THE death of ‘Dangdut’ singer Irma Bule from a snake bite on stage last weekend underscores the struggle of female artistes in Indonesia.
Adding context to the story, Made Supriatma, an editor at Joyo Indonesia News Service, said due to stiff competition, female Dangdut singers were forced to innovate their acts in order to be to be noticed – including ‘exploiting’ their sexuality, as strong vocal abilities are not enough to create impressions.
“Irma Bule is one such example. She strives hard to survive in the show business. Just like any ‘Dangdut’ (singers) in her class, she was innovating. She brought the snake to the stage and became famous for her snake-styled dancing,” Made wrote in a Facebook post (translated).
His response came after news broke that the singer refused to seek immediate medical attention after being bitten by an adult cobra, continuing to perform her show for over 45 minutes after that. The incident has drawn both criticism and sympathy from netizens.
Made’s post has received a lot of attention. Following the singer’s death, many criticized her raunchy dancing with snakes as a gimmick to attract fans and draw attention to her art.
Made said the celebrity status of female singers is not as glamorous as it appears, as performers like Irma are paid a paltry Rp 350,000 (US$26) per show. He said Irma was an example of lower class Indonesian women who need to do what they can in order to survive.
Irma Bule: Persaingan menjadi penyanyi dangdut sangat ketat. Terutama bagi perempuan. Para penyanyi berinovasi sebisa…
“By working so hard, she was able to support her three children, not to mention (having to face) the stigma of being a ‘loose’ woman because she had to ‘exploit’ her body onstage. A friend explained that Irma brought the snake to prevent her from being felt up (by male audience members). I guess there is (some) truth to this,” he wrote.
Dangdut is a genre of Indonesian folk music that combines Indian and Arabic influences. It is widely popular in the country and the region.
Made, who had observed much of the Dangdut phenomenon during his journalism career, especially in the 1990s, also pointed out the involvement of capitalism and politics in ‘Dangdut’, as it was considered the music of the people due to its popularity among the common folk. He drew parallels to the ‘capitalism recording’ industry and its collaboration with the Suharto-led New Order era.
Due to Dangdut’s widespread appeal during the Orde Baru (New Order), Made said the elite saw an opportunity to exploit the music for political purposes.
“All of a sudden, we saw generals and Suharto loyalists singing Dangdut. His favorite minister, who stuttered and who was ironically was given the task of explaining many things, even took on a Dangdut singer as a wife. Suharto’s people also replaced educational television shows with Dangdut TV because apparently, Dangdut was very profitable.”
“This is particularly true in the twilight of his reign, (when) Suharto when could no longer rely solely on military power,” Made wrote, adding that there was hardly any political campaign without Dangdut music.
Made also lashed out at moralists who criticised Irma for her ‘suggestive’ performances.
“Surely we will see the ‘religious’ and ‘moral’ critics who only know how to taunt (Irma) for being a symbol of immorality, that what she did was sinful and would lead her to hell. But in fact, her life alone was hell,” he wrote.