Most people know Indonesian music
from the gamelan music of Bali or Java, the bronze orchestra of metallophones
and gongs used in court music and the wayang shadow puppet shows. Gamelan
music was featured in the Peter Weir film The Year of Living Dangerously
and frequently crops up in travelogues about Indonesia.
Bronze gamelan music, however, is only a tiny fraction of the bewildering
array of musical styles scattered throughout Indonesia and documented by
Philip Yampolsky in the Smithsonian Folkways-label 20-volume Music
of Indonesia series. As series recordist, compiler, and producer,
Yampolsky has captured scores of different Indonesian pop and traditional
music genres ranging from charming and engaging styles to the downright
For sheer listenability, my favorite forms of music in the series include:
The nostalgic kroncong genre with
arpeggiated guitar and gliding vocals that call to mind American cowpoke
and Hawaiian ditties on Volume 2.
Jemblung, a fast-disappearing, wickedly
entertaining all-vocal gamelan genre, featuring three males who mimic the
dings and dongs of metallophones featured on Volume
The fast and furious gondong sabangunan tuned
drum performaces of North Sumatra's Toba people on Volume
But I also like to turn to the series to jolt myself out of the world music
doldrums with some of the oddest, wildest musical forms I've ever heard
anywhere. These include:
Lagu sayur which resembles a shocking
collision between New Orleans brass band jazz and traditional gamelan arrangements
on Volume 3.
The a capella hoho choral songs
built on a measly four-tone scale from the thickly forested island of Nias
on Volume 4.
The eccentric range of acoustic and electric guitar
styles on Volume 20, Indonesian Guitars.
Just about every volume is the series has something unexpected, if not
genuinely startling, to offer. If the music isn't always kind to western
ears, well, that hasn't been Philip Yampolsky's mandate. Gathering rare
and little heard Indonesian genres has been his goal.
Because there's so much information to present, I've divided the Music
of Indonesia series into two separate pages.
On these two pages, all 20-volumes of the Smithsonian Folkways Music of
Indonesia series are listed and described using material adapted from my
reviews for The Beat magazine and info from the Smithsonian Folkways
label. These pages also include cover art of each release plus links to
RealAudio song samples and purchase information via amazon.com.
For the full text of my own reviews of 14 CDs in the Music of Indonesia
series (plus reviews of 10 other Indonesian discs), hop to the Asia index on this website.