Chestnut Hill resident Kristen Spangenberg, who manages two Chestnut Hill businesses, is also a professional singer who performs in two foreign languages you most likely have never heard of in a …
by Len Lear
You may know Kristen Spangenberg as the beautiful, charming manager of two Chestnut Hill businesses, the pet supplies store Bone Appetite and the real estate management firm Bowman Properties, which owns Bone Appetite. Before the pandemic she was managing Bone Appetite from the Bowman office as well as in store part-time.
But Kristen is also a talented singer under the professional name “Kristin (not Kristen) D.” (“D” is for Dennison, which will be her married name soon.) But Kristen is probably not like any singer you have ever heard. She does not sing pop music, blues, jazz, oldies, classical, hip-hop, folk music, opera, gospel, etc. In fact, I can guarantee that when she sings, you will not understand one word, although the beat is infectious and the voice is crystal-clear.
Kristen actually sings in two Indonesian languages in a musical genre known as “Dangdut,” which is a combination of Indian, Arab, Chinese, Malaysian, Middle Eastern and European musical influences. (Indonesia is a melting pot of cultures, somewhat like the U.S.) Since October 2019, Kristen has been singing in either Bahasa, the official language of about 200 million people in Indonesia, or Javanese, the official language of about 100 million people in Indonesia.
The obvious question is: How on earth did a 32-year-old Chestnut Hill resident who grew up in York, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in theater and began singing in church choirs at a very young age wind up singing Indonesian music that is completely foreign to the rest of us?
“I met Rissa Asnan, the producer of 'Dangdut in America' (a video series you can see on YouTube), at a film shoot,” she explained. “I was an extra for her short film called 'Dangdut 101.' I found an ad online for an extra role in her film, and I sang a little bit of a Carrie Underwood song. Rissa thought it was good and asked me if I'd like to start learning Indonesian music, and I said sure!”
Did Kristen just learn the sounds for the particular songs, or does she actually speak the languages? “I memorize the sounds of the words and learn by repetition; however, I am learning to speak the Indonesian languages. I learn how to pronounce the words from the producer (of the film).”
Kristen has performed at the Indonesian Embassy and the Residence of Indonesia in Washington, DC. She has also made YouTube videos with professional production values that have been seen countless times all over the world. “I really have enjoyed learning about their culture,” she said. “Dangdut music doesn't sound like music you might have heard before because their instruments are unique, like their drums, called the tabla and kendang, as well as their flute, which is called the suling.”
What is Kristen's goal with this music, which would seem to have a very limited audience in the U.S., no matter how well it is performed? “You would be surprised about the Dangdut music being able to make its way into America,” the Chestnut Hill warbler replied, “because we are taking the Indonesian traditional sound and combining it with EDM (electronic dance music), hip-hop and pop beats.
“Our first step is to take the music to Indonesia and gain popularity there so we can take the music international, much like how Latin and Jamaican music have been incorporated into pop and hip-hop realms. Artists like Pitbull or Shakira have made it big with the Latin influence or Bob Marley with the Jamaican influence. Or with the newfound popularity of K-Pop (Korean music).”
Before singing Dangdut music, Kristen performed as Queen Catherine of Aragon at the PA Renaissance Faire in 2014-2015 and sang in many of their stage shows there as well as with various children's theaters such as Artspower National Tours. She has also performed in numerous recitals, cabarets and performances throughout her life, and she has taken voice lessons with four different teachers.
“If Rissa and I make even one hit song in Indonesia and bring it to the U.S., we will have instant popularity,” said Kristen, “and that is why she keeps producing different types of music under the Dangdut genre because eventually one of the songs is just going to hit. She has her own TV series in Indonesia called 'Dangdut in America,' and it is very successful. We are about to release two new episodes in tribute to Didi Kempot, a famous Dangdut singer who recently passed away, and we have been doing countless interviews for news stations across Indonesia. It's been crazy; my cover song of his called 'Tatu' went viral, and millions of people have viewed it or seen it on the news.”
You can reach Len Lear at email@example.com