Adventures in Feministory: Dara Puspita, The First Indonesian All-Woman Rock Band

Dara Puspita record coverDara Puspita (“Flower Girls” in English) were the first Indonesian group of women to pick up instruments and play rock music on their own, without the assistance of any men. Up through the ’60s, many Indonesian women had found musical success singing for bands with only dudes, but Dara Puspita decided to cut to the chase and write, perform, and play their own songs. The four jet-setters played in clubs around the world to critical oohs and ahs, but more importantly, they paved the way in their own country for Indonesian women in rock.

The ’60s, you see, wasn’t a great time for rock music in Indonesia. Rumor has it that then-President Sukarno stated the Beatles’ music to be “a form of mental disease” (maybe he only heard Ringo’s tracks) and all rock music was declared to be outside of the law. Susy Nander, Titiek Hamzah, and sisters Titiek and Lies Soetisnowati Adji Rachman solidified Dara Puspita’s final incarnation in 1964 in their hometown of Surabaya. Their combination of lilting harmonies and spring-reverbed fretboard antics smacked more of American surf music than the Beatles, but their music still gained traction with Jakarta’s rock crowd and fellow Indonesian garage band Koes Bersaudara. For about a year they played under the radar, to rave reviews and more and more followers.

In 1965, things changed for Dara Puspita. The Koes Bersaudara, by now both friends and boyfriends of the band, were reportedly jailed for three months for a riot-inducing take on “I Saw Her Standing There.” Dara Puspita were harassed regularly by government workers, and at one point were taken in for a month-long interrogation by the Indonesian police. So, following a grand tradition of rock and rollers under duress, Dara Puspita skipped town and found someone who would gladly hand over cash for their services. Specifically, they holed up in a Bangkok club, which led them to meet some international hotshots and get shows as far away as London and starting their international fame.

After a bloody coup in late 1965, Indonesia became a safer place for rock and roll (if not for political dissidents). The four women of Dara Puspita headed back in 1966 to play to the same loving crowds and a decidedly more comfortable climate for their music. During 1966, they recorded the bulk of their catalog (recently reissued on Sublime Frequencies), played more shows, and then decided to slow down. They formally disbanded after a few years of rocking around the country and showing everyone how to have a good time, leaving behind a trail of a 12 inches and shattered ear drums. Dara Puspita helped pave the way for more women musicians in Indonesia, and to top it all off, recorded a cover of “To Love Somebody” that rivals my favorite take on the song (Nina Simone, duh).

Previously: Cathay Williams (a.k.a. William Cathay), Jessie de la Cruz

by Mac Pogue
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