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Dangdut Stories

A Social and Musical History of Indonesia's Most Popular Music

Andrew N. Weintraub

Publication Date - 21 September 2010

ISBN: 9780195395662

272 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


A keen critic of culture in modern Indonesia, Andrew N. Weintraub shows how a genre of Indonesian music called dangdut evolved from a denigrated form of urban popular music to a prominent role in Indonesian cultural politics and the commercial music industry. Dangdut--named onomatopoetically for the music's characteristic drum sounds "dang" and "dut"--is Indonesia's most popular music, heard in streets and homes, public parks and narrow alleyways, stores and restaurants, and all forms of public transportation. Despite dangdut's tremendous popularity in Indonesia and other parts of Asia, it has seldom received the serious critical attention it deserves.

Dangdut Stories is a social and musical history of dangdut within a range of broader narratives about class, gender, ethnicity, and nation in post-independence Indonesia (1945-present). Quoted material from interviews, detailed analysis of music and song texts, and ethnography of performance illuminate the stylistic nature of the music and its centrality in public debates about Islam, social class relations, and the role of women in postcolonial Indonesia.

Dangdut Stories is the first musicological study to examine the stylistic development of dangdut music itself, using vocal style, melody, rhythm, form, and song texts to articulate symbolic struggles over meaning. Throughout the book the voices and experiences of musicians take center stage in shaping the book's narrative. Dangdut was first developed during the early 1970s, and an historical treatment of the genre's musical style, performance practice, and social meanings is long overdue.


  • Is the first English-language book on a genre significant to the study of global popular music and culture
  • Includes interviews with national dangdut stars including Rhoma Irama, Elvy Sukaesih, A. Rafiq., and many others
  • Focuses on the relationship between music and (1) commercial media institutions; (2) government institutions; and (3) critical institutions
  • Features a companion website with fantastic dangdut recordings
  • Discusses on-going debates about women's voices and dancing bodies in Indonesia, a majority Muslim country, particularly leading up to the Pornography Bill ratified in Oct. 2008

About the Author(s)

Andrew N. Weintraub is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in ethnomusicology and popular music, and directs the University of Pittsburgh gamelan program. He is the author of Power Plays: Wayang Golek Puppet Theater of West Java (Ohio University Press, 2004) and the coeditor of Music and Cultural Rights (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Weintraub is the founder and lead singer of the Dangdut Cowboys, a Pittsburgh-based dangdut group whose Youtube videos have been viewed more than 100,000 times since December 2007.


"In Dangdut Stories, Weintraub has written a masterful, engaging, and exemplary portrait not only of a colorful music genre--with an audience of tens of millions--but also of a dynamic society in transition." --Peter Manuel, Professor, Music Department, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

"From an Indonesian perspective, Weintraub's contribution to the debate about the construction of national identity in Indonesia is quite original. By focusing on dangdut popular music, he recognizes the importance of the cultural industry's role less in shaping a definite musical identity than in underlining its continual slippage as a meaning. The book, rich with field notes, suggests that a discourse on cultural identity is necessarily a discourse on cultural fluidity." --Goenawan Mohamad, founder and editor, Tempo

"Andrew Weintraub's Dangdut Stories is at once the definitive work on this important genre and a methodological tour de force. Dangdut Stories promises to be an enduring work of ethnomusicology. It also has much to offer scholars interested in popular music, the Islamic public sphere, media and transnationalism, and culture and power." --Jonathan Sterne, McGill University, author of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction and MP3: The Meaning of a Format

"Dangdut Stories contains a wealth of new and original musicological source material, in the form of interviews with dangdut stars, information from obscure journalistic resources and thoughtful analysis of dangdut standards, combined with a keen reappraisal of the existing literature." --International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter

"Anyone intrigued by the creative contradictions of pop culture in Asia should pick up this meticulous and thoughtful book." --Wall Street Journal

"At last, a book on dangdut, and an excellent one...It is only with this meticulously researched and engagingly written book-length study by Andrew Weintraub that we have the important combination of perspectives--historical, musicological, sociological, gender, and media/cultural studies--that this rich and multifaceted form of expression deserves...What he has accomplished is nothing short of a tour de force, giving us a very readable history of this genre, and untangling much about its diverse origins and the multiplicity of paths it has taken into the first decade of the twenty-first century." --Indonesia

"[Dangdut Stories] will appeal to anyone who has answered the call to "goyang!", or move." --The Australian

"An invaluable, much-needed investigation of Indonesia's popular-music scene...The book is laden with photographs, song translations, and musical analysis, all of which enhance the discussion without overwhelming the non-musician. Weintraub's firsthand knowledge of the music and its performers is a great asset and evidence that ethnomusicological fieldwork is as critical to the study of popular music as it is to traditional arts...Best of all, a companion Web site of the same name provides streaming audio and video of material referenced throughout the book. An important resource for study of southeast Asian music and culture. Highly recommended." --Choice

"The most thorough look at the subject to date. It is a well-balanced scholarly work, providing close readings of the genre's complex relationships with contemporary Indonesian society, yet its writing is readable and accessible to general audiences...An exceptional achievement. It is a significant, well-researched, and methodical work of ethnomusicology, and a thoughtfully written history of a topic that is meaningful to millions of people." --Journal of Folklore Research

"This book is currently the most exhaustive ethnomusicological study of the dangdut genre of music in Indonesia...An essential preliminary study of dangdut in Indonesia that examines the social and political dimensions of a music genre...Weintraub's book provides a significant amount of material and methods to realize further studies of music that take into account the influence of music across borders." --Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

"Weintraub's Dangdut Stories is an exceptional achievement. It is a significant, well-researched, and methodical work of ethnomusicology, and a thoughtfully written history of a topic that is meaningful to millions of people." --Journal of Folklore Research

"An impressive record of the many legends, messages, and politics of the form from the perspective of an ethnographer who has publicly engaged with it." --Ethnomusicology

Table of Contents

    [About the Website]

    1. Introduction
    2. Mythologizing Melayu: Discourse, Practice, and the Stakes of Authenticity
    3. A Doll from India, Mr. Mahmud, and the Elvis of Indonesia
    4. Music and Rakyat: Constructing "the people" in Dangdut
    5. "Suffering" and "Surrender": Dangdut and the Spectacle of Excess
    6. Dangdut Nation: "We bring the Happiness of Dangdut"
    7. "Dance Drills, Faith Spills": Islam, Body Politics, and Popular Music
    8. "Dangdut Daerah": Going Local in Post-Suharto Indonesia
    9. Conclusion: Why Dangdut?


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