Javanese Roots Mixtures from Veteran Female Singer

If there is one area of the world to rival West Africa for an amazing array of superb female singers it has to be East Asia. Among the countries of south- east Asia, Indonesia has more than its fair share of such mellifluous voiced singers. Waldjinah has been a national singing star in Indonesia for over four decades. She is something of a singing chameleon, seamlessly switching from fairly traditional to more pop sounding material, but is probably best known for singing the style called kroncong. Arguably kroncong is the world’s oldest popular music that is made up of a variety of styles from around the world, with elements of Asian and European music and traces of possibly Arab and African influences too.

Waldjinah was born on November 7th 1943 in Solo, Central Java. At her first public performance in 1958 she won a singing contest with a recording contract as her prize. She repeated that success at a kroncong contest in 1965, gaining national recognition. She next developed a new style of popular music, called langgam jawa. Her radical version was based on 32 bar American pop songs of the day, accompanied by kroncong instrumentation, yet played in the traditional pentatonic (five note) pelog scale, normally associated with Javanese gamelan music. This style was adapted to the popular music pentatonic slendro scale, on her biggest hit from 1969, ‘Walang Kekek’, a version of which is included on this album.

From around the mid 1980s, Waldjinah took up the mantle as Indonesia’s finest singer of kroncong, and has released numerous albums in this style. She is further regarded locally as one of the greatest ever singers to emerge from Java. She has now released a vast body of work, numbering about 150 albums and cassettes.

Originally recorded for the Japanese market, but also released in Indonesia, ‘Ratu Jawa’ (Queen of Java) features a dazzling array of talented musicians. Working with Waldjinah, and other top Indonesian musicians are a veritable dream team of pioneering Japanese musicians and producers who have a track record of embracing roots music to create unique, modern mixtures of Japanese and Asian sounds. These include Makoto Kubota, producer of landmark Indonesian recordings by Detty Kurnia, Elvy Sukaesih and Malagasy group N’Java. Also keyboard player, arranger and producer Kazuya Sahara, who was largely responsible for the wonderful texture of sounds behind Okinawan female quartet Nenes, who themselves appear on this album. Another Japanese producer Oto has been at the cutting edge of modern Japanese roots music combining it with dance, reggae, African and rai music.

The producer of this CD Katsunori Tanaka has a unique experience of working with not only Indonesian musicians but also in Malaysia, leading to his association with the country’s leading accordion player S.Atan, another guest on this album. In the 1980s Tanaka lived in Brazil, producing several records by Brazilian samba musicians. Some of these add yet another colour to the already rich palette of sounds that can be heard on ‘Ratu Jawa’.