In a country where opposition to Lady Gaga forced the provocative pop star to cancel her show this month, Indonesia’s home-grown stars are also raising the ire of religious authorities.
With increasingly lewd lyrics and raunchy dance moves, hugely popular “dangdut” music – an Indonesian fusion of Arabic, Malay, Indian and western pop influences – is testing the limits of propriety in the world’s largest Muslim nation.
Lady Gaga’s decision to cancel the Indonesian leg of her world tour due to threats by Muslim hardliners opposed to her racy choreography and support for gay rights highlighted the increasing power of groups pushing a strict view of Islam.
Yet such groups face an ongoing challenge on the domestic front with dangdut, a genre whose origins date back to the 1930s but whose critics contend is becoming increasingly sexually explicit.
Some 200 new dangdut titles are released every month, but earlier this year the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) banned 10 songs with sexually suggestive titles, some loosely referring to male and female genitalia.
One of the banned songs, Jupe Likes 69 Best, by Julia Perez, apparently referred to the favoured sexual position of the singer, who goes by the stage name Jupe.
In her official music video the 32-year-old gyrates in a low-cut dress as she breathes lyrics about having her body caressed – factors that help her songs garner hundreds of thousands of hits on sites such as YouTube.
“The song is about how a man and a woman must not be egoistic in love – nothing sexual. Only because it’s sung by me they think it’s vulgar,” Perez, who contends that she stands out in the dangdut world as “elegant sexy,” said.
“If you have big breasts, you can’t help having a deep cleavage; that’s normal. My breasts don’t hang out; my buttocks don’t show,” explained Perez, known for her revealing costumes.
Habib Salim Alatas, Jakarta chairman of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) that had threatened to “burn the stage” if Lady Gaga had gone ahead with her concert on June 3, said the racier dangdut singers were no different from the US pop diva.
“I love dangdut, just like I love rock and pop. We are against those who show too much skin and dance too erotically. They are no different from Lady Gaga and should be banned,” he said.
Having emerged in the 1930s, dangdut gained prominence in the 1950s after Sukarno, the first Indonesian president after independence from the Dutch in 1945, sought to sweep Western influences such as Hollywood from local culture.
Both male and female singers helped popularise the genre.
“There were no Hollywood movies, but Hindi films were allowed and that’s why we see the influence of Indian tabla drums in dangdut music,” music commentator Denny Sakrie said.
“Local dangdut singers emerged in the 1960s, and Rhoma Irama popularised it in 1973 by introducing rock elements from the likes of Deep Purple. He elevated dangdut from the social underclass and villages,” said Sakrie.
Dangdut is “a forum for celebrating eroticised female dance and power, which has long been an important part of Indonesia’s cultural history, at least on the islands of Java and Sumatra,” Andrew Weintraub, a professor of music at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote in his book Dangdut Stories.
These days dangdut – whose name is derived from the “dang” and “dut” sounds of Indian tabla drums – sounds more like a blend of modern R&B and electronic pop with Bollywood influences.
Indonesia’s more mainstream dangdut singers appear on TV almost every night, performing at weddings, community gatherings, and even political rallies.
But the genre has been testing social boundaries for the past decade, starting with Inul Daratista, whose rapid “drilling” hip motion angered Muslim leaders and had her banned in several provinces.
“Those skimpily dressed singers who dance erotically and sing vulgar songs about sex and premarital pregnancy please nobody but the devil,” said Rafani Achyar, secretary-general of West Java’s branch of the National Ulema Council, the country’s top religious authority.
Traditional dangdut musicians also complain that the genre has taken a dive, with new female singers turning it into striptease.
“Candoleng-doleng,” or “dangling” in the Bugis dialect, pushes the limits of the genre, featuring women singing dangdut at wedding parties and baring their breasts to a cheering crowd that very often includes children.
For a modest tip of Rp5,000, men in the audience get to grope the dancers.
“Such dancing is inappropriate in public with children present. Also, the men sometimes fight over the dancers and create a nuisance,” said Anang Pujianto, police chief in Sidrap, South Sulawesi.
“Dangdut performers have become terribly erotic now, dancing naked and encouraging lust,” said Rhoma Irama, the singer who popularised the genre in the 1970s and is known as “the king of dangdut.”
“They tarnish dangdut and crush morals. Such shameful porn must be stopped,” added the now-chairman of the Indonesian Malay-Dangdut Music Artists Association.
First popularised in 2003 in far-flung South Sulawesi province, the striptease dangdut has since turned into a craze in remote villages, where police carry out raids on tip-offs, but let dancers off with a warning.
Dangdut fan 37-year-old contractor Arif, said he loved “candoleng-doleng.”
“Naked dancing is no good for small boys but no problem for big boys like me,” he joked.