bengawan Solo River in the town center.
Jembatan Merah (Red Bridge)
I like this video because of the arrangement of the "okestra" seating. You can see the full view of each player.
The National Anthem Of Malaysia
Incidentally, the national anthem of Malaysia was adapted from the original keroncong song entitled "Terang Bulan" (Bright Moon). Below is the 1928 rendition of "Terang Boelan" via Youtube.
Krontjong Orchest Eurasia - Terang Boelan (1928)
Now Let's Relax And Enjoy The Songs
Now is the time to relax and listen to the two classic evergreens, “Bengawan Solo” and Jembatan Merah” rendered by various singers.
Youtube video #1 : “Bengawan Solo” by Tuti Trisedya, the beautiful lady with a very controlled voice, mellow and haunting.
Youtube video #2 : “Bengawan Solo” Performed by Harmony Chinese Music Group Bandung
Youtube video #3 : “Bengawan Solo” by Gesang, the Maestro himself.
Youtube video #4 : “Bengawan Solo” short rendition by Gesang, in his twilight years.
Youtube video #5 : “Jembatan Merah” by Sundari Soekotjo, the pretty lady.
Youtube video #6 : “Jembatan Merah” by Tuti Trisedya.
Youtube video #7 : “Jembatan Merah” by Kesang.
Youtube video #8 : “Jembatan Merah” by a Caucasian.
Copyright © Justin Choo. All Rights Reserved.
“Bengawan Solo” by Tuti Trisedya
“Bengawan Solo” Performed by Harmony Chinese Music Group Bandung
“Bengawan Solo” by Gesang, the Maestro himself.
“Bengawan Solo” short rendition by Gesang, in his twilight years.
“Jembatan Merah” by Sundari Soekotjo
“Jembatan Merah” by Kesang.
“Jembatan Merah” by a Caucasian
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By the way, the copyright to this article is owned by Justin Choo (a.k.a. Good Guy). Please do not “copy and paste”! Thank you.
Justin Choo (author) from Malaysia on March 17, 2015:
You're welcome Alicia.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 16, 2015:
Thank you for introducing me to such lovely and interesting music! I'm looking forward to exploring some more keroncong music.
Justin Choo (author) from Malaysia on March 16, 2015:
You are indeed well-informed about Javanese/Balinese culture. Thanks for comment. Be happy.
Kim Milai on March 16, 2015:
It's a gorgeous song! I only know about Degung from Eastern Java and Gamelan from Java and Bali. Now I can add Keroncong. Thank you.