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Open Access Publications from the University of California

If There are Stars in the Sky: Waldjinah and Keroncong in Postcolonial Indonesia

  • Author(s): Skelchy, Russ
  • Advisor(s): Lysloff, Rene TA
  • et al.

The basis of this dissertation is a life history of Waldjinah, keroncong’s most renowned vocalist, whose career spans the era of Indonesian independence and modernization beginning in the mid-twentieth century. As a musician, the arc of her career places her at the forefront of larger developments in the keroncong genre—whose historical trajectory and popularization in the twentieth century paralleled Indonesia's emergence as a modern (and modernizing) independent nation. The dissertation interweaves four main threads: 1) a life history of Waldjinah, 2) a narrative of keroncong, 3) a narrative of postcolonial Indonesia as a modernizing nation, and 4) my own subjectivity as a researcher and keroncong musician. In a broad sense, this study examines how Waldjinah attained her stature as a national artist, the challenges she faced in doing so, and the mechanisms that enabled her to succeed. Drawing from research in ethnomusicology, anthropology, postcolonial studies and critical theory, I explore how processes of modernization in non-Western countries continue to complicate and disrupt previously held theoretical interpretations of modernity. By approaching “the modern” through cultural production rather than political economy, I examine how Waldjinah, as a keroncong musician, helped to bind and shape the modern nation by giving tangible form to the abstract idea of national culture.

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