Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.
I began to like dangdut music when I was ten years old.
The music comforted me when I became upset after my classmates teased me. In class, they often threw spitballs at me. “Why does a rich kid ride to school on a bicycle?” they taunted, laughing. “Why not ride in a car?” Every recess, they’d bump into me and make me fall.
When I was fifteen, I started singing dangdut songs as a street busker along the business district of Jalan Paingan. I did this all through high school. I would sing after school to earn extra money, and I began to toy with the idea of becoming a professional dangdut singer.
One Friday afternoon after school, while I waited for Ibu, Mother, to prepare lunch, I went into the living room to practice my dangdut singing. I turned on the cassette player and put on the song Yang Kurindu — “The One I’m Longing For” — by Denny Malik. I sang along with Denny’s voice and the dangdut rhythm, “Please don’t say … I care no more … when … I still miss you …”
Suddenly, Ibu appeared in front of me and slapped me across the face. Whap!
“What’s wrong, Mom? — I asked, rubbing the side of my face.
“Alloy, my son! I don’t want you singing dangdut songs.”
“Why don’t you like it, Mom? I want to be a professional dangdut singer.”
“Alloy! We are Catholics. Are there any Catholics who like dangdut songs? How would it be possible for a Catholic to be a dangdut singer? Do you know of any Catholic who is a successful world-class dangdut singer? There aren’t any, are there?”
Just then, Ayah, Father, came home from his teaching job. He immediately intervened. “For Heaven’s sake! What’s going on?”
“Your son wants to be a dangdut singer,” Ibu said angrily. “Just so you know, I hate it.” Ibu left us in a huff.
“Le, Son, is it true that you want to be a dangdut singer?” My father, who always used the Javanese term of endearment for boys when he talked to me, gave me a big hug.
“Yes, I want to be a dangdut singer,” I replied and started to cry.
“Okay, don’t worry,” Ayah said, calming me. “I’ll help you.”
With my father’s approval, I joined the PSMCF, Cantus Firmus Student Choir during my freshman year at Sanata Dharma University, a well-known private college in Yogya. Not only did I learn different kinds of scales and how to control my voice, I also learned to be accountable to my fellow PSMCF members. I practiced singing from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., every Monday through Friday. The price I paid to be an aspiring dangdut singer was coming home late at night and enduring my mother’s scolding every day.
Every Saturday, our family attended Vigil Mass at one of the Catholic churches in Sleman. During one of those services, together with other members of PSMCF, we sang Catholic hymns with a dangdut beat for the first time in that church. As soon as we started to sing, the congregation, except for my mother, seemed captivated by the song’s rhythm. The priest and the nuns were curious about this new genre of music we presented.
After mass, one of the sisters approached us. “Praise the Lord,” she said. “Is this your first time to sing hymns with a dangdut rhythm? We rarely hear that kind of music in church, especially our church.”
“Thank you for the compliment, Sister,” I answered for all the choir members. “This was my suggestion. Hopefully all our parishioners will enjoy this music.”
“Amen, Le. Amen.”
My parents and I then immediately drove in our family van, a Toyota Kijang, to the Gadjah Wong Restaurant, a well-known restaurant in Sleman. I often sang there and was scheduled to perform that evening. But halfway there, we ran into a traffic jam. Gee! I’ll be late! I silently recited the rosary. to Lord Jesus Praise the Lord. He answered my prayer, and the traffic started to flow again.
When we arrived at the restaurant, my father quickly helped me dress for the performance and organized the songs — both dangdut and campursari, a Javanese pop variety — to perform later.
Fortunately, I was very familiar with all the songs, especially the ones I often practiced with karaoke at home.
Ibu silently watched me getting ready for the performance.
“Darling, why are you so quiet?” my father asked my mother. “You’d better help me.”
“No way,” my mother answered indifferently. “I’m embarrassed, Mas.”
“It’s okay, Dad,” I quipped while finishing my makeup. “Mom is still upset.”
At exactly eight o’clock, I walked onstage to sing. Watching my performance, the audience became excited.
I usually sang up to twenty songs for two consecutive hours. On Saturday nights, the restaurant manager often paid me 20,000 rupiah for each song I performed. Not bad at all. I earned enough to take care of my personal needs, after setting money aside for savings, busking costumes, vacation, and college supplies.
That night, during my last five songs, some patrons in the back row started heckling me.
“Isn’t that strange?” I heard one say. “A Catholic singing dangdut songs.”
“Why? How do you know he is Catholic? I actually envy him,” said another.
“I know. His name is Raden Mas Ralph Alloysius Bambang Sejati. He is a freshman in our college and the son of our favorite lecturer, Mr. Raden Mas Agustinus Bambang Praptomo. His mother is no other than our math teacher in middle school. I doubt that a singer like him can make it in the dangdut music world.”
“Do you mean Mrs. Raden Ayu Maria Sejati Yuniarti? Gosh! How weird! His voice is even better than that of the dangdut singer Thomas Djorghi.”
“Ah, no way! He sounds like the dangdut singer Denny Malik.”
“What? How could that be? You think Denny Malik inspired him?”
Their back-and-forth remarks soon created a boisterous atmosphere in the restaurant. Fortunately, I was able to complete my performance just fine.
After the last song, almost everyone in the audience rose and gave me a round of applause. They jostled to hand me flowers and asked for my autograph. Others asked me to take pictures with them.
The restaurant manager paid me. I received a lot of money that night. Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Lord. Smiling, I gratefully crossed myself and then ran outside to my parents, who were waiting in the car, in a hurry to get home.
On the way home, Ibu suddenly lashed out at me. “Alloy, you heard it yourself, didn’t you? The entire audience ridiculed your performance. Didn’t you hear them?”
“How could I?” I tried to pretend, “I was singing, so I couldn’t hear their babble.”
From the front seat, Ibu, sitting next to Ayah, turned slightly, leaned her head back, and snapped, “I am fed up, Le. I have told you that we are Catholics. We can’t even face our neighbors, let alone the church members. Where do you get the nerve, Le? From now on, no more singing dangdut songs. That’s it!”
It really hurt to listen to my mother. Why did their blabbering bother her so much? I did not know what to do. God, forgive those who made fun of me. Forgive also my mother, who was harsh with me.
When we finally arrived at home, I rushed out of the van, ran straight into my bedroom, slammed the door behind me, and locked it. I could no longer hold back my tears. Weakened, I slowly sank to the floor. Why should this happen? What should I do?
There was a knock on my door. “Le, open the door, I want to talk to you privately,” my father coaxed.
Oh my God! That’s Ayah knocking on my door. I immediately rose, wiped my tears, and opened the door.
Ayah quickly embraced me.
Sobbing, I clung to my father.
“Le, don’t mind your mother! She actually doesn’t realize how talented you are.”
“Dad, maybe there is truth in what Mom said. Maybe she’s right that it is impossible for a Catholic like me to make my dream of becoming a dangdut singer come true.”
“Don’t give up, Le. I promised to help you become a dangdut singer. Keep your spirits up.”
I nodded. I knew that Ayah would not break his promises. He would definitely help me realize my dream of becoming a dangdut singer. Maybe God’s plan had begun to work.
In my sixth semester at college, when I was twenty years old, I earned the best student award at the faculty level. Praise the Lord. Adding to my happiness, my father encouraged me to audition in a dangdut singing contest held by Peksimida, the Regional University Student Art Week.
When the audition day arrived, Ayah drove the Kijang to take me to the Mrican Campus, where the competition was taking place. I had dressed up like Denny Malik.
On the way, Ayah played dangdut instrumentals from the car stereo to help me practice the songs I was to sing. Finally, we arrived.
Upon entering the site, I ran into a classmate who was also a contestant. Angella looked pretty, dressed up like the dangdut singer Selfi Nafilah.
“Good morning Angella! Piye kabare?” — How are you? — I asked in Javanese.
“Good morning. I’m fine, Loy. You’re joining the competition, right?”
“Yes. I’m competing for the men’s dangdut singer award. What about you?”
“I’m competing for the women’s dangdut singer prize.” Angella smiled sweetly.
“Gee, I didn’t know you liked dangdut.”
“Oh, yes, I do like this kind of music.”
“When did you first learn about dangdut?”
“When I was eight, some twelve years ago.”
“Wow! That’s a long time ago!” I said, surprised.
We registered in Room K18 of the building, then waited for our turn, while praying, practicing the songs, and sharing a bottle of water. It wasn’t long before our names were called.
I confidently sang Yang Kurindu by Denny Malik. To impress the judges, I tried to put feeling into my performance. As soon as I finished singing, they gave me a big round of enthusiastic applause.
Happily, I left the room. Great! It seemed my performance went well.
The same was true for Angella. She also looked happy after her audition that day. We walked together, while chatting along the way.
“What do you think, Loy? Did you do it?”
“Thank God, my performance went well. What about you?”
“I did okay, Loy. At first, I was nervous. But thankfully, my nervousness suddenly disappeared when I started to sing. I bet it’s the power of the rosary prayer I recited last night.”
Shortly afterwards, we ran into our parents.
“Piye, Le?” — How did you do, Son? “You made it, didn’t you?”
“Praise the Lord, Dad. Everything went well.”
While waiting for the results of the singing competition, I continued my college studies as usual. I also continued attending Vigil Mass on Saturdays, busking, and visiting friends.. Hopefully God will answer my prayers.
One morning, about a month after the competition I jogged ten rounds around the university grounds on Paingan, while listening to the birds sing like a choir. It was about five-thirty and I noticed farmers heading for the fields to tend their crops. I slowly inhaled the fresh air. Ah, how clean and refreshing! I was deeply grateful for the beautiful surroundings God had created for me. I was proud to be a child of Paingan. Singing along with Stasiun Balapan — “The Balapan Train Station”, the signature song of Didi Kempot — I headed home, where I immediately ran into my mother.
“Alloy, someone texted you.” Ibu handed me the smartphone. “Check to see if there’s a message.”
Oh, my God, it’s from the Peksimida singing competition committee. I immediately opened the text message.
From: Regional Student Art Week Competition Committee
Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta
Date: May 24, 2010
Good morning, Alloy,
The Peksimida Committee of Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, is pleased to announce that
Name: Raden Mas Ralph Alloysius Bambang Sejati
Faculty: Science and Technology
has qualified to enter the next round of the men’s dangdut singing competition. We invite you to register and join the preparation for the upcoming Peksimida on Thursday, May 27, 2010, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Koendjono Room, Central Building of Campus 2, Mrican, Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta.
We thank you in advance for your attention to the matter.
“Praise the Lord! Yes!” I cheered, jumping up and down. “Thank you, Lord Jesus.” I pressed my smartphone against my chest.
Ibu looked at me curiously. “What’s going on? What’s the message about?” she probed.
“The results of the Peksimida singing competition!” I tried to control my voice — I felt like I was about to choke!
“Oh, really.” Ibu was uninterested.
“I passed the first round of the Peksimida competition,” I continued and showed her the text message on my smartphone. Before Ibu could say anything, I hurried away to take a quick shower and dress as neatly as possible.
When I entered the dining room, my parents were already waiting to have breakfast together. Ibu had just prepared Yogyakarta home-style fried rice with sunny-side-up eggs, in addition to Kalasan fried chicken, peyek tumpuk — crispy peanut fritters — and wedang uwuh, a traditional herb drink. Ibu had also prepared a variety of mouth-watering, traditional sweet snacks. Ibu was really a great cook.
While enjoying breakfast, I told Ayah about the text message I had received earlier. “Dad, I have good news! I passed the first round of the singing contest!” Grinning from ear to ear, I showed Ayah my smartphone.
“Thank God. Congratulations, Le. Hopefully you will also succeed in the next Peksimida,” said Ayah and kissed me on the forehead.
“Yes, Dad. Thanks for your prayers and support.”
“You’re welcome, Le. Good luck!”
In mid-June, I took part in another Peksimida dangdut singing competition at the Sarjana Wiyata University in Sleman, where the National Student Art Week — Peksiminas — would be held later. It turned out that Angella had also qualified to participate in the female dangdut singing contest. I didn’t know that she shared my aspiration to become a professional dangdut singer.
For the national Peksiminas competition, I sang the same compulsory song I sang during the regional competition: the classic dangdut song Darah Muda — “Youthful Zest” — by Bang Haji Rhoma Irama.
As for Angella, she sang Dua Kursi — “Two Chairs” — by Rita Sugiarto as her compulsory song, and Perahu Kaca — “Glass Boat” — by Selfi Nafilah as her song of choice.
Both of our parents watched our performances.
Thank God. He answered our prayers. Our hard work was rewarded by winning the championship in our separate categories. We both shed happy tears.
My mother, who had opposed my dreams all this time, finally acknowledged my talent.
In the end, I proved that a Catholic, like me, could become a dangdut singer. After graduating from college, I went to work as a controller in an insurance company, but I also continued being a dangdut singer. I recently signed a contract to record a dangdut Catholic-worship music album. As a token of gratitude, I not only use my talent to make a living, but also as a means to serve God.