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 strange.

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 14.

The fast and furious gondong sabangunan tuned drum performaces of North Sumatra's Toba people on Volume 4.

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

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.



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