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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Indonesia's controversial star
By Becky Lipscombe
BBC, Jakarta

Indonesians have a new idol - a hip-swinging singer who's gyrated her way into fame, fortune, and a whole lot of trouble.

Inul Daratista has achieved the level of success where a second name becomes unnecessary. Inul is what her legions of fans scream, it's what the chat show hosts gossip about; even those who denounce her call her just Inul.

To all intents and purposes there is only one Inul, and you'd be hard-pushed to find an Indonesian who doesn't have an opinion on her.

Inul Daratista
Inul says her dancing is not intended to be erotic

The reason? Her dancing. Inul may be a fine singer, but the controversy is all about the way she wiggles her hips. The local media have christened it 'ngebor' - 'drilling'.

"I dance by moving my hips in a circle, first slowly, then faster and faster" Inul said. "It's not erotic, it's energetic, mixed with Indonesian traditional dances."

Inul came to prominence singing 'dangdut' - the infectious blend of Indian, Malay and Arab sounds popular in rural Indonesia. In her skin-tight, sequinned costumes, a blur of movement, Inul has brought dangdut to a whole new audience.


Sexually suggestive dancing has long been part of the dangdut tradition, but it's rarely made the transition from the small towns of rural Java to the big stage.

Now Inul's shown how it can be done, music industry professionals must be wondering why they didn't think of it earlier.

Inul dancing
Inul's hip wiggling has come to be known as 'drilling'

Pirated VCD recordings of Inul's concerts sell in their millions; her TV show pulls in more viewers than any of its rivals. She is, without doubt, Indonesia's hottest star.

But the very qualities that have won Inul fervent admirers right across Indonesia have got her into trouble with more conservative elements of society.

Indonesia's senior Islamic clerics, the Council of Ulemas (MUI), have described Inul's dancing as pornographic, and likely to encourage "lustful acts".

Dr Sulkieflimansyah, of the Islamic Justice Party, said the fear was that other artists would follow Inul's lead.

"Many people in show-business will see this kind of phenomenon as a short cut to being famous," he said. "If Inul does something erotic, people will want to do more than that to be famous very quickly."

Inul's response to the criticism is heartfelt. "I don't want people to tell me what to do," she told me. "They can give me advice, but they can't stop me singing or dancing the way I want to. I'm a Muslim, but I'm also an artist. I don't want to mix religion and art."


Dangdut experts say Inul's performances are actually far closer to 'real' dangdut, as performed in rural East and Central Java, than the more refined, sanitised, version Indonesians are used to seeing on their TVs.

"Dangdut as presented by Inul is a kind of dangdut that most people in the villages are familiar with," said Bre Redana, editor of Sunday Edition newspaper. "And those people, they never judge that entertainment as morally corrupt."

It seems those who pronounce Inul bad for the nation's moral health are not necessarily speaking for those they seek to represent. And it's just possible the latest twist in the Inul tale could herald a small triumph for freedom of expression in Indonesia.

After an astonishing attack by the self-styled 'King of Dangdut', Rhoma Irama, Inul has found herself back in the headlines once more.

Abdurrahman Wahid
This is a case of freedom of expression
Abdurrahman Wahid, Muslim leader

Rhoma, a favourite of former President Suharto, called for a boycott of Inul, describing her dancing as vulgar, and even suggesting her concerts could lead men to rape.

Those comments, not so very different from those the MUI made, have been met with outrage from women's groups, artists, journalists, and, this time, from some Muslim leaders too.

"This is a case of freedom of expression," said former President Abdurrahman Wahid, a senior figure in Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama. "There is no argument for limiting her expression, because she does not violate any law."

For as long as she keeps dancing, Inul's popularity shows absolutely no sign of declining. Quite the opposite. It seems the self-proclaimed 'moral majority', who are so offended by Inul, may not actually represent the majority of Indonesians this time.

Many Indonesians are seizing the opportunity to champion free speech and free artistic expression. The repercussions could remain long after the fuss over Inul has died down.

Indonesian cleric adopts 'erotic' dancer
06 Mar 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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