Bengawan Solo (song)
The song describes the legendary river in a poetic and nostalgic way, that it is surrounded by mountains, its sources are near the city of Surakarta, that it ends in the sea, and that the merchants make use of it.
Written in 1940 by Gesang Martohartono, it is in the local kroncong style, a popular folk style with influences from Portuguese. The Japanese, who occupied the country during World War II, brought the song with them to Japan after returning from the war. There, and also in the rest of Asia and later worldwide, the song became very famous.
The song's widespread popularity began soon after its composition, and locally it is strongly associated with the period of war occupation and the society of the times. In 1940 Gesang, then a young, destitute and untrained musician, composed the song on a bamboo flute and began to sing it at local functions and gatherings in his hometown of Surakarta. It soon became well-known and liked among the local Japanese community; the song then achieved national acclaim after it was broadcast to a wider audience by various radio stations.
The melodies of the song also appealed to both the occupying Japanese soldiers, and the non-Indonesian prisoners (mainly Dutch civilians) in the internment camps. The song was taken back to Japan by the returning soldiers, where it (with the lyrics translated to Japanese) gained great popularity after various singers such as Toshi Matsuda released recorded versions of it which became best-sellers. The song has become almost synonymous with the perception of Indonesian music in Japan.
In 1991, a group of appreciative Japanese war veterans arranged for a statue of Martohartono to be erected in a park in Surakarta. Gesang himself was still resident in the city, now a nationally renowned figure.
"Bengawan Solo" is a popular name given to restaurants and businesses, in reminiscence of the song.
- Bengawan Solo is the name of a popular chain of cake and pastry shops in Singapore.
- The tune became a big hit among Chinese communities after Malaysian singer Ms Poon Sow Keng sang to the tune with Mandarin Chinese lyrics for Hong Kong Pathe in 1957. The popularity of the tune was further boosted by Ms Koo Mei, who made her rendition for Philips Records shortly thereafter. Incidentally, Pathe and Philips were major competitors at that time. Since then, many Chinese language singers have written their own lyrics for the tune, making the tune a well-known tune in Chinese oldies music.
- "By the River of Love", dating from early 1960s Hong Kong, is a song in English lyrics written to the tune. The lyrics of that song describe a romantic evening beneath twinkling stars and swaying palms. The period recording by Rebecca Pan can be heard on the soundtrack to the 2000 movie In the Mood for Love by director Wong Kar-wai. Ms. Pan also has a role in the movie, playing Mrs. Suen.