Dondong, a Dangerous Yodeling vocalizations of Sumatra

I met Dondong, a yodel-like vocalization, at Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia – more precisely the city of Pekanbaru and Kampar .

The title of this video is called ‘Svara Jiva’, made by four different Indonesian folk music vocalization from the Riau area. Svara Jiva named by Sanskrit, when translate into Indonesian, becomes Suara Jiwa, means “voice of the soul”. In addition, Suara Jiwa reminds me Srivijaya, the ancient Great kingdom of Sumatra.

Svara Jiva made by Rino Deza Paty, renowened composer in Riau province, Indonesia. He is the researcher of Riau folklore as well as the director of the Riau Music Festival.

On the left is Rino and on the right is Anjang Fitrah, Dondong singer

As mentioned earlier, Rino created the ‘Svara Jiva’ by mixing four traditional folk songs from the Kampar such as botimang, bagadumbo, maghatok and dondong.

Kampar is both the core area of Riau folklore and the old center of Riau province. Dondong is a pseudo-yodelings in Kampar traditional vocalization. And more I think Dondong is the song of Srivijaya.

The maximum extent of Srivijaya around 8th century with series of Srivijayan expeditions and conquest



Muara Takus, this mysterious ancient temple in Kampar, is the oldest building in Sumatra. Nobody knows who made it, but some Riau people seemed to believe this temple was built in the Srivijaya era, and were convinced Kampar was the center of Srivijaya(Sumatra).

What is the Dondong?

Dondong is a traditional folk song of Riau province. More precisely, it is the folk song of the Kampar area.

Palmer Keen, Indonesian folk researcher and overtone singer from United State guide me this vocalizations, he currently resides in Yogyakarta to study Indonesian folk music during six years.

With Palmer’s help, I found Rino, famous composer in Riau, and Rino also introduced me the famous Dondong singer. And I go to there and meet them. My interview about dondong with Rino took place at the Pekanbaru Cultural Center.

What is Dondong?

Dondong is a song of the deep forests at Kampar province, and the meanings of dondong is Emotion.

What is the images of Dondong in Indonesian traditional musicians ? 

Unfortunately Dondong is under taboo against traditional musicians in Indonesia.

They consider Dondong causes very severe psychological troubles, and the voices of the Dondong are regarded as bad voices for Indonesian traditional musicians.

Muslim traditionalists also watch out for Dondong’s excessive emotion.

But why do you pay attention to Dondong?

I researched Riau’s traditional music and then I want to make my own new music based on Riau folklore, and the special emotions of Dondong are really interesting, especial this is too exotic to me.

If distinguish between yodel and other vocalization, I think we need that two keywords: Taboo and Exotic.  LOL! Dondong was already notorious by that two keywords against Indonesian traditional communities!

Dondong class

Anjang Fitrah, famous Dondong singer in Kampar, sang Dondong for me directly. (A lot of Indonesian called him Giring rather than Fitrah) Let’s learn Dondong according to Giring’s demonstration.

First, let’s listen to Dondong’s full voices. As you can see, Dondong is a singing voice that break two different voices. Any yodelers can understand that singing method of Dondong is structurally very similar to yodelings.

Now let’s listen to the two different voices of Dondong separately.

The first is the head voice. There is no significant difference from the structures of the head voices of the yodel, both that it is beautifully drawn and sent away. However, you have to sing Dondong with a very eager and heartbreaking heart than yodel.

The second vocalization is Throat Singing. Mongolian Khoome is famous for this method of singing, squeezing the vocal cords and sounding throat. The throat singing in Dondong sounds relatively soft compared to the Khoome.

In addition, throat singing in Dondong seems to be closer to the sound that relaxes and rests for a while after a good head voice is backed up. In other words, Dondong is considered little bit easy vocalization compared to the chest voice of yodel, because chest voice in yodel should be broke strong again after the head voice than dondong.

The last parts of dondong is song lyrics. They call it Pantun.

Sianik kembang lai bolun
Kombang dalam lipek pandan
Tolam jo soghiok pun ola juo

Be straight and be puny
Nyawuo masi dalam sipat tuhan
Sayang den cake kau pun ola juo

(the Pantun is not Indonesian, this is Kampar language)

In English, the translation is as follows ;

Sianik* have not yet bloomed,
Flower in pandan* have not yet been folded,
Tolam* and soghiok* are the same.

The sky is still dark,
The earth has not yet opened,
Life is still subordinate by the nature of God,
Unfortunately, you are not here.


* Sianik, pandan, Tolam, soghiok
– all are the names of the traditional flowers in Indonesia

Now let’s listen to the complete Dondong, combining head voice, throat singing and pandun.

How Dondong was made ?

There was a man who lived in some village in Kampar and he fell in love at first sight of some woman in the next village. However, the man was so shy that he could not even talk to her.

The man was suffering from unrequited love went into the deep forest and sang songs with sadness. Dondong was born like this.

So what happened to the man and the woman in the end?

Conclusion: The man’s beloved heart rushed to her, and they fell in love, married and lived well. LOL.

This is the story of the birth of Dondong. The conclusion of the stories of the birth of ordinary folk music is very sad or tragic, but this happy endings of Dondong is very embarrassing. And this seems to be a true story.

More specifically, it’s only been about 100 years dondong was born. How young age it is!


Wondering but unexplained stories

First, Nobody knew who made the first Dondong.  Giring, the Dondong Singer, do not know about the person who made the song first. I asked Giring again.

So who taught you how to sing Dondong?

my teacher named Ari, estimated at 60 year old.

Could I meet him now or during my trip ?

Ari is natural person lives in the woods without coming into the world. It was difficult to meet him now.

Ari also taught how to Dondong by his teacher, of course I think so, and perhaps Ari know the teach of him and I thought Ari might know about the Dondong’s beginner. But Gring do not of that, he just promised to ask Ari later if they will meet.

Why did you learn Dondong? Why do you like Dondong?

He continued to think again and again but failed to give a proper answer. I said by joke, ‘Did you ever learn dondong to cheat a girl?’, Everyone around ours agreed enthusiastically to my questions, Giring abruptly became a serious Casanova 😀

In fact, there were some women who were touched and touched when Giring sang Dondong. Even among those people, there were Indonesian women as well as Australian women. And yet unmarried, Giring is actually very popular among women. Dondong seems to have the power to ring all women’s hearts regardless of race.

According to Giring, Dondong is not singing in voices. Dondong is singing with Heart. If your heart does not ring, no matter how well you sing, you can never sing Dondong.

Dondong, a song that sings with heart

I learned a little how to sing Dodong.

I guess it does not seem to be a very difficult song. But like Giring ‘s words, it’ s like a song that you can never learn unless your heart beeps.

The subject singing  Dondong is the heart . I can not sing Dondong even if I could not imitate it with no heart …

Initially I thought it was like a dump, but I learned a little bit about Dondong and I really agreed.

If my lover not here, – even if that my lover do not know I love her – love will be come true if I sing Dondong with the true heart of the real love. True Dondong is a true beloved heart, and if it is lacking, you can not sing Dondong.

Soon after I broke up with Giring, I had a really unbelievable experience. In that brief moment when I got back to the hotel by taxi, Dondong was constantly heard around me. I was constantly hearing the Dondong sound as if it was coming from my cell phone, but it was not the sound I heard anywhere. And my heart was pretty sick. Where did this sound come from?

The mysterious experience is almost a week ago compared to the time of this writings, so it is practically impossible to convey my feelings at that time.

This is something I can clearly say : Dondong is true. So it is very dangerous to be touched by another musicians. FIN.

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