Boomkat Product Review:
Another phenomenal history lesson from Soundway, "Padang Moonrise" tells the story of modern Indonesian music, bringing together recordings that fuse gamelan, regional pop and folk, and kroncong, with jazz, doo-wop, rock 'n roll, and Afro-Latin sounds.
Back in the 1950s and '60s, the Indonesian music industry began to grow, sponsored by the state to bring together a diverse group of 1,300 distinct ethnic groups under a new language and fresh culture that aimed to unify 17,000 islands, including Java, Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and parts of Borneo and New Guinea. Western rock 'n roll music was considered decadent by the Old Order regime, and bands trying to import the style were subject to prison sentences (one such punishment was handed out to the Beatles-inspired Koes Plus in 1965), but the sounds still made it into the Indonesian musical lexicon, often via the Netherlands, where repatriated Indonesians would hear American and British music on local military radio stations. Most of the new pop however was combining elements of music closer to home: Javanese and Balinese gamelan, regional folk sounds, and music made with the gambus or kroncong. Rooted in Muslim identity in Indonesia and the surrounding area, the gambus is a lute-style instrument that's carved from a single piece of jackfruit wood, while the kroncong is a ukelele-like instrument and genre that developed from Portuguese music imported by sailors in the 16th Century.
These sounds might feel disparate even now, but the compilation is surprisingly coherent; the recording techniques no doubt helped create a sense of unification between the vastly different artists and troupes, but there's also a few elements that connect each track. Early Indonesian pop music isn't widely known outside of the archipelago, so hearing these recordings is a revelation. They sounds stunning - this isn't a set of crackly radio recordings of the kind you might find on a Sublime Frequencies disc, Soundway have done a bang up job of making sure these ones sound as punchy as they must have decades ago. And while the material can be hard to place, some of the tracks slide into an ethereal zone that harmonizes with library music and experimental sounds that wouldn't emerge in Europe for decades later. Fab.