Indonesia: Inul Daratista has overcome censorship



Gyrating to the top

Inul Daratista’s music career has overcome bans and censorship. Today she remains one of the most popular dangdut stars Indonesia has ever had

By Meredith Holmgren


Her Muslim name is Ainur Rokhimah, meaning “eyes of blessed love”. Her stage name is Inul Daratista, meaning “the girl with breasts”. Before she ever recorded an album, her music and concerts were in high demand, and an estimated three million pirated VCD’s circulated throughout the region.
But what made this young star so popular, and controversial, is her style of musical performance, which includes skin-tight outfits and her signature goyang ngebor (“drill dance”). Goyang ngebor consists of intense gyration of the hips, which many associate with decidedly sexual implications. Although this style of dancing is typical for many from her region in East Java, Indonesian conservatives have condemned her performances.

The Indoensian Ulemas Council (MUI) linked her dancing with their fatwa against pornography, and the East Javanese branch declared her performances haram. She was even banned from performing in Jogjakarta, the “cultural center” of Java.

To make matters more complicated, Rhoma Irama – “the king of dangdut” – additionally denounced her style and forbade her from singing his songs. He is the head of a composers union called the Indonesian Organisation of Meyalu Music Artists (PIMMA) who publicly stated that Inul degenerates the reputation of dangdut, and they have threatened legal action if she performs any of its members compositions. For a style of music that thrives on recycling other people’s songs, this proposed serious limitations to the young singer’s repertoire.

Further, Latitudes reported: “Rhoma has been quoted as saying that ‘I have a responsibility to prevent Inulisation to the last drop of my blood,’ that Inul has ‘evil in her breast[s]’ and that Inulisation is worse than the SARS epidemic’…
Some have charged that an aging Rhoma is just trying to get back in the spotlight, but many say that this can’t be about market share; no matter how big Inul gets, she can’t put a dent in Rhoma’s popularity” (June 2003).


Dangdut is a very popular Indonesian music genre derived from Indian, Arab and Malay styles, but it often incorporates a variety of other world influences as well. It has long been associated with the lower-classes of Indonesia (musik pinggiran), and consequently became seen as “the music of the people.” The lyrics often address issues of love, heartbreak, and poverty. Dangdut has long been ripe with sexual innuendos and suggestiveness, but “Inul’s physical portrayal of the words and their meaning was something never attempted by those who came before her” (Jakarta Eye, “Dangdut Comes of Age-Sex and the Village”).

In the 1970s and 1980s, Rhoma Irama popularized dangdut, tamed its sexual attitude, and began to use it to spread the message of Islam – collectively making it fit for mass commercial appeal. Later, “Politicians began using dangdut musicians… to court the lower classes.  …the music of the people became the tool of the powerful” (TIME Asia Magazine, 24 March, 2003). By the late 1990s, Rhoma was using his talents to “delight thousands at pro-Suharto rallies… and was rewarded by being nominated for the legislature by Suharto’s Golkar party in 1997” (Christian Science Monitor, 9 May, 2003).
But in the villages, a rawer tradition of dangdut continued – this is the environment where Inul Daratista’s performances began. Her career started around the age of twelve, performing for local audiences in her home community and earning around $US 0.40 per show. By 2003, she had her commercial breakthrough and became Indonesia’s highest paid entertainer, reportedly earning around $US 78,000 per month (Latitudes, June, 2003). Inul had become a ‘rags to riches’ phenomenon.

Support for Inul

The New Order regime lead by Soeharto – which lasted over 30 years – notoriously imposed harsh restrictions on arts, entertainment and media. After this oppressive dictatorship ended (May 1998), most Indonesians have been reluctant to support state-sponsored social controls. Consequently, censorship of the arts remains largely unpopular. A poll published at the height of the controversy in 2003 by Tempo magazine revealed that, despite the uproar, 78 percent of Indonesians supported Inul’s right to free expression.
All of the conservative backlash against Inul only seemed to fuel the flames. Initially, Inul publicly apologized for having offended people. But by June of 2003, Inul answered her critics by saying, “For me, what is sexy is relative…It depends on who views it. So, if they think that I can sing, [if] they think that my body is very good, that my shake is lethal, I think it is a blessing from God. This is something that I have to keep doing. So, for those who say I’m sexy, thank you very much” (Maria Bakkalapulo, 20 June 2003).

More people wanted to buy her videos and concert tickets than ever before. A pro-Inul rally in Jakarta drew hundreds of people, some of whom danced goyang ngebor in intersections to show solidarity.
Some Muslim leaders additionally countered conservative claims. Former President of Indonesia and highly respected religious leader Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), now the head of the country’s largest Muslim organisation, publicly declared that Inul should be allowed to express herself. He even arranged a meeting with Rhoma Irama, advising him to “tone down his criticism” (Christian Science Monitor, 9 May, 2003). Another cleric, Zainal Abdul Ghoni, offered to become Inul’s foster father if she would take classes at his religious boarding school. And Ulil Abashar-Abdalla – an Islamic scholar and intellectual whose liberal interpretations of Islam resulted in a death fatwa – also publicly agreed with her right to free expression.

Women’s groups, such as the Indonesian Human Rights Commission on Women, have additionally come to the singer’s aid and supported her through criticism. Inul even appeared on the cover of Femina, Indonesia’s leading women’s weekly.

Inul in Malaysia

Currently most of the controversy appears to have died down in Indonesia, but the debate continues in the neighboring country of Malaysia. Previously, her television music show had been banned and she was not allowed to perform anywhere in the country. But in May 2005, the ban was lifted and she was allowed to perform for the first time in Kuala Lumpur – but not without protest.

A conservative opposition Islamic Party (PAS) asked the government to revoke Inul’s concert permit on the grounds that her performances are sexually explicit.
“Before the concert began, about 150 PAS Youth were seen distributing flyers in protest against the concert. According to this group’s philosophy, those who attended the concert are engaging in hedonistic activities and a direct contradiction to the Islamic principles of Islam Hadhari.”

The concert went off with relatively minor side effects. It was reported that she entertained 5,000 Malaysians, but largely refrained from engaging in goyang ngebor (The Star, 2 May, 2005).

Articles and resources referred to in this article:

Latitudes (from Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia), volume 29 – June 2003:

The Jakarta Eye:
‘Dangdut Comes of Age-Sex and the Village’


TIME Asia Magazine, 17 March 2003:
‘Inul’s Rules’

Christian Science Monitor, 9 May 2003:
‘Disputed Dance’

Maria Bakkalapulo, 20 June 2003:

‘Popular Indonesian Singer Inul Daratista Answers Her Critics’

Femina (In bahasa Indonesia):

‘Seperti Madonna, Wae’

The Star, 2 May 2005:

‘Inulmania Strickens the Malaysian Fans’

BBC, 06 March 2003:

‘Zainal Abdul Ghoni offers to adopt Inul’

The Jakarta Post, 22 February, 2003:

‘”Dangdut” singer too hot for many Indonesia?’



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