Elvy Sukaesih – The Dangdut Queen

Elvy Sukaesih is revered as one of Indonesia’s and East Asia’s greatest ever singers. From the late 60s, her career developed alongside dangdut, the deeply funky local street music, that emerged from 1950s Orkes Melayu (orchestras) and blended various foreign music including Arabic, Indian and western rock with Indonesian instruments such as suling (flute) and gendang (tabla shaped drums). Elvy was the undisputed ‘Queen of Dangdut’ during the music’s golden age in the mid 1970s to 80s, before (arguably) the raw energy and blistering musicianship got drowned out by drum machines and synthesizers. This CD charts the course of this golden age, with a collection of Elvy’s biggest hits and rare tracks.

Elvy has the ability to sing with extraordinary power or extreme subtlety. She also uses a technique virtually unique to singers from eastern Asia, utilizing emotional ornamentation, glissandos and grace notes. Enormously popular in Indonesia, few albums by Elvy Sukaesih are available today outside of Indonesia. This CD was compiled by Japanese music producer Katsunori Tanaka to rectify this situation. It consists mainly of tracks she recorded for Permana Records when Elvy was in her prime. The track order follows Elvy’s path from one of her first hits in the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, a period considered the heyday of dangdut.

Elvy Sukaesih was born in Jakarta on June 25th 1951. Her father was a guitarist who used to play kroncong, another Indonesian music genre with a long history that flourished as the country’s national music in the days just after independence was declared.

At the root of dangdut lay Orkes Melayu. Orkes means orchestra, although it is quite complicated to explain the meaning of the word Melayu. It is one of the dialects (and a race of people) of Indonesia, a multiracial country, but also meaning Indonesia itself. Indonesian people speak some 250 different languages and when the country won its independence from Holland, Melayu was adopted as the nation’s common language. It became a symbol of a united nation in the late 1940s when the word Orkes Melayu was first used. Thus the groups named “Orkes Melayu” meant orchestras which played the national music of the newly born Indonesia.

The sound of Orkes Melayu didn’t simply get westernized, however, instead it became deeper and more rootsy, a crucial point in understanding dangdut. Suling (bamboo flute) and gendang (a pair of Indian tabla shaped drums) were added to produce the sound unique to today’s dangdut. Dangdut is a music which created an original Indonesian sound by taking in successively different foreign musical elements. It had originally no established roots or source. It was born from virtually nowhere to become one of Indonesia’s most popular styles of music.

Elvy Sukaesih grew up as a singer in parallel with dangdut itself. She embodies the history of the music through her career and its allure through her skill. She is fully entitled to claim that she has been singing dangdut from its beginning. Elvy Sukaesih truly is ‘The Dangdut Queen’.

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