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Dangdut and Politics in Indonesia: The Use of Dangdut in Political Campaign?

Arief Rahadian
Jul 25, 2016 · 12 min read

Article written in 2014 in response to the use of dangdut in political campaign.

If we are talking about politics, it means that at some point, we will talk about campaign. And when we are talking about campaign, we will eventually talk about its method. there are a lot of method that can be used on political campaign, starting from the classic one, such as oratory, to the modern one, such as using media campaign. But among those methods, there is one unique method, that i think only exist in one country. What kind of method is that, and in what country such method exist?. This article will try to explain that.

At the beginning of this article, i would like to ask you a simple question. What comes in your mind when you hear the word “politics”?. Could it be power? Election? Corruption? Or maybe, religion?. What if i tell you the first thing that came into my mind when i heard the word “politics” was, in fact, dangdut. It sounds unfamiliar, right?. So what is dangdut?. The term dangdut itself is quite unique, and it requires some kind of explanation to be understood. Well, shortly, dangdut is a genre of music, that was originated from Indonesia. The music itself is considered to be a combination between hindustan, malay and arabic musics. It is likely the most popular genre in Indonesia. Now you might wonder why did i answer the question in the first paragraph with dangdut?. Why didn’t i answer it with something obvious like power or election? Now let me tell you.

In, Indonesia, political parties often use dangdut in their campaign as a tool to gather their followers. But as you can see, dangdut and politics have some kind of love and hate relationship. Political parties might use dangdut to get followers, but they can also lose their followers because of dangdut. That’s because sometimes dangdut is considered as a pornographical act. It is portrayed that way because dangdut performers are always seen on stage with some kind of sexy outfits, topped up with sensual manners. In a country with the largest muslim population in the world, that kind of performance is somehow unacceptable. Yet, even thought dangdut is considered to be a pornographical act, it still doesnt lose its charm and it keeps attracting people. The fact that dangdut is still alive today, and almost all of the political parties use dangdut in their campaign are proofs of dangdut’s charm.

So we know that in Indonesia, dangdut is often used as a tool for political parties to gather their followers. But few questions raise from this issue:

  • How to explain this issue from the sociological point of view?
  • Does dangdut has some kind of impact on the amount of votes that the party will get?

Well, to answer those questions, perhaps we should know first what is sociology, what is political sociology, and of course, what is dangdut. Only after that we can see the silver linings connecting them all.

Sociology, Political sociology, and Dangdut: A Relationship

What is sociology? Sociology is the scientific study about human social behaviour. Dangdut itself can be considered as a human social behaviour. So that what makes dangdut as a sociological issue. In one of the main perspective of sociology, symbolic interactionism, it is explained that reality is never fixed. Reality is always in the process of negotiation and re-negotiation. The negotiation process involve the use of symbols, than can be interpreted in many ways. Dangdut is one of that symbol, as we can see it can be interpreted as an invitation to gather and celebrate something. It is clear that dangdut is related to sociology, but how about its relation to political sociology? To answer that question, we should know what politics is, and what political sociology is first.

What is politics? Perhaps the most well-known definition about what is politics is the one proposed by political scientist, Harold Lasswell. Laswell defined politics as “who gets what, when and how”. From Lasswell’s definition, we can conclude that the study of politics examines the acquisition, and application of power. What is power then?. Here we can see the connection between politics and sociology. Max Weber defined power as “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance”. Weber was a sociologist, and his thought about power have been used as a basis of sociological analysis about political phenomena since he came out with that theory in 1947.

So then, we can conclude that political sociology is a scientific study about power relation. Sociologist Kate Nash further defines political sociology as a study of the relations between state, citizen, and society. Here we can see the connection between dangdut and political sociology. Dangdut, as a tool to gather followers in a campaign relflects the basic essence of politics, it’s basically about “how to get power”. We can also see the power relation between political parties and society. Dangdut acts as a media to channel the power of political parties to the society.

Political parties use their power, including economic capital to start a campaign. In their campaign, aside from using oratory, political parties also use dangdut, as a media to omit society’s resistance, hoping that people will choose them in the upcoming elections. Thus, saving their position, and guaranteed their place (or places) in the legislative or executive seats. Knowing that political campaign using dangdut is in fact, a sociological issue, we can then proceed to the next question, is this an effective method to get more votes?. To answer this question, we should look up on the hystory of dangdut and politics.

Dangdut and Politics: A Brief History

The origin of dangdut can be traced back to the 1950s. Dangdut was in fact, the part of melayu music. The music’s lyrics back then was always about love, and somehow, poetic. It lasted for like 10–20 years, untill the rock music came and change they way melayu music was in 1970s. It is said that the influence of rock music into melayu music changed the nature of melayu music into some kind of aggresive music. Society back then depicted the music such as “you will always hear the music even if you dont want to”, and “the music just pierces through the wall, and our ears”.

This kind of aggresiveness is then used by one of the Indonesian musician, Rhoma Irama, to use dangdut as a media for both social criticism and missionary agenda. He imbued the lyrics with islamic and social values, but kept the rhythm. The lyrics itself was created so people can remember it easily, and the lyric was also very straightforward, and people didn’t have to think to get the meaning of the lyrics. The impact of his interpretation on melayu music is the birth of dangdut. It became a very popular genre back then, and because of the simple and easy to remember lyrics, most of the fans were people from the middle and lower classes. After that, dangdut is used to gather followers in a campaign, because its closeness with the lower class citizens. As the time passed by, Indonesia’s economic development creates a condition where dangdut fans that was once in the lower class moved to the middle and upper class. Even though they experienced social mobilization, they kept their identity as dangdut fans. This is the main argument that dangdut can’t be simplified as a lower class music.

The use of dangdut by political party as a tool to gather followers can be traced back to the campaign of Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) or United Development Party. PPP, that was Rhoma’s party, use dangdut to gather followers in their campaign in 25th March 1977. Rhoma changed one of his song’s lyric, Begadang, to “menusuk boleh menusuk asal yang ada artinya, menusuk boleh menusuk, asal Ka’bah yang ditusuk” or “you can pierce, as long as it has a meaning, you can pierce as long as the one that you are going to pierce is Ka’bah”. Piercing here refers to the method of election, where people are given a paper with the symbol, or picture of the political parties or candidates, and they have to pierce one of them. The results of the election was good, PPP gained much more votes rather than the previous election in 1971, with a total 2,17% raise. But it is not clear wether it’s the impact of dangdut or not.

It might be clear that dangdut can be used to gather followers, but it is not clear that dangdut can actually help the political parties to gain more votes. Perhaps we should look on the current phenomena rather than looking at the past to find the answer of wether dangdut is an effective method to get more votes, or not.

Dangdut and Politics: In Present Times

There are some memorable cases of dangdut and politics in present times, one of them is the West Java Gubernatorial Election in 2013. One of the candidates, Dede Yusuf and Lex Laksamana hired one of the most famous Indonesian dangdut singer, Ayu Tingting, to perform in their campaign. In response, their rival, Irianto Syafiudin and Tatan Farhanul also hired one of the most famous Indonesian dangdut singer, Agung Hercules, to perform in their campaign. Both of their campaign was attended by thousands of people, but at the end of the day, they lost to Ahmad Heryawan and Deddy Mizwar, such an irony because the candidates didn’t even use a famous dangdut singer in their campaign.

The next memorable case of dangdut and politics in present times is the Indonesian Legislative Election in 2014. All political parties that participated in the legislative election used dangdut as one of the method in their campaign. To get a better picture, look at the table below.

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Table 1. Political parties using dangdut in their campaign, Indonesian Legislative election, 2014.

From the table above, we can see that all political parties that participated in the national legislative election use dangdut in their campaign. Some of them even use the well-known dangdut singer such as Ayu Tingting, Ira Swara, Rhoma Irama, and Elvy Sukaesih. But those using famous singer failed to get into the top three votes. This is the proof that dangdut is not an effective way to get more votes. So how does sociology explains it all? Why does dangdut, which seems to have some kind of potential to get the party more votes failed this expectation?. Why does political parties keep using dangdut in their campaign anyway?.

Dangdut as a Capital, and Politics as a Field

The issue about dangdut and politics is indeed, sociological. It is shown that using dangdut does not affect the amount of votes that the party, or candidates will get. In West Java Gubernatorial Election 2013, the winner, Ahmad Heryawan and Deddy Mizwar didn’t have to hire a famous dangdut singer to win. So did in Indonesia Legislative Election, parties that hired famous dangdut singer didn’t even reach the top three on the total votes.

If we are about to use structural perspectives to explain this phenomena, the analysis will not be accurate. Structural analysis main point is, any individual acts is determined by the structure. The use of dangdut by the political parties do not determine the amount of votes that they will eventually get. Another structural analysis, like Durkheim’s view about collective representation and collective consience is also proven to be innacurate. Dangdut can be considered as a collective representation, and when it is used, it evokes collective consciences so then society will vote for parties that are using dangdut in their campaign. But it didn’t, and probably won’t happen.

Class analysis, from Marx’s point of view, can’t also be used to analyze this phenomena. The assumption that dangdut is used by the upper class to gain lower class votes is flawed. Dangdut can’t be considered as a false consciousness that were created by the economic capital of those capitalists. In fact, some of the capitalists might be the fans of the dangdut music itself. As we can see, structural analysis can’t cover the possibilities that at some point, individuals might deviate from the structure, as a proof that structure is not fully determine the way individual lives.

Perhaps the most suitable way to analyze this phenomena is by using Pierre Bourdieu’s theory about habitus, field, and capital. Bourdieu’s thought was inspired by the ambition to bridge the subjectivity and objectivity, agent and structure, by stating that both agent and structure are involved in a dialectical process. Habitus refers to the mental structure that was acquired through the activities in everyday life. It is often explained as a lifestyle. Habitus is a product of history, and it creates the way individual understand it’s life.

Capital refers to assets, not only economic capital, but social capital and also cultural capital. Just like Weber, Bourdieu thought that economic capital alone can’t determine individual’s position in the society. Field refers to the setting, where agents, their habitus, and their capital interact with each other, following a specific rule from the field.

From Bourdieu’s perspective, we can see that political party and society are both the agents in the arena called politics. Thats why structural analysis doesn’t fit when they are used to analyze the interraction between them. Political parties are trying to get social capital, in the form of trust, from the society, by exchanging their capitals into something that society desires. This process is called practice. So political parties, as an agent with enormous amount of economic capital, trade their economic capital for social capital, which is a connection to the dangdut singer. The singer then change the social capital with cultural capital, in the form of dangdut performances. Society, upon getting the cultural capital, give their social capital, which is trust, to the political parties in form of votes in the upcoming election. But it didn’t happens right?, why?.

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Table 2. The Practice of Exchanging Capitals

The Future of Dangdut and Politics?

The main reason why dangdut is not effective, and its inability to get the parties more votes during the election lies in the theory of habitus. Habitus is in fact, shaped by the history of the individuals. People might think that dangdut is the part of our habitus, that might be right, but habitus can also change. Ritzer, in one of his book, Globalization of Nothing, stated that in this era, globalization creates both homogenity and heterogenity. They are both have an impact on how society percieves dangdut. The homogenity that the globalization brought could make society doesn’t even like dangdut anymore, moving to another genre like pop and jazz. While the heterogenity that the globalization brought will make dangdut become too diverse, and can’t be called as the music of Indonesia anymore. Without realizing that society’s habitus is too diverse and currently changing, political parties keep using dangdut as a tool to gather their followers.

What happened next is something called hysteresis. Bourdieu explained hysteresis as a cultural lag, or a mismatch between habitus and the changing rules of the field. Society’s habitus had changed, and the field’s rules, politics, is also changing towards an informational era. In this era, people can access almost every information available regarding political party and their legislative, or executive candidates, further changing the habitus of society. Yet, the political party’s habitus doesn’t follow the change. They are trapped inside the hysteresis, the lag, the illusion that somehow, dangdut is still the most effective ways to get more votes, and followers.


Dangdut and politics has been together since its birth in 1970s. The nature of the music, the simplicity, and the national identity reflected in the music creates dangdut as an effective way to gather the people. When people hear the word dangdut, they will think about celebration, they will dance and yell. But all of those do not make dangdut as an effective tool to get increased votes in election. Yet, political parties keep using it in their campaign, trapped inside their habitus, while the arena’s rule and society’s habitus slowly change.

The main focus of political sociology is power relation. From the phenomena above, we can see that political parties see power as something scarce, something limited, or zero sum. Power is then reflected in the amount of votes that the political parties get in an election. Thus, by using any necessary means, they are turning their capital, which is the economic one, into cultural capital, to get society’s social capital, which is trust.

But to the contrary in my previous argument about power, that phenomena showed us that power do exist in many forms, such as money, music, and trust. It means that power is not something scarce, and limited like the political parties assume. Power is everywhere, unlimited, non-zero sum. So to close this article, i want to say that in this case, dangdut is not a tool, it is the power itself. But still, if those political parties do not fit their form of power towards society’s habitus, then nothing will happen.

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