Traditional Music of Indonesia


Indonesian music(1)

Located off the coast of mainland Southeast Asian in the Indian and Pacific oceans, Indonesia is home to hundreds of ethnic groups, with their own cultural and artistic history. This cultural diversity has led to multiple expressions of local musical creativity. With hundreds of forms of local music and foreign musical influences, the music scene of Indonesia is a colourful and vibrant collage of beats rhythms.

Music varies from one island to the other other, and researchers have long documented the musics of Java, Sumatra, Bali, Flores and other islands. While music has been developed in every region, they have all been passed through generations and they still exist in the community. Although Native Indonesian tribes have incorporated chants and songs accompanied with music instruments in their rituals, the music has been grown and developed in each region, and it has been slightly modified from generation to generation. Today Indonesian music is popular across the islands and even in neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
Although traditional music in each region has its own uniqueness compared to other regions, songs in Indonesia usually comprise strong beat and harmony type musics that have show a strong influence of Indian and Malay classical musical. This trend is mostly visible in the traditional popular music genre of Dangdut.
Indonesian music is also characterised by simple lyrics and melodies, and these lyrics are usually the in the local language, and it is usually played with traditional music instruments that are particularly to an area. As they have traditionally played music to accompany the tribes' rituals, songs usually demonstrate an element of community togetherness.
The musical identity of Indonesia dates back to the Bronze Age. Indonesian tribes use percussion instruments, particularly gendang (drums) and gongs. Other outstanding musical instruments are sasando string instrument of Rote island, angklung of Sundanese people and the intricate and refined gamelan orchestra of Java and Bali. The latter is the most popular form of Indonesian music, which consists of tuned percussion instruments, including metallophones, drums, gongs and spike fiddles along with bamboo flutes.
Remarkable genres of Indonesian music
Although Indonesian music is the result of combining different forms of culture and music styles, original music still survives today and it comprises a range of music genres, most prominently keroncong music, dangdut music and modern Qasidah. Keroncong is a popular folk style which stems from the Portuguese colonial era. After the European conquerors brought their own music instruments, these were combined with Indonesian instruments and the combination resulted in keroncong music.
This genre of music reached its prime in the 1930s when it was used in Indonesia's film industry. It then became a vehicle for people to express their struggle to achieve independence. There is a famous kerongcong song from these times called Bengawan Solo; this famous song tells the story of the river Bengawan Solo, the longest river in Java. This song describes the legendary river in a nostalgic way, and its beautiful lyrics and unique melody made it one of the most popular songs in this genre. It's so popular that it has many versions in different languages.
Written by Gesang Martohartono in 1940, the song is strongly associated with the Japanese occupation and the society of the time. At the time, Gensang was a young and untrained musician who startinted playing “Bengawan Solo” on a bamboo flute at local functions and gatherings in his hometown of Surakarta. It didn't take long for the song to become widely popular locally and soon it achieved national acclaim after it was broadcast to a wider audience by radio stations.
But its popularity wasn't only amongst Indonesians; the Japanese soldiers who occupied Indonesia during the Second World War also liked the song and took it to Japan once the war was over. There the lyrics were translated into Japanese and they gained great popularity after singers such as Toshi Matsudar released recorded versions of it which become topped the charts that year. That is how the song started to spread to the the rest of Asia and then it achieved worldwide popularity.
Ever since, Gensang has become not only a nationally renowned figure, but also venerated by foreigner and to such extent that a group of Japanese war veterans arranged for his statute to be erected in a park in Surakarta.
Ever since the 1970, Dangdut stands out as of the most popular traditional musics in Indonesia. Combining local music traditions with Indian and Malaysian musics, Dangdut music started out as a form of dance music.
As a testament to Indonesia's cultural diversity, modern Qasidah is a popular form of music that comes from Arabic pop combined with lyrics in local dialect recited as poetry. This poetry recital is accompanied by charting and percussion.


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