Jakarta. “Buah jatuh tak jauh dari pohonnya” (The fruit doesn’t fall far from its tree). That old adage was often used when we describe children’s deeds and characters that mimic those of their parents.
The adage would perfectly describe the connection between Indonesian young singer and entrepreneur, Puteri Intan Permatasari (Intan), and her mother, the famous Keroncong legend, Sundari Soekotjo.
As they stood side by side onstage at the Galeri Indonesia Kaya in Grand Indonesia Shopping Town, Central Jakarta, recently, both their complexions and physiques appeared to resemble each other.
With their sweet, melodious voices, the mother and daughter carried The Beatles’ Yesterday, which had been re-arranged in Keroncong melody. Both of them looked gorgeous in embroidered kebayas and batik pareos.
“For me, mom is a living legend,” Intan said after the show. “She always puts everything into her music.”
The 50-year-old is indeed a legend of Indonesia’s folk music style Keroncong. Through her melodious voice and elegant stage performances, Sundari has brought Keroncong to nationwide fame.
In the 1980s and 1990s, she was often seen and heard on TV and radio stations singing Keroncong classics, such as Bengawan Solo (River Bengawan Solo, 1940), Jembatan Merah (Red Bridge, 1943) and Selendang Sutera (Silk Scarf, 1946).
Her beautiful, melodious voice and elegant appearance, in Javanese-styled kebayas, sanggul (Javanese hairbuns) and kain (batik pareo), seemed to mesmerize the audience and carried all their worries away.
So far, Sundari has produced 14 Keroncong albums and won numerous awards for her dedication in the Indonesian folk music, including the prestigious Satyalencana Kebudayaan medal for cultural dedication from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2010.
Sundari’s life-long infatuation with Keroncong was derived from her father, Raden Soekotjo Ronodihardjo.
Soekotjo, who served in the Indonesian Air Force, unwound when he came home at night by listening to Keroncong songs on the radio. Sundari, who was just a little girl at that time, loved to accompany him.
Soon, she began remembering the lyrics and tunes of the songs that her father often listened to. She often sang along when these songs were played on the radio.
Seeing her talents, her father was ecstatic. Soekotjo then enrolled young Sundari in various singing competitions.
“I’ve taken part in various singing competitions since I was 10 years old,” Sundari said with a beaming smile.
In 1983, when Sundari just turned 18, she became the winner of the national competition Bintang Radio Televisi (Rising Star of Radios and Televisions).
In addition to performing on TV, the radio and live, Sundari also pursued higher education at the music faculty at the Institute for Teaching and Educational Studies (IKIP). She then taught music at SMAN 38 in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta.
In 1990, Sundari got married to a pilot and then bore their only child, Intan. Despite her tight schedule as a wife, mother and teacher, Sundari’s singing career continued.
In 2002, the singer released her debut album Ingkar Janji (Broken Promises). The album, which became a best-seller, earned her the Keroncong Award by Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) in the same year.
Sundari has produced over a dozen other albums since then. But, unfortunately, the music trend in Indonesia has shifted.
Today’s young people prefer the more upbeat pop and rock music and have started to forsake the slow and mellow Keroncong tunes. Seeing this trend, TV and radio stations rarely include Keroncong music among their programs. This, of course, leads to the Indonesian folk music being increasingly forgotten by today’s young people.
“It’s a sad, sad situation,” Sundari said. “Actually, there are still a lot of Keroncong fans but they cannot enjoy the music on TV or the radio anymore these days.”
“And there are also some young people that are interested to learn Keroncong, but they don’t know where to go to learn Keroncong,” she said.
That’s why in 2014, Sundari set up YAKIN (Indonesia Keroncong Foundation, and acronym for "sure" in Indonesian) with her daughter Intan and some of her friends.
“It’s called YAKIN, because I’m sure that Keroncong would never vanish,” said Sundari.
With her daughter, Intan, who is also her biggest fan, Sundari approached young singers and musicians in Jakarta and encouraged them to learn all about Keroncong. Those interested would get free tutorials at Sundari’s house.
Sundari, who was initially a “purist” in the Keroncong genre, later also encouraged artists to combine Keroncong with Pop, Soul, Ballads and other music genres.
“I used to be an idealist and refused any collaboration,” she said. “But then I realize that I shouldn’t be like that. If I persist with my idealism, the young will resist Keroncong.”
The first item on YAKIN’s agenda was to present the Keroncong Week, also at Galeri Indonesia Kaya, in February 2015.
During the event, Sundari’s daughter Intan performed, accompanied by the Alun Nada orchestra, which consists of Intan’s musician-friends who are interested in Keroncong.
“Actually, I didn’t want her to become a Keroncong singer like me,” said Sundari. “It takes a lot of consistency, dedication and hard work to be a Keroncong singer.”
“But I’m now grateful that she follows in my footsteps,” said the Keroncong legend.
Intan started performing Keroncong at around the same age as her mother did. The young girl was just 9 years old when Sundari threw a gala concert to celebrate 25th anniversary of her career in 2000.
“I insisted on singing a duet with her on stage,” the 23-year-old said. “Mom initially refused. But her manager thought it was a good idea. So, I got up on stage and sang with her.”
The song that they sang together onstage was the patriotic song, Rangkaian Melati (A String of Jasmine).
Since then, Intan is convinced of her calling as a Keroncong singer.
“My mom said that I should be consistent with my life choice and always try to be the best that I can be,” said Intan.
To improve her vocal quality, Intan studied under Indonesian award-winning singer Zwesty Wirabuana and Jazz singer Rika Roslan.
The results were superb.
“Intan’s voice is high-pitched, with slurs that are uniquely hers,” said Rika Roslan, one of Intan’s tutors.
Although Intan has decided to perpetuate her mom’s legacy in Keroncong from her early years, Sundari urged her to continue her study.
“My mom always says that women must be able to survive on their own,” said the only child. “A good voice is a talent. But I also need to have a good education and a career to be able to survive.”
Sundari was perhaps reflecting on her own life when she gave this advice to her daughter.
Sundari’s marriage with the pilot ended in 2004. And she never re-married even if there were rumors of her having a special relationship with a minister.
Following her divorce, Sundari continued her education. She took a master’s degree in human resources management at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta and then a doctorate at Jakarta State University (UNJ).
Sundari is now a lecturer at the Nusantara Business Institute (IBN) and UNJ.
Her daughter Intan studied at the London School of Public Relations in Jakarta.
After finishing her study in 2013, Intan managed her mom’s family business in foreign currency exchange.
“I actually wanted to do a master’s degree,” Intan said. “But as my mom says I can continue my study anytime I want to but it’s now time for me to take care of family business.”
Intan loves listening to her mom's Keroncong music when she is working at the office.
“When I listen to her singing on my iPod, I feel so calm and relaxed,” said Intan. “Her voice is so soothing.”
Sundari and Intan
Sundari and Intan are planning to produce a Keroncong album together by the end of 2015.
“My friends and I are writing new songs for the album,” Intan said. “We want the album to have a contemporary feel so that today’s young people would feel a connection to it.”
Sundari herself dreams of conducting a solo Keroncong concert in a relaxed setting.
“All the concerts that I’ve conducted so far have always been so stiff with round-table dinner seating and formal attire,” said Sundari. “I want my next concert to have a more relaxed setting, in which young people can attend in jeans and sneakers and sit on the floor while enjoying the Keroncong.”
There is not yet a fixed plan of when Sundari will hold the concert.
“Just pray for my health,” she said with a smile. “Hopefully, I can hold such a concert soon and introduce a new style of Keroncong to the younger generation.”
For more information, check out Yayasan Keroncong Indonesia’s Twitter account: @yayasanKI