Bengawan Solo (song)

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"Bengawan Solo" is a famous Indonesian song about the Bengawan Solo River, which flows through central and eastern Java, Indonesia and is that island's longest. 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 use it. Many versions of the songs in different languages exist.


Written in 1940 by Gesang Martohartono, it is in the local kroncong style, a popular folk style with influences from Portuguese.

The song's widespread popularity began soon after its composition. Locally it is strongly associated with the Japanese occupation and the society of the time. In 1940 Gesang, then a young, destitute and untrained musician, composed "Bengawan Solo" 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 the song then achieved national acclaim after it was broadcast to a wider audience by radio stations.

The song was very popular with the Japanese who occupied the Indonesia during World War II. The soldiers brought "Bengawan Solo" home with them to Japan after the war. There, and in the rest of Asia and later worldwide, the song became very famous. In 1991, a group of appreciative Japanese war veterans arranged for a statue of Martohartono to be erected in a park in Surakarta.[1] Gesang himself was still resident in the city, now a nationally renowned figure.

Cover versions[edit]

Its melodies appealed to the occupying Japanese soldiers as well as the non-Indonesian prisoners (mainly Dutch civilians) in the internment camps. "Bengawan Solo" was taken back to Japan by the returning soldiers, where it (with the lyrics translated to Japanese) gained great popularity after 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.

The tune became a big hit among Chinese communities after Malaysian singer Poon Sow Keng sang it with Mandarin lyrics for Hong Kong Pathe in 1956. Its popularity was further boosted by Koo Mei, who made her rendition for Philips Records shortly thereafter. (Pathe and Philips were major competitors at that time.) Since then, many Chinese language singers have written their own lyrics for the tune, making it well known in Chinese oldies music.

An English version, titled "By the River of Love", was recorded by Rebecca Pan in from early 1960s Hong Kong. The lyrics 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. Pan also has a role in the movie, playing Mrs. Suen.

Many artistes have recorded "Bengawan Solo" in Indonesian, among whom are Waljinah, Anneke Grönloh, Frances Yip, P.Ramlee and Saloma.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christopher Torchia; Lely Djuhari. Indonesian Slang: Colloquial Indonesian at Work.