A Music Legend from Batak Land

His works are eternal in the Batak pop repertoire, yet his life as a musical connoisseur is overlooked.

Translation by:
Prihandini Anisa
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Illustration: Betaria Sarulina

TO welcome the historic Kongres Pemuda II (the Second Youth Congress), the committee held a contest challenging the youth to compose the national anthem. The prize was no less fascinating: the winner's name would be immortalized as the songwriter of Indonesia's national anthem. The competition soon enough became the talk of the town after various newspapers announced it.

The news finally reached Nahum Situmorang, a young man from Tapanuli. He was still 19 at that time, and just graduated from Hollandsche Inlandsche Kweekschool (HIK) Goenoeng Sari in Lembang, Bandung.

The private teacher school offered sound and music art, Nahum's great interest, as one of its majors. The musical knowledge he gained from Kweekschool allowed Nahum to write songs in Western musical notation. After learning about the contest, Nahum was thrilled to participate.

He himself was really fond of church choir, an interest apparent in the majority of his songs that gravitate towards hymns. In writing the lyrics of his entry, Nahum was assisted by his friend, Sanusi Pane, who would later be known as a Pujangga Lama (the Old Poets) writer.

Unfortunately, Nahum lost the competition to Wage Rudolf Soepratman, a jazz artist and journalist of Sin Po, who was far more senior than him and was well-known among the youth involved in the congress.

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TO welcome the historic Kongres Pemuda II (the Second Youth Congress), the committee held a contest challenging the youth to compose the national anthem. The prize was no less fascinating: the winner's name would be immortalized as the songwriter of Indonesia's national anthem. The competition soon enough became the talk of the town after various newspapers announced it.

The news finally reached Nahum Situmorang, a young man from Tapanuli. He was still 19 at that time, and just graduated from Hollandsche Inlandsche Kweekschool (HIK) Goenoeng Sari in Lembang, Bandung.

The private teacher school offered sound and music art, Nahum's great interest, as one of its majors. The musical knowledge he gained from Kweekschool allowed Nahum to write songs in Western musical notation. After learning about the contest, Nahum was thrilled to participate.

He himself was really fond of church choir, an interest apparent in the majority of his songs that gravitate towards hymns. In writing the lyrics of his entry, Nahum was assisted by his friend, Sanusi Pane, who would later be known as a Pujangga Lama (the Old Poets) writer.

Unfortunately, Nahum lost the competition to Wage Rudolf Soepratman, a jazz artist and journalist of Sin Po, who was far more senior than him and was well-known among the youth involved in the congress.

On 28 October 1928, Kongres Pemuda II took place and became the genesis of the momentous declaration Sumpah Pemuda (the Youth Pledge). The congress concluded with the hearing of Wage Rudolf Soepratman’s "Indonesia", a song ultimately chosen as Indonesia’s national anthem.

Among the works submitted to the congress committee, as cited by Bona ni Pinasa magazine, No. 11, Year II, July 1990, the piece produced by Nahum was quoted as the most remarkable. Based on the artistry, his work was the most outstanding. However, his song was less preferred because at that time people favored songs overflowing with fighting spirit. "Indonesia" by Soepratman cemented its first place position after the song title was perfected into "Indonesia Raya" and its tempo changed from kroncong style (6/8) into a march (4/4). While Soepratman's song triumphed as the official national anthem, Nahum's came second.

What's more regrettable was Nahum's opus was missing from the archives.

"We don't have both the recording and the notation of the song. My father said that his song was indeed a hymn, having similar sound to the national anthem of the Netherlands ("Het Wilhelmus") and the United Kingdom ("God Save the Queen"). It was classical music," said Bogart Situmorang, aged 70, Nahum's nephew from his older brother, Guru (Teacher) Sopar Situmorang.

Nahum was clearly saddened, but the defeat didn't stop him from producing even greater masterpieces. His musical talent and love for Batak culture were two significant impetus for him to produce many monumental works contributing to the vast collection of Batak pop songs.

Nahum Situmorang at his music school in Bandung. (wikimediacommons)

Nurturing His Musical Talent

Sipirok is a district situated at the mountain valley of Bukit Barisan, center of the colonial government in South Tapanuli. The area was a popular destination for many Batak people from the hinterlands to pursue education, the very same reason that motivated Kilian Situmorang.

From Urat Village, the ancestral home for marga (surname) Situmorang on Samosir Island, Kilian relocated to Sipirok. He dedicated himself as a teacher and headmaster at a school there, granting him the nickname Guru Kilian (Teacher Kilian).

Guru Kilian's wife was Lina br. Tobing. The family resided at Bunga Bondar Village, Sipirok. On 14 February 1908, their fifth child was born into the world and named Nahum, a nod to one of the prophets in Christians' Old Testament. In Hebrew, Nahum means the comforter. After him, came three other children that enlivened Guru Kilian’s family.

Brought up in an educated family, Nahum with his seven siblings possessed exceptional language skills. "Since they were all raised in Sipirok, they were very fluent in Mandailing, in addition to Dutch and Batak Toba language," said Bistok Situmorang, 82 years old, another nephew of Nahum and brother of Bogart Situmorang.

Nahum had enjoyed singing since he was very young. He was often brought by bujing-bujing (young girls) to go around the village on a sado (similar to a gig) while singing songs. Kompas on its 26 August 1978 issue mentions that since eight years old, Nahum was frequently invited to various celebrations to sing and play harmonica.

<div class="strect-width-img"><figure><div><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/61af270884f7a0580d35618e/6225b281d123ca1c672fbfa3_Intersection%2013.jpg" alt="img"></div><figcaption>Students at Hogere Kweekschool Bandung. (Tropenmuseum)</figcaption></figure></div>

In 1918, Guru Kilian with his family relocated to North Tapanuli. He worked as a teacher in Pansurbatu, while Nahum resumed his primary education in Tarutung.

Nahum went to a Dutch school for bumiputera called Holland Inland School (HIS). After graduating, he was directed to follow his father's footsteps as a teacher. He continued his education at Hollandsche Inlandsche Kweekschool (HIK) or Teacher's Training School in Weltevreden (now Jalan Gunung Sahari), Batavia. His school tuition was paid by Manasye, brother number three, who was working as a post office assistant in Medan, and Sopar, brother number four, a teacher in Tarutung.

Kweekschool Batavia was subsequently moved to Lembang, Bandung, and became more known as Kweekschool Goenoeng Sari. The private teacher school, which was founded by Neutrale Scholen Institution, offered a major that was Nahum’s particular interest, sound and music art.

Motivated to nurture his musical talent, Nahum wished to have a violin. He begged his parents in the village to buy him a violin, but since it was quite an investment to make, his request was turned down. Nahum's wish was finally fulfilled after his older brother, Sopar, agreed to buy him a violin. Besides violin, Nahum was also an adept piano and guitar player.

He graduated in 1928. After obtaining his teacher diploma, Nahum returned to his hometown.

Teacher Nahum

In 1929, Nahum started his work as a teacher in a private school, Bataksche Studiefonds Sibolga. Just as the other educated Batak people at that time, Nahum was given an honorary title: Guru Nahum or Teacher Nahum.

Besides the teaching job, he also harnessed his musical talent and later produced a song titled "Tumba Goreng" in 1932, which has a 4/4 tempo. Nahum was inspired by a tradition of the youth in Sibolga that involves dancing and reading pantun (poetic verse) during full moon.

Nahum stayed there for four years before moving to Tarutung for another teaching job, although his actual reason was so he could be closer with his family, especially with his ill mother. There, Nahum taught Dutch. One of his students was Nortier Simanungkalit, who went on to become a prominent march composer.

Nahum's life was sufficiently stable. The title guru guaranteed him a respectable position among the society; in addition to his remarkable musical talent and ability in arranging numbered musical notation. There’s no surprise that Nahum was among a large social network of artists that gave the opportunity for Nahum to join the music group Soematra Keroncong Concours. With Nahum, the band, which was under the leadership of Raja Buntal Sinambela, son of Sisingamangaraja XII, won a kroncong music contest in Medan in 1936.

Students at Holland Inland School (HIS). (wikimediacommons)

His presence remained crucial in many celebrations in Tarutung. He even participated in a committee of events celebrating the wedding of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard. This committee was responsible for arranging various events: church worship; sports competition; parade and games for children; and the singing of national anthem "Wilhelmus" and a Dutch special song, with lyrics and music by Nahum Situmorang, as noted by Deli Courant on 4 December 1936.

A year later, the royal couple welcomed a daughter, Bellatrix, whose birth was celebrated as well in Tarutung. Once again, Nahum was involved in the festivity, arranging a parade of the children. As cited by Deli Courant on 3 February 1938, around two thousands children joined the parade, which was followed by aubade (tribute song) of two special Dutch songs. There were also performances of poems and music by Batak Guru D. Hoetapea and N. Sitoemorang. In the same year, Queen Wilhelmina's jubilee was held. According to Deli Courant on its 9 September 1938 issue, the children chorused the song "Wilhelmus”, followed by an anniversary song by Guru Djisman Hoetapea and another song by Guru N. Sitoemorang.

While keeping his passion alive, Nahum carried on his job as a teacher until the school he worked at was permanently closed around the time Japan arrived in Indonesia.

<div class="strect-width-img"><figure><div><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/61af270884f7a0580d35618e/6225b2a19736108e7458449e_Intersection%2017.jpg" alt="img"></div><figcaption>Romusha During the Japanese Occupation. (wikimediacommos)</figcaption></figure></div>

Songs from the Japanese Era

Three years of the Japanese occupation was the most sorrowful time of the nation. People were forced to work as laborers or romusha to support Japan's war effort. Nahum, on the other hand, was quite lucky to have his musical talent that spared him from being a romusha.

According to Bistok, Nahum was a member of Sendenhan (Propaganda Group) formed by Japan for the "cultural war", which was later changed into Sendenbu (Propaganda Department). He was under a band frequently performing for music shows in a restaurant to entertain the Japanese soldiers.

Becoming a musician during the Japanese era gave Nahum a series of privileges. Bistok recalled how Nahum received a nice fabric to be donned on stage. During his musical career, Nahum was allowed to freely channel his creativity. At least two songs were produced by Nahum during this era.

The first song, titled "Gelorakan Semangat Pembangunan", is sung in a fast tempo or allegro (4/4) and was made to lift the spirit of the youth in building the nation.

On its second verse, the elements of Japan's propaganda were very evident. The words "Pemuda dan Pemudi" (young man and woman) were changed into "Zikeidan dan Bogodan", which has a parallel meaning with troops of guards, in which, as said by Bungaran Antonius Simanjuntak in Struktur Sosial dan Sistem Politik Batak Toba hingga 1945, many Batak youths joined. They were divided into teams of village guards formed in Tapanuli. It was only reasonable that the song became more recognized with the title "Zikeidan dan Bogodan".

Nahum's second song was a marching song titled “Gyugun Laskar Rakyat” composed by Nahum in 1944. The lyrics were infused with fighting spirit addressed to gyugun or giyugun , a volunteer army formed by Japan in Sumatra.

The Japanese Era Romusha. (geheugendelpher)

There was an interesting commentary in Koleksi 120 Lagu Nahum Situmorang compiled by Ikatan Keluarga Pewaris Komponis Nahum Situmorang (IKPK–NS) regarding that song. It was mentioned that the song's melody was adapted by the national composer Ismail Marzuki into the renowned patriotic song "Halo-Halo Bandung". This assumption was voiced by Tagor Situmorang, Nahum's nephew and the fourth child of Guru Sopar.

According to Tagor, the elderly in Tarutung could still recall the song “Gyugun Laskar Rakyat” the last time he visited the village at the end of the 1980s. From his visit, he learned that the song had traveled to the neighboring island. As he stated to Bona ni Pinasa, there was a college student, a son of Tarutung's head of district, who went to study in Bandung. He joined as the member of barisan berani mati ("dare to die front") formed to fend off the Dutch in 1946. The heroic riot involving the troops was later known as "Bandung Lautan Api".

"To ignite the soldiers’ fighting spirit, it was very possible that the song lyrics of “Gyugun Laskar Rakyat” was arranged into “Halo-Halo Bandung”. Nahum's song was already popular back in 1944, while the incident of Bandung Lautan Api happened in 1946," said Tagor. However, the claim is no more than a speculation lacking conclusive proof.

The song "Halo-Halo Bandung" itself is quite a controversy. Author Remy Sylado stated that the song was actually composed by Lumban Tobing, a Siliwangi soldier. After moving to Indonesia's then capital city Yogyakarta, Lumban Tobing and his platoon comprising halak (Batak people) and kawanua (Minahasa people) went on a long march while singing the song.

"According to Remy, the version of “Halo-Halo Bandung” recognized as Ismail Marzuki’s song was based on the original version by Lumban Tobing which illustrates the tenacity of Siliwangi troops consisted of people outside Java who came together to defend the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence," wrote Nino Leksono in biography Ismail Marzuki: Senandung Melintas Zaman.

It is perhaps necessary to clarify that the aforementioned Lumban Tobing is Major Simon Lumban Tobing, the chief of staff of Battalion Pelopor I Siliwangi Division. He was a senior student in Sekolah Tinggi Teknik Bandung (now Bandung Institute of Technology) who joined the student's armies during the revolution era. He and his entire troops were eventually killed by the soldiers of Darul Islam in Garut.

<div class="quotes-center font-g text-align-center">"To ignite the soldiers’ fighting spirit, it was very possible that the song lyrics of 'Gyugun Laskar Rakyat' was arranged into 'Halo-Halo Bandung'. Nahum’s song was already popular back in 1944, while the incident of Bandung Lautan Api happened in 1946," – Tagor</div>

A Lapo Tuak Musician

Following the departure of Japan, Nahum went to seek his fortune in Medan. He took the job as a jewelry seller, peddling golds and diamonds.

However, the war was still lurking behind everyone's back. The Dutch were still on their mission to conquer their former colonized territories. A series of struggles to defend the hard-earned independence fueled the whole country. In Esplanade (now Merdeka Square), Nahum frequently witnessed the rousing orations delivered by the youth. Those speeches sparked the artistic side of him which culminated into the song “Mariam Tomong Mariam Mortir” intended to propel the spirit of the fighters.

"He composed the song on the spot, while attending the orations," said Harry Dikana Situmeang, a music art lecturer at Universitas HKBP Nommensen. Harry learned that interesting fact through his interviews with Nahum's friends during the writing of his thesis on the development of Batak popular music in Medan during the period between 1960 and 1980, in Universitas Sumatera Utara.

“Mariam Tomong Mariam Mortir” is sung with its energetic rumba rhythm (4/4) and has been one of the most played songs in rallies.

Nahum fully embraced his musician life only after the war ended. His inspiration in composing songs largely came during his time at lapo tuak.

Lapo is a communal place for Batak people to come together and drink. They come to hang and chat, usually with a lot of singing and drinking after a long day of work. That's where Nahum spent most of his time, although he didn't drink tuak (palm wine) and preferred coffee, tea or a soft drink, orange crush.

Strongly associated with Batak people, lapo was also where Nahum got acquainted with Sidik Sitompul and Berman Hutabarat. The trio formed Nahum's Band, hopping from one lapo to the others to perform. With the group's thundering voice, they almost never used a microphone. Albeit the lack of sophisticated instruments, their performance consistently enthralled the visitors of lapo. As written by Kompas on 26 August 1978, every owner of lapo tuak was always excited whenever Nahum visited their stands as his presence was a sure ticket for more customers.

Many of Nahum's songs were produced during his time at lapo. His song "Lisoi" depicts how lapo becomes a place to find solace. This song was produced with a waltz tempo often associated with folk dance music. The word "Lisoi" itself literally means 'to wash with water'. Nahum construed lisoi as a symbol of friendship established among the frequent visitors of lapo tuak.

Illustration of Lapo Tuak. (Fernando Randy/Historia.ID)

Lapo tuak was undoubtedly Nahum's most comfortable place to channel his passion in music. What came short was his income as a street musician that could barely support his life. Owing to his friends' help, Nahum ventured into the car business. Starting early in the morning until noon, Nahum could be easily found roaming around Jalan Shanghai, working his day job as a car broker. In the evening, he would go back to a lapo tuak at Jalan Jati where he was a regular customer.

He only returned from lapo tuak after midnight. As a star of lapo, he was usually offered to be escorted home by the other lapo visitors. Nahum could easily say yes to those generous offers, but he chose to ride the rickshaw to his rented home located around the area behind Istana Deli. Very few actually knew that Nahum lived alone in a humble shack.

"He refused to live in our house. Even though there was an unoccupied room for him, he still refused," recalled Bogart. "Life is surely different when you have no family around you. We never know how lonely he was for not having a wife beside him. As a diversion, he spent most of his time in lapo tuak."

From lapo tuak, Nahum's Band was also invited to perform at RRI Medan. Nahum offered the other musicians from Pardoloktolong Melodi who had previously performed at RRI Medan to join their sessions. He invited many other singers such as Eddy Tambunan, Humizar Siadari, Franz H Manurung, and Ungkap Situmeang.

"He was active at RRI Medan in 1955. Nahum's Band often performed live every Sunday at 12 p.m." said Harry Dikana.

Since then, Nahum's songs have become widely popular in Medan. As written by Selecta No. 354, 1 July 1968, Nahum's Band was prominent in North Sumatra, particularly in Medan. The band boasted distinct characteristics of having only guitars as their instrument. Nahum's songs popularized by the band were usually sung by their fellow singers in a duet or chorus and rarely in a solo performance.

Not only at RRI Medan, Nahum's Band was also a regular performer at many open stages or entertainment centers. The ensemble even went on tours in other cities such as Siantar, Sibolga, Sidempuan, Tanjung Balai, Kisaran, Rantau Prapat, Sidikalang, and Pekanbaru.

Their performance at RRI Medan greatly impressed Lokananta, a state-owned record company. The cassette tapes containing their performances at RRI Medan, and thus songs produced by Nahum, were recorded by Lokananta into vinyl records, two of which are still preserved in the Lokananta Museum in Solo. The first album was produced in 1958 with a cover entitled Rangkaian Lagu2 Daerah Sumatra - Nahum's Band (dbp Nahum Situmorang), while the second album was released in 1959 with similar title, described as a collection of modern Tapanuli songs.

Proving his considerable reputation outside Indonesia, some of Nahum's songs were also recorded by Polydor Records Ltd., a British record label operating as a part of Universal Music Group. His song "Pulo Samosir" was even translated into German and recorded as a vinyl.

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Becoming a Household Name in Medan

Nahum reached the pinnacle of his career from the 1950s through the 1960s. Some of his best songs were born during this period. His songs came with themes closely related to everyday life, instilled with diverse stories about family, friendship, love, and the beauty of nature. He even poked into the more serious side such as custom restrictions, and the lighter side, examining the flirtatious interaction between young people.

Nahum's songs were exceptionally pleasant to listen to, particularly because of his artistry in composing poetical lyrics. The introductory verses in his songs were heavily sprinkled with umpasa or pantun (verse) from Batak literature, the fruit of his diligence in delving knowledge from the elders.

"He was such a talented writer. He visited many villages to meet the elders who were connoisseurs of proverbs," said Bogart.

That was how Nahum blended the art of singing with literature: by writing song lyrics with a rich and profound meaning. Having unique phrases incorporated into most of his song lyrics made it quite challenging to translate them literally, since the true meaning can only be appreciated through empathetic internalization.

A more interesting fact was that Nahum never used any musical instrument to compose his songs. He only used a small matchbox from the brand "Sumut", tapping it on a table or on any decent surface around him.

"He sometimes used other people's hands to write his songs in numbered notation," explained Harry Dikana.

Medan City in 1955. (geheugebdelpher.nl)

More often, his songs were scribbled into a cigarette wrapping paper as Nahum was a heavy smoker, lighting from four to five packs every day. His favorite brands of cigarettes were “Abdullah Rough Rider” and Player Navy.

Nahum's musical works were beloved by the general public. His song chords are simple, making them easy for people to recreate. One of the most noticeable elements of his songs is the modern tempo. Nahum's musical grandeur is further proven by the diverse rhythm of his songs included in Koleksi 120 Lagu Nahum Situmorang: from rumba, calypso, tango, cha-cha-cha, Hawaiian style, to slow rock.

Radio was also a significant medium for Nahum to learn contemporary music. "It is through the radio Nahum came to know the pattern of rumba, what cha-cha-cha is, how waltz sounds, and so on. Through the radio, he could dive deeper into the knowledge of music," said Harry.

Apart from the radio, the Western influence palpable in Nahum's songs originated from the Hollywood movies popular during his productive years. According to ethnomusicologist Rizaldi Siagian in “Melihat Batak di Lagu Nahum Situmorang” published by Kompas on 18 February 2018, Nahum was exclusively admitted to movie screenings by Organisasi Deli Bioskop Medan, an opportunity that allowed him to take eminent influence from the Hollywood movies he watched on his future direction in music.

In Medan, Nahum achieved popularity as an acclaimed musician. People respectfully called him "Guru Nahum" although he was no longer a teacher. On the other hand, Nahum's songs brought curiosity to the music enjoyers in other cities and provinces, who wanted to watch Nahum's performance in person.

<div class="flex-content-podcast"><figure class="img-left"><div><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/61af270884f7a0580d35618e/6225b2b5fcf50e99e24b0c66_Intersection%205.jpg" alt="img"></div><figcaption>Teacher Nahum and His Band. (Repro)</figcaption></figure><div class="img-right"><div class="podcast-container"><img alt="person" class="entered loaded" data-ll-status="loaded" src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/61af270884f7a0580d35618e/6225b2ba9aed62fe1dc5f154_Intersection%206.jpg"><div class="audio-podcast"><audio controls controlsList="nodownload"><source src="https://d220hvstrn183r.cloudfront.net/premium/bukan-seniman-lapo-tuak-biasa/Bogart%20Situmorang.mp3" type="audio/mpeg">Your browser does not support the audio element.</audio></div></div><div class="caption"><span><b>Bogart Situmorang.</b><br>Nahum Situmorang’s Nephew. (Fernando Randy/Historia.ID).</span></div></div></div>

The Cheering Crowd

In 1960, a committee from Jakarta offered Nahum a contract to perform in concerts. The shows were planned to be held in big cities, such as in Jakarta, Bandung, and many other locations. Nahum subsequently departed to Jakarta with his bandmates: Bistok Marbun, Domi Marpaung, Kondar Sibarani, Parlin Pardede, Siadari, and Yan Sinambela.  

Their shows were never short of audiences. During their third concert at the Sports Building of Ikada (now Monas Square), the crowd went hysterical after the song “Anakkon hi do Hamoraon di Au” (My Child is My Treasure) was performed. It was said that the original title of the song previously didn't include the word "Hamoraon", but “Hasangapon” which means glory.

The lyrics were very much personal to the audience as the song portrays parents' efforts in bringing up their child. The song also shows the philosophy of Batak families that regard their child as a priceless treasure, and that education is a means to improve their child's life.

Nahum with his band performing in Jakarta in 1960. (repro_BonaNiPinasa)

The song "Anakkon hi" is famous among Batak people; from casual listeners to renowned singers, from the corners of lapo to traditional celebrations. The immense popularity of the song was proven by the survey conducted by Batak Center in 2021 in which "Anakkon hi" was named as the most famous Batak song of all time.

Nahum's concert concluded auspiciously. Many affluent Batak figures were among the audience who came up to the stage and did sawer (giving money to the singer on stage). Apparently, the spontaneous donation was far larger in sum, which promptly ignited discord among the involved parties.

The concert committee insisted the money be paid to them, while Nahum and his band claimed it as theirs. The circumstance was unfortunately not mentioned in their contract clauses, making it difficult to be resolved. The tension heightened and ultimately divided Nahum's Band.

"That was Nahum's Band's last show ever," wrote Bona ni Pinasa.

Marah Halim Harahap, a commissioned officer of Army Intendant Corps (later the governor of North Sumatra)

Going solo, Nahum was still showered with numerous invitations. He was asked to perform by esteemed figures such as minister and ambassador, as well as to perform in private occasions. Once, Nahum was invited to Brazil because some of his songs were reverently associated with Latin America musical style. However, the rare invitation was rejected by Nahum. His reason, as mentioned by Kompas on its 26 August 1978 issue, was because he was very comfortable living in Medan and never wanted to leave.

Marah Halim Harahap, a commissioned officer of Army Intendantur Corps who later became the governor of North Sumatra, was one of the figures who invited Nahum to his house. After Nahum's performance, Marah Halim asked him to compose a song about South Tapanuli since Nahum's past songs were largely colored by Batak Toba culture. That request begot the song "Ketabo-Ketabo" which heavily illustrates the beauty of Padang Sidempuan with its delicious salak and beautiful women. The people of South Tapanuli were ecstatic and very proud to sing that rumba rhythm song as it was very close to their hearts.

In 1961, Nahum returned to Medan at the invitation of T.D. Pardede, the king of textile in Medan, who was celebrating his daughter's wedding. Pardede was a big fan of Nahum's works. The entrepreneur later became the person behind Nahum’s subsequent composition titled "T.D. Pardede".

Not really fond of performing solo, Nahum joined the vocal group Solu Bolon which means ‘large boat’. The group was formed by Lieutenant CPM Walter Sirait along with Fernando Hutabarat, a recognized singer of RRI.

Solu Bolon was a male-dominated group, consisting of more than 10 personnels. They were quite popular in North Sumatra, especially in Medan. Nahum was assigned as the group's vocalist as well as the composer. Most of the pop songs performed by Solu Bolon were produced by Nahum in choir style.

His Most Valuable Legacy

One time, Nahum lost his Titus watch to a snatcher. Despite losing a valuable possession, Nahum wasn't particularly sad. Yet to his friends, the incident was regarded as a premonition. Their hunch was later proven true when not long after that, Nahum fell ill.

According to Bogart, because Nahum was very close to his father Guru Sopar, he often visited their house, particularly when he was sick right before the end of 1966. Nahum was accompanied by Guru Sopar to be treated at Elizabeth Hospital. "The hospital was right in front of our house," said Bogart.

Nahum was diagnosed with severe high blood pressure with complications on his waist. For further treatment, Nahum was transferred to RSUP Medan (now RSUD dr. Pirngadi).

After spending weeks in the hospital, Nahum's health gradually declined. Half of his body was paralyzed, preventing him from uttering even one single word. Nahum went through his days in seclusion with only his family by his side, as Nahum remained unmarried until his last day.

It was said that Nahum suffered heartbroken after his relationship with the woman he loved faced strong opposition from her parents. Tio br. Tobing, the love of his life, eventually married another man. Despite that, Nahum refused to love anyone else.

The misfortune of his love life was depicted by Nahum in some of his songs. One of them, according to Bogart, was “Na Sonang do Hita na Dua” (When Two of Us Were Happy). Most people assume the song as a symbol of unity of a couple's love. Its romantic lyrics made it a popular song choice in Batak wedding celebrations.

““Na Sonang do Hita na Dua” was about two humans once in a loving relationship but ended up parting ways," explained Bogart.

Nahum endured three years on the hospital bed with almost zero attention from the public. The stark reality was very much in contrast with Nahum's outstanding contribution, as mentioned by Selecta magazine. "A true patriot doesn't have to boast about his contribution. And Mr. Nahum Situmorang was indeed a patriot."

As his body deteriorated, Nahum finally received an appreciation from the government. On 17 August 1969, he accepted the Anugerah Seni award from the Minister of Education and Culture, Mashuri, and was recognized as the most successful composer of Batak songs.

Unfortunately, Nahum Situmorang passed away on 20 October 1969. After the wake at Guru Sopar's house, Nahum was buried at the Christian cemetery at Jalan Gajah Mada, Medan. People of various social classes including commander, governor, and the common people attended his funeral to pay their last tribute to the great composer.

Materially, Nahum only left 2,500 rupiahs found inside his pocket. However, his true legacy was greater than that. The songs he composed live eternally in the hearts of Batak people from time to time, from generation to generation.

"He didn't leave any inheritance. His legacy was the songs he composed, the works of his that bring great pride to our family," said Bogart.

With his timeless masterpieces, Nahum was acknowledged as the most popular and prolific Batak composer. Over his lifetime, it was estimated that Nahum composed more than a thousand Batak songs, although only a few had been securely documented.

Not only through records, his works were also immortal through books such as Irama Solu-Bolon: Lagu-lagu Tapanuli-Modern (1960) and Nahum’s Song: Kumpulan Lagu2 Tapanuli Modern (1971). In 2021, his family under IKPK-NS collected Nahum's songs in Koleksi 120 Lagu Nahum Situmorang: Disertai Narasi Kisah yang Melatarinya.

"There was never a Batak musician as legendary as him," said Bogart proudly.

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Translation by:
Prihandini Anisa
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