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  • Writer's pictureFleur Menezes

Taking a look at Indonesia and the Eurovision Song Contest

Selamat siang! Today is Indonesian Independence Day. The nation declaring their independence on August 17 1945 from Japan and the Netherlands at the end of WWII.

Indonesians celebrate their day with ceremonies and other traditional festive events. These are held throughout the country and include local games and competitions known as Tujuhbelasan. Cultural parades or Karnaval Kemerdekaan also take place and many discounts are offered by retailers.

All Indonesian national television networks broadcast the National Independence Day Ceremony live from the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta.

So grab yourself some nasi goreng and a Bintang Beer as we look at some of Indonesia’s most iconic stars at Eurovision.

Anneke Grönloh

  • Anneke Grönloh ‘Jij bent mijn leven’ (Netherlands 1964) 10th place

Born in 1942, Anneke Grönloh was the first Indonesian to perform at Eurovision. She was born in Tondano, North Sulawesi, Dutch East Indies- now known as Indonesia. Grönloh spent much of her early years in a Japanese Concentration Camp as Japan had occupied in 1942. After the war had ended, Grönloh and her family settled in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. Her father was an officer of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.

Anneke Grönloh’s career took off after she won a talent contest in 1959. Her biggest hit being ‘Brandend zand’ (Burning sand) in 1961. The single reached gold status in the Netherlands. She also released ‘Asmara’ which was recorded in Indonesian in 1960.

Grönloh was known for her music in the kroncong genre. The kroncong is an Indonesian instrument that is similar to a ukulele. She was also known for her jazz music.

In 2000, Anneke Grönloh was announced as the ‘Singer of the Century’ in the Netherlands due to her record breaking sales of ‘Brandend zand’. Grönloh died in 2018 at age 76, her final performance was in 2017.

Sandra Reemer

  • Sandra & Andres ‘Als het om de liefde gaat’ (When it's all about love) (Netherlands 1972) 4th place

  • Sandra Reemer ‘The Party's Over’ (Netherlands 1976) 9th place

  • Xandra ‘Colorado’ (Netherlands 1979) 12th place

Three time Eurovision contestant and Dutch icon, Sandra Reemer holds the record with 1957 winner Corry Brokken for the most appearances representing The Netherlands. Reemer was born in Bandung, Indonesia and immigrated with her family to The Netherlands following Indonesia’s independence.

A child star at age 11, Sandra Reemer had her first hit in 1961, a Dutch version of the Betty Curtis’ Italian Eurovision song ‘Al di l’. She also recorded Gigliola Cinquetti’s 1964 winning song ‘Non ho l’età’. Reemer entered the Dutch national selection for Eurovision in 1970 with ‘Voorbij is de winter’ (The winter is over) but was unsuccessful. The winner was Indonesian-Dutch vocal group Hearts of Soul.

Her first Eurovision appearance was in 1972 when she partnered with fellow Indonesian-Dutch singer Andres (Dries Holten) with ‘Als het om de liefde gaat’. They finished in 4th place. This was to be Sandra Reemer’s best result in the contest.

In the 1976 contest, Sandra Reemer performed as a solo singer with ‘The Party's Over’. She finished in 9th place. Reemer then went on to form the band Xandra and they finished in 12th place in 1979 with the song ‘Colorado’. Despite its mid-field result, the song went on to chart in several European countries, reaching the Top 5 in seven of them. In Denmark, the band won the accolade of being entered into the Music Hall of Fame. In 1983, she sang back up vocals for Dutch contestant Bernadette with the song ‘Sing Me A Song’.

In the 1980’s, Sandra Reemer capitalised on a television career. She released more music, although her focus had now moved onto acting. In the 2000s, she created the Sandra Reemer Foundation with the focus of helping disadvantaged children in developing countries. She was also a founding member of the Dutch Divas a vocal group featuring herself and former Eurovision contestants Maggie MacNeal (1974) and Marcha (1987). Sandra Reemer succumbed to breast cancer in 2017. She was 66.

Justine Pelmelay

  • Justine Pelmelay ‘Blijf zoals je bent’ (Stay the way you are) (Netherlands 1989) 15th place

Leiden born and of Indonesian heritage, Justine Pelmelay has had an extensive music and presenting career in the Netherlands. She was a backing singer for 1988 Dutch entrant Gerard Joling before representing the nation herself a year later with ‘Blijf zoals je bent’ (Stay the way you are). She finished in 15th place. Pelmelay has performed in several bands.

Pelmalay is also a voice actor who has featured in many radio commercials as well as voicing many Disney movies. She also replaced Sandra Reemer in the Dutch Eurovision supergroup Dutch Divas.

In 2012, Justine Pelmelay and her former partner survived when a ship that they were travelling on, the Costa Concordia, hit a rock and sank in shallow water just off the Italian coast.

The Maessen Sisters

  • Hearts of Soul ‘Waterman’ (Aquarius) (Netherlands 1970) 7th place

  • Dream Express ‘A Million in One, Two, Three’ (Belgium 1979) 7th place

  • Stella ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’ (If you like my music) (Belgium 1982) 4th place

Bianca, Patricia and Stella Maessen were born in Indonesia but started their singing careers in the Netherlands in 1969, primarily as backing vocalists. Calling themselves Hearts of Soul, they entered the Dutch selection final with ‘Waterman’ in 1970. As the rules for the Eurovision Song Contest at the time stipulated that groups could not perform they got around this by nominating Patricia Maessen as the main singer and Bianca and Stella as backing vocalists and went on to perform at Eurovision finishing in 7th place.

Sensing more opportunities in Belgium, the Maessens relocated to Antwerp. Bianca had married Belgian singer Luc Smets and the four of them formed Dream Express. The group were the favourites to win the contest in 1977 with ‘A Million in One, Two, Three’. Their result of 7th place was a surprise to most punters.

Patricia had left the group shortly after their Eurovision appearance to seek other opportunities and the group rebranded themselves as LBS, taking the first initial of each of their names. The group disbanded in 1981 due to the divorce of Bianca and Luc.

Stella Maessen went on to compete at the 1982 contest with the French language song ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’. She finished in 4th place.

Post-Eurovision, Bianca and Stella went on to release albums while Patricia became an in demand backing vocalist. She provided backing vocals for Sandra Kim’s winning performance in 1986. ‘J'aime la vie’ is the only Belgian song to win the contest. Patricia was also a backing vocalist for 1987 Luxembourg entrant, Belgian singer Plastic Bertrand who previously had a worldwide hit in 1978 with ‘Ça plane pour moi’ (That’s life for me). Patricia Maessen died from a stroke in 1996 at age 44.

Bianca, Stella and their younger sister Doreen re-formed Hearts of Soul in 2010. They released the single ‘Suddenly You’ later that year.


  • Anggun ‘Echo (You and I)’ (France 2012) 22nd place

Jakarta born, Anggun Cipta Sasmi is one of the biggest names in international pop music. She has been performing since she was a teenager while growing up in Indonesia. Her earliest music influences were bands such as Guns N' Roses, Bon Jovi, and Megadeth and her earlier releases reflect this.

Anggun established herself as bona fide rock star of the early 1990’s in her home country. After moving to France in 1994, she incorporated jazz and pop into a repertoire. Her 1997 album ‘Snow on the Sahara’ became the best-selling album by an Asian artist outside Asia, released in 33 countries. Anggun has released several albums in Indonesian, French and English. In addition, she has recorded two soundtrack albums.

In 2012, France Télévisions internally selected Anggun to represent France at Eurovision. Her song ‘Echo (You and I)’ was one of the highly fancied entries but finished in 22nd place. Anggun herself admitting that she thought that she would place in the Top 10. The song has somewhat become a cult favourite in Australia, placing 59th in OGAE Australia’s Top 100 in 2020.

After Eurovision, Anggun featured as a guest artist at Canadian-Belgian artist Lara Fabian's concert special on MTV Lebanon. They sang the duet ‘Tu es mon autre’ (You are my other). Fabian, herself a former Eurovision contestant having represented Luxembourg in 1988. She has also collaborated with 2001 French entrant Natasha St-Pier.

Anggun has been a judge on reality television talent shows in her homeland such as The X Factor, Indonesia's Got Talent and The Voice. She was also a judge/panelist on the French version of the Masked Singer.

In addition to her music and television career, Anggun was ranked No. 6 in a list of Sexiest Women of Asia by FHM magazine in 2001. She ranked at No. 18 on the French version of FHM's list of 100 Sexiest Women in the World in 2010. Anggun also has the distinction of being the first Indonesian woman to be immortalised in wax by Madame Tussauds in 2016.


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