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.
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’…
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The Jakarta Eye:
TIME Asia Magazine, 17 March 2003: