Jakarta-based jaipong troupe Bucho Bagya Parera performs in Jatinegara on Saturday (21/04). (JG Photo / Yudha Baskoro)

How a 50-Year-Old Jaipong Troupe Keeps Body and Soul Together


APRIL 28, 2018

Jakarta. At 10 p.m., every night, one of the kiosks under the Pisangan Lama overpass beside Jatinegara Station in East Jakarta turns into a mini stage. Women in kebayas perform the jaipong dance to passersby, customers of nearby warungs, and others willing to watch.

Some of them become sinden (singers) and perform popular Sundanese songs, like "Kembang Gadung," "Kidung Salamet" or "Patepang Sono."

Normally a group of musicians will accompany them. Just like in dangdut, the sound of live kendang is crucial to a jaipong performance, but during Jakarta Globe's visit on Saturday (21/04), they sang to YouTube karaoke clips.

The ladies belong to Bucho Bagya Parera, a troupe which was formed in Jakarta in 1959. It does not only have jaipong in its repertoire, but also other Sundanese performing arts such as sisingaan and rampak gendang.

The group is managed by Acep Supriadi, 42, whose family founded it.

"It was started by my grandfather, then continued by my father. After he died, my mother took over. When she was too tired, I stepped in. Let's just say I am the fourth generation," Acep told the Jakarta Globe.

He graduated in architecture in 2000, but soon found that office work did not suit him.

"Jaipong is in my blood. It put me through school and college. Art is definitely in my blood. My diploma ended up in an archive. One thing I regret is that if I had known this would have been my way of life, I would have pursued a degree in performing arts," he said.

Saturday's performance was not a crowded one, even though normally weekends are the most packed. The show went on nonetheless.

Acep said the popularity of jaipong has declined. At weddings, people now prefer to have a solo keyboardist (organ tunggal) playing all songs requested.

"We were still popular in 2010, but organ tunggal is slowly crushing us. It is much more expensive to hire us, we are a troupe. Each gig requires about 20 people," Acep said.

His group charges around Rp 10 million ($720) for a wedding performance. The price already includes a sound system. To hire a keyboardist costs only Rp 2.5 million.

For their daily shows, Bucho Bagya Parera members earn up to Rp 1 million together. Acep said that a year ago he could spare some money, but today it is enough only for one day.

The group's regular audience is shrinking. Its members are usually blue-collar workers and street vendors looking for after-hours entertainment.

Since fewer people visit traditional markets, the vendors too do not make much money and cannot afford to be as generous with tips as they used to be.

Dancing and Singing for Life

Passion for art is what keeps members of Bucho Bagya Parera going.

Ratnawati, 48, has been in the group since she was 15. Her parents could not afford to pay for her post-elementary school education.

"After I finished school, my mother told me: 'Sagala sakola, paling ka dapur-dapur wae, sakola nyinden wae [don't bother about going to school, you'll end up in the kitchen, just learn to sing],'" she told the Jakarta Globe.

That time, learning to be a sinden and dancer cost her only Rp 70,000. Now it can reach Rp 750,000.

Once she joined the troupe, she was a dancer until 30. Her stage name was Rat Geboy because she excelled in ngageboy, or twerking, so low that she could reach the ground.

"In my younger days, I was like a diva. Everyone across the greater Jakarta area knew me," she said.

She recalled performing in front of foreign tourists at Horison Hotel (now Mercure Hotel) in Ancol, North Jakarta, in 1985. Paid in dollars, her tips reached Rp 2 million, which back then was quite a huge amount of money.

Ratna switched to singing after she got married, had kids and gained weight. Her body was no longer fit for dancing. But even then, her career was still afloat. Just like dancers, sindens could have their own fame. Now it is changing.

"Being a sinden in the past was great. I was like a VIP. Now I'm just a P," said Ratna, who is now a grandmother of two.

Ratnawati joined the troupe when she was 15 years old. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

She said that she tried selling clothes to earn more, but she felt uncomfortable collecting debt from people who did not pay right away, so she sticks with jaipong.

Ina Wulandari, 39, who is one of the group's dancers, also sells clothes. She started her jaipong career in 2015, after six years of being a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia.

She said dancing is better, much less tiring than working overseas, even though she earns less.

The youngest in the group is Tika Kartika, 17, who started training jaipong when she finished elementary school, and joined Bucho Bagya Parera in 2015.

"I love jaipong, because I love Sundanese culture," she said.

Ratna, Ina and Tika are from Karawang, West Java — the birthplace of many dancers and sindens. Ina and Tika go home once a week, Ratna prefers to save money and goes back just once a month.

Despite all financial difficulties, the troupe wants to survive.

"The only thing that will stop us is if our kiosk gets destroyed. There are still some jaipong groups in Bekasi or Cileungsi. But in Jakarta, we're the only one," Acep said.