Bengawan Solo: immortal melody of Javanese river - Tourism Indonesia


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Bengawan Solo: immortal melody of Javanese river

In the central Javanese city of Solo, a statue of Gesang Martohartono looks over the gently flowing Bengawan Solo, or Solo River.
Bengawan Solo in 1860 (Wikimedia)
It was the famous Indonesian singer-songwriter Gesang, who composed the celebrated Indonesian melody "Bengawan Solo" during World War II -- when the country was under Japanese occupation.

"Bengawan Solo, this is a song of your history. People have been fascinated with this great river since ancient times, Around the source of the Solo River, there are a thousand mountains, and the river flows all the way to the sea.
There are always many merchants on board ships going up and down the river.These ships also show your history."
"I had dreamt since my childhood about writing a song of praise for the immortal Solo River," Gesang says at his humble residence in Solo, his hometown. The folk song-like melody has been etched in the minds of countless Indonesians, former Japanese soldiers, and even Dutch civilian ex-detainees regardless of their age and background.
In Tokyo, Nobuo Ikegami, 80, recalls the tune. "This song always set my mind at ease. I memorized the melody as local residents crooned the tune so often." Ikegami, then a second lieutenant, was posted to Indonesia for five years during and after the war as a member of the Imperial Guard.
In the final days of the war, university student-turned-officer Ikegami served as commander of a detainment camp for Dutch civilians in the remote village of Si Rengo Rengo in Sumatra.
After the conflict ended, he was detained as a war crime suspect because of his position as camp commander but was eventually released thanks to a witness, the late Dutch journalist Albert Besnard.
Besnard, of the Sumatra Post, had said Ikegami did not handle the detainees violently although Ikegami did not know him personally.
A historic encounter took place in Tokyo last Sept. 11 between Ikegami and a former Dutch detainee when they met for the first time in 53 years.
Noted Dutch author Rudy Kausbroek, 70, was giving a lecture at the city' s Waseda University on his bitter experience at the Si Rengo Rengo camp. As soon as he finished, Ikegami approached him.
"I was your camp commander," Ikegami said in Indonesian. "If you have a grudge against the Japanese, hit me in the face first."
The packed audience froze. "No," Kausbroek quietly replied in Indonesian. Ikegami asked, "Really?" Kausbroek told the audience, "No. He did not do any evil deeds toward us."
Kausbroek, who was born and grew up in Sumatra, was detained at the camp for about three years as a teenager along with his father.
Ikegami told Kyodo News, "I never expected to meet a former Dutch detainee more than half a century after the war.
"When I was appointed camp commander, I was prepared to give up my life at any time. Regrettably, scores of detainees died at the camp while I was the commander."
In his best-selling book, "The Dutch East Indies Detention Camp Syndrome," Kausbroek urges his fellow Dutch people to abandon their demand that Japan apologize over its treatment of Dutch detainees.
He asks his compatriots, "Don' t you think your apology demand is based on hatred against Japanese who put a stop to Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia?" He urges Dutch people to reflect on their more than 300-year colonial rule when considering the Japanese occupation.
He was visiting Tokyo to mark his book' s publication in Japanese.
After returning home, Kausbroek wrote a full-page story on the encounter with the former camp commander for the leading Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad.
Kausbroek, who speaks Japanese and Indonesian, studied modern Japanese literature after the war and according to Ikegami, particularly loves antiwar poems by the late Nobuo Ayukawa.
Ikegami says that as a sensitive teenager, Kausbroek must have been moved by "Bengawan Solo" at the detention camp.
Another former Japanese serviceman, who had stayed in the city of Solo as a member of an Imperial Japanese Army aviation training corps, thought at the time that "Bengawan Solo" was a centuries-old traditional Indonesian folk song.
Minoru Takahashi, 78, of Osaka, a former mechanic of the corps, gained comfort in singing "Bengawan Solo" whenever he felt homesick. Takahashi says he used to sing the tune with Japanese lyrics written by a fellow soldier.
Japanese veterans including Ikegami and Takahashi erected Gesang' s statue in October 1991 as a token of their appreciation.
Ikegami serves as vice president of the "Japan Gesang Fund Association" which promoted the erection of the statue.
Gesang is a self-made musician. His father owned a factory that produced batik fabric, but it went bankrupt after Gesang finished elementary school. He grew up in the gutter and became a singer of "kerongcong" -- popular Indonesian music originating from Portuguese songs.
Although he could not read or write musical notation, he composed "Bengawan Solo" on a bamboo flute at the age of 23.
At first he sang it at local wedding parties and other social functions. Two local radio stations then asked to broadcast the song, marking the beginning of its nationwide popularity.
In Japan, Toshi Matsuda, known as a "Singing Aunt," put out a recording of "Bengawan Solo" with Japanese lyrics in 1947.
Her record scored a big hit and other pop singers such as Hibari Misora, Akira Kobayashi and Harumi Miyako also included the song in their repertoire. Now most Japanese are familiar with "Bengawan Solo" as representing Indonesian music.
The Solo River, for its part, smells bad due to liquid waste from a nearby chemical factory and other plants. But children still swim there and women do their washing with the polluted water, just as they did centuries ago when the river was purer.
The zoological park where Gesang' s statue stands is now dedicated in his honor, and Gesang still sometimes sings "Bengawan Solo" in public when he is asked to do so.
(Kyodo News International, Inc./ Gale Group)
Source: FindArticles


  1. Can anyone tell me where to download an mp3 version of Bengawan Solo? Thanks

  2. You can hear a midi version with text at,
    and a mp3 version at

  3. it's very ridiculous,
    the indonesians seem like happy to remember the japanese occupation.

  4. when they talk the beautiful song ,
    which inspired the indonesians to fight against japanese^
    they really forget the invasion.

  5. please hear the text and..., maybe you will knew the answer...

  6. read and imagine it...

  7. Bengawan Solo, or Solo River beautiful place!!! :D

  8. here is the lyrics:
    Bengawan Solo
    Riwayatmu ini
    Sedari dulu jadi…
    Perhatian insani

    Musim kemarau
    Tak seberapa airmu
    Dimusim hujan air..
    Meluap sampai jauh

    Mata airmu dari Solo
    Terkurung gunung seribu
    Air meluap sampai jauh
    Dan akhirnya ke laut

    Itu perahu
    Riwayatnya dulu
    Kaum pedagang selalu…
    Naik itu perahu Free Download Lagu Gesang Bengawan Solo MP3 Lirik 4shared Gratis Chord Video Album

    More songs by Gesang:

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