For many, Didi Kempot, the popular campursari singer who passed away this week at the age of 53, will remain the voice of comfort for those going through a heartbreak or a rough patch in their relationship. In a career spanning over 30 years, Didi Kempot released more than 700 campursari songs for the lovelorn and broken-hearted, weaving all kinds of sad stories about people losing the love of their lives. Campursari, which originated in Central Java, is a song genre combining traditional Javanese and modern pop instruments.
Though he was celebrated not only by the Javanese, but also non-Javanese and people living overseas, mainly in the Netherlands and Suriname, Didi Kempot only released songs in Javanese language as, for him, music had a universal value that could touch people's hearts regardless of language, race, and nationality.
In 1984, Didi started his career in the music industry as a busker in Solo city, Central Java Province. With five of his friends, Dani Pelo, Rian Penthul, Comet, Hari Gempil, and Mamat Kuncung, Didi formed a street band named Kempot, or the"Sidewalk Buskers' Group" (Kelompok Pengamen Trotoar). Three years later, Didi tried his luck in the country's capital city, Jakarta, by joining a group of buskers in Slipi, West Jakarta.
Didi could have taken an easier route to launch his career: his father, Ranto Edi Gudel, was a famous comedian in Solo, while his mother, Umiyati Siti Nurjanah, was a traditional Javanese singer from Ngawi, Central Java. Meanwhile, Didi's late older brother, Mamiek Prakoso, was also a comedian with a renowned Srimulat group.
However, Didi was determined to make a mark on his own and become a singer. So, he dropped out of high school, sold his bicycle, and bought a guitar. Although he faced hardships, starting off as a busker, in 1989, Didi got an opportunity to sign a music label and released his first hit: Cidro, a Javanese word for pain or injury.
The song tells a story of a broken-hearted romantic whose lover chose someone else, although the two made a promise to stay together. Loosely translated into English, it goes: "Don't you remember? Our hearts blossoms. What choice do I have? It's my fate to get hurt like this. My heart breaks as I remember her promise. Never would I have thought it was all sweet but meant nothing.”
Short after its release, Cidro gained huge success not only in Indonesia, but also in the Netherlands and Suriname, as the song brought back memories of their hometowns among the Javanese diaspora living overseas. In some interviews, Didi would say his songs were better known in Suriname than in his home country.
Since 1989 until today, the song remains popular, mainly among millenials, a younger generation of Didi Kempot's fans, who call themselves "sad boys" and "sad girls". They have also dubbed Didi Kempot as the "godfather of broken heart", a more catchy epithet that appears to have never crossed the minds of older Didi fans.
On his official Youtube account, Cidro has been viewed by at least 22 million people, while via Stockholm-based digital music provider, Spotify, the song has been streamed by more than five million listeners. Besides Cidro, Didi's other hits include Stasiun Balapan, Pamer Bojo, Banyu Langit, Sewu Kuto, and Layang Kangen. Most of Didi's songs have been heard and streamed by millions of listeners using digital music services.
After listening to Didi’s songs on love and loss, some may question what made his works resonate with people of all ages — from the Baby Boomers to the millenials. In an interview broadcast on Youtube last year, he said most people experience heartbreak or unrequited love at some point in their lives.
When faced with heartbreak, some choose to shut themselves from the world and drown in sadness, while others linger on memories of past love. However, Didi, through his songs, urged all romantics to celebrate their heartbreaks by singing their sadness and crying their hearts out.
Many people still consider crying a sign of emotional weakness, but Didi told his fans otherwise. According to him, crying because of heartbreak is a part of liberation. When people are at their lowest after breaking up with lovers, for whatever reasons, they must learn their worth and learn to move on.
Didi might not have known Albert Camus, a French existentialist-cum-author who won a Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44, but they both share a similar view on the importance of people acknowledging their pain and sadness in order to lead an authentic life.
At a time when everyone is trying to be someone else, the message of being an authentic person and living true to one’s self can be counted among Didi's legacies as his body is finally laid to rest in love and peace.
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