September 09, 2019
Titik Hamzah on Being the First Indonesian Girl Band to Go International

Surviving the cultural restriction of Soekarno regime Titik Hamzah and the all-woman band Dara Puspita left Indonesia to pursue musical career in Europe.

by Nikita Devi
Wo/Men We Love
Wo/MenWeLove - Titik Hamzah
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Dara Puspita may not be a name that is known to young people today. But when they hear the song Surabaja they may say, “Wait, where have I heard that before?”

Surabaya, Surabaya, oh Surabaya
Kota kenangan, Kota kenangan (city of memories, city of memories)
Takkan Terlupa (will not be forgotten)

The lenso rhythm made me think it was a traditional song. It was this song that launched Dara Puspita to stardom in the 60s and is still played now. But it turns out the members of this first all-woman band don’t have such fond memories of it.

“Listen to the recording. We were playing it really reluctantly,” said the seventy-year-old musician as she tapped the ash from her cigarette.

Titik and her friends didn’t like the song because it was a “gift song” created to please president Soekarno. Soekarno disliked “Western” music that was popular amongst the youth and referred to it as “ngak-ngik-ngok" music. One of Dara Puspita’s producers convinced the band to record it in order to pave a smoother career path.

Even after including that song in their first album, Jang Pertama (1966), the band was still pressured left and right when performing. Once, in the city of Solo, they sang Soekarno Jaya under the threat of bayonet.

Things were different back then. Beatles songs were banned. The band Koes Bersaudara even went to jail for playing a Beatles song at a party. Playing at the same event, Dara Puspita also had to face a judge and ended up having to report in every day for a month. Titik said it was confusing to know what to report. They would be asked ridiculous questions that they would answer as best they could:

“You sang a Beatles song, right?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“It felt good.”

After that, they always had to have a government watcher whenever they performed. But Dara Puspita was not a group that followed the rules, especially not Titik.

When invited to play for the Jakarta Metro Police (Polda Metro Jaya), Titik could see how enthusiastic the audience was when they played the Rolling Stones songI Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)”, which was not banned. But they crowd was not moved by the keroncong song “Bandung Selatan.”

So the took a risk and played “Mr. Moonlight” by The Beatles. After the song, the police asked her:

“Is that a Beatles song?”

“No” she said, “it’s a Liverpool band’s song sir.”

Titik and her friends noted that there really was no clear standard as to what was banned or not, so there really was no reason to follow the rules.

Jump, don’t just walk

Titik loved music since she was six years old. Born in Bukittinggi and raised in Surabaya, she asked he mother if she could study at Akademi Musik Yogyakarta. At the time she was still in elementary school, so her mother said, “Later, when you’re in high school.”

Young Titik was not satisfied with that answer. “One can’t just walk, we must be allowed to jump too,” she said. She started reading high school-level books as an act of rebellion, while continue to nourish her musical interest.

Copyright: Dyah Paramita Saraswati

At age 16 she joined the youth band Xaverios with Jopie Item. She was asked to replace bassist Lies A.R. for a month while Lies finished school. Connecting really well with Lies, Susy Nader (drums) and Titiek A.R. (guitar) led her to form Dara Puspita. She jumped into the music industry without going to school for it after all.

Their courage took them to the international stage even though they were all still very young. In 1968, the band signed a contract with a German label and toured Europe under the name Flower Girls. Together, they handled everything from culture shock to using “unofficial routes” to cross European borders.

And then they broke their contract, left all their equipment, and took what money they had to take a new contract with a London-based label.

Titik eventually left Dara Puspita after a concert in 1972 because she felt bored and frustrated that Dara was mostly singing other people’s songs and not creating their own.

She continued her career as a musician and songwriter, however. She wrote a number of award-winning songs, such as “Siksa,” sung by Euis Darliah, and “Sayang,” sung by Hetty Koes Endang. Completing her own album Tragedi in 1982, she still had a vision of a Dara Puspita regeneration.

Sincere and energized

Titik says that the four years she spent touring Europe with Dara Puspita gave her values that she still adheres to as a musician: discipline and sincerity in giving.

Herself a Muslim, she says she admires Jesus Christ who gave out loaves and fishes. She often thinks about how simple things can be satisfying to many.

“As I became more mature, I began to understand this as true sincerity,” she says.

Sincerity in entertainment and a high level of discipline that raises the level of professionalism as a musician are what are important to her. These are the values that she maintains, and passes on to younger musicians she mentors.

And not just in music. Titik is also passionate in her home-life.

“I’m a mother. I’m a woman,” states the mother of four.

Mothers carry a burden that is no joke. Keeping the home alive is part of it. Domestic work like cooking, raising children, and caring for family is often just seen as an aside. It’s often considered not concrete work because women do it.

It was this view too that convinced her to leave Dara Puspita because she didn’t want her focus to be divided.

Soon Tragedi will no longer be Titik Hamzah’s only solo album. She shared some tracks that she currently has in progress. The sound is contemporary, and her voice is still strong and “serak seksi.”

Although she admits to being disappointed with an industry that constantly undermines the rights of musicians, it hasn’t dampened her love for the world of music. Her enthusiasm for music continues to go strong, something she refers to as “the spirit of Dara Puspita.”

With her clear gaze and husky voice, Titik says, “I would not have become Titik Hamzah the award-winning composer were it not for having passed through Dara Puspita.”

Writer/graphic designer Innosanto Nagara kindly volunteered to translate this article from its original version in Indonesian.

Photos Courtesy Dyah Paramita Saraswati

Nikita Devi is a life-long student, writer, and catparent. After graduating from the English Literature, her interests in gender and sexuality eventually leads her to another challenge in life, namely Gender Studies. She is greatly passionate about greeting random cats and dogs she sees on the streets. Find her on Twitter: @_anikky