I thought I’d see what Inul Daratista has been doing for six years now; it appears she’s doing much the same but is now an Indonesian icon.
From John Aglionby, The Guardian, Zamira Loebis, Jakarta, Bryan Walsh, Pelaihari, Kemal Jufri, Imaji, Time Magazine
The scene is 2003 - war has all but broken out again between the government and separatists in Aceh, and the first of the Bali bombing suspects is about to go on trial, but they struggle for airtime against the Inul saga.
The young men have traveled many kilometres to the one-mosque town of Pelaihari in Indonesia's South Kalimantan province to see the country's hottest and most controversial dangdut singer. They're rowdy, they're eager and, in clear defiance of the laws of physics, all 10,000 of them want in, now, through the soccer stadium's single narrow entrance.
Then Inul swaggers on stage, packed in tight red jeans and a glittering crimson tank top. She turns her back to the audience. The guitars crunch, Inul's hips swing low and hard.
The dance itself, it's less erotic than pneumatic. As Inul bends her knees and swings her butt in what appears to be a 120° arc, she resembles a glittering piston. Betraying her rock roots, Inul doesn't so much twist in time with the music as arrhythmically hurl herself around the stage like a dangdut Joan Jett.
Her wardrobe seems to consist entirely of Lycra, but her sartorial style and stage manner are tame compared with the scantily clad Indian stars who can be found shimmying away on any TV in the country.
She hasn't released a single recording, but one critic estimates that some 3 million pirated VCDs of her performances have been sold in Indonesia. Muslim clerics denounce her bump-and-grind dancing, attempt to ban her concerts, even pray for rain to keep impressionable fans away from her shows, yet politicians are lining up to recruit her support for the 2004 elections.
She's become the live wire connecting Indonesia's still nascent freedom of expression with the country's entrenched—and often hypocritical—moral majority, yet her popularity just keeps surging.
"She's the one and only one who can survive [in the country's cutthroat music scene]," says maverick TV and music producer Arswendo Atmowiloto. "She's what the people want."
Looking older but acting younger, clutching a pillow to her chest and resting her head on a TIME reporter's shoulder, in 10 hours she'll be doing her heavy-duty Fly Girl routine on a Pelaihari stage; 12 hours after that, she'll be in Jakarta running through a version of her moves for SCTV.
She hasn't seen her family in more than three months.
"The real Inul is the people's singer," she says. Her roots run deep in dangdut's heartland. Though she initially earned a mere 40ў per gig, Inul built a strong following in East Java, where her slam-dancing style was hardly unique.
"A singer like Inul is quite familiar there," says Bre, who's been following Inul for two years. "You could find so many Inuls in any small town in East or Central Java."
Born poor in the East Java village of Kejapanan, Gempol, in 1979, she’s just a well-brought-up, lower-class Muslim girl who had stars in her eyes from an early age and desperately wanted to be a dangdut singer. She started her performing career as a rock singer at age 12 but soon switched to dangdut.
Her real name is Ainul Rokhimah; the stage name Inul Daratista actually means "the girl with the breasts”.
Dangdut is a folky pop with Malay and Indian origins that dominates Indonesia's non-metropolitan music scene. Drilling is a funky, somewhat erotic dance style.
Basically, it involves rotating the hips in increasingly energetic circles while steadily bringing in the limbs until one becomes a flurry of appendages.
Originally the music of the lower class, complete with bawdy lyrics and sexually suggestive dancing, dangdut was cleaned up in the late 1970s and '80s when it was popularized by singers like Rhoma Irama, who diversified the music and turned the lyrics safely sweet. Cynical politicians began using dangdut musicians, including Suharto favorite Rhoma, to court the lower classes.
"Dangdut has been corrupted for the political campaigns," says Kompas music critic Bre Redana. In a familiar Indonesian story, the music of the people became a tool of the powerful.
In January, Inul came to Jakarta and performed on Warung Tojedo, a national television program. Virtually overnight, Inulmania swept Indonesia, and within weeks, Inul was bumping and grinding on the cover of major national magazines and appearing on television more often than the country's President.
Inul's concert fees rose dramatically, to anywhere from $1,100 to $1,700 per show. TV programs in which she appeared consistently drew 14 share points, well above the norm for music shows.
Indonesians snapped up copies of illegally recorded VCDs of Inul's old East Java performances—making her perhaps the first musician to owe much of her fame to piracy.
To the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, one of the ruling bodies of Indonesian Muslim clerics, her performance is a debased display of pornographic lasciviousness, circumscribed by its July 2002 fatwa against pornography.
In February the Ulemas council issued an edict against Inul. Other conservative groups quickly jumped on the bandwagon, but the row merely elevated Inul's status - and performing fee.
The whole saga was given a new lease of life after the "King of Dangdut", Rhoma Irama, called a press conference to vilify her.
He and his cabal banned her from performing their songs (which would virtually silence her) and said she was corrupting both dangdut and the nation's morals and - after an alleged rapist claimed he was aroused to act after watching an Inul performance - inciting crime.
Authorities in devout Yogyakarta banned Inul from performing, fearing that she would "degrade the morality of the highly civilized and educated residents" of the city.
Even the television stations profiting from her appearances paid unintentional homage to Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show by cutting away from Inul's hips when gyrations commenced.
Former president and respected Muslim leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, virtually blind and therefore having no visual frame of reference, made the point that Inul has a right to do what she does under the principle of free expression.
Virtually every academic and "cultural expert" has since entered the fray, with the vast majority backing Inul.
Taufik Kiemas, President Megawati Sukarnoputri's husband, was photographed shaking his considerable booty behind Inul after a TV performance.
Many middle-class and upper-class Indonesians read their papers and shook their heads at the controversy—then told their drivers to pick up a copy of Inul's VCD
"Write this down," she commands [a reporter]. "The MUI should realize that Indonesia is not a Muslim country, it's a democratic country."
Inul, who says she prays daily, insists that her art doesn't clash with her Islamic beliefs and suspects the religious hierarchy castigates her because the real threats to Indonesia's fragile morality, particularly corrupt officials, are too dangerous to attack.
"Why should they care about me when there are pornographic VCDs and prostitutes in the street? They choose me because I am an easy target."