Tag Archives: Indonesia

Fantastic Indonesian Music Part 2

(What do I have such a strong pull towards Asia?!?!?)

I was delighted to catch the closing act of the Discovering Indonesia festival at the Southbank – the band Kande from Aceh, in the far west of Sumatra. They are one of those bands that just hit you full-on – incredible energy, musicianship and positive vibes! As lead vocalist, Rafly is direct, dynamic and ultimately irresistible – by the end, he had us all overcoming our diffidence and joining in with abandon. It’s hard to argue with a voice that’s so free, flexible, powerful and clear-cut – a wonderful instrument. Then the band were so incredibly funky! Their precision and drive was amazing – it was like witnessing The Funk Brothers transposed to Indonesia! And when they play fast – they really play fast! This with four interlocking percussion parts of traditional Islamic drumming, a dream bass-player who grooved like nobody’s business, and a jazzy guitarist who gave us crackling rhythm-work and sublime solos. Also an ‘extra’ singer, as in sufi music, backing up the lead vocalist, adding hand-claps and raising the temperature even higher.

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Some of the numbers, indeed, were sufi-like – call-and-response chants pitching Rafly’s soaring vocals against the rest of the band. Others were more gently spiritual, Marley-esque even: songs of co-operation, motivation, warmth and friendship. With the energy of the music and the smiles on the faces, we had little doubt that these musicians came from somewhere extraordinary. By the time we reluctantly let them leave the stage, it felt like some kind of beautiful exchange had taken place.

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Fantastic Indonesian Music Part 1

Very happy to stumble upon some exquisite Kacapi Suling music at the Southbank on Saturday (part of the Discover Indonesia festival). The music from Western Java featured a trio of zither (kacapi), flute (suling) and a metallophone – just three musicians but a beautiful combination of sounds and timbres. The music was extremely calming and soothing – music for late-night listening. Some of it was quite descriptive – a child crying, or an evocation of ‘the narrow footpath’. To someone familiar with Indonesian music, some of it would apparently sound quite nostalgic, recalling a ‘golden time’ long since passed.

The kacapi is shaped like a boat – it seemed very suitable for an instrument that was to take us on a voyage of discovery through these night-time stories. It appeared to call for great skill and dexterity – it seemed like two distinct textures were at play simultaneously, almost like a bass and melody, though they overlapped. Like all multi-stringed instruments, it could be a terror to tune – though it seemed to be behaving itself mostly on this occasion. (It’s always interesting to hear how a skilled musician might manage to build-in some ‘tuning passages’ without disrupting the flow of the piece…)

The suling on the other hand looked to be of incredibly simple construction – an unadorned bamboo flute, but like its tin-whistle distant cousin, capable of the most incredible inflections and expressiveness. Alongside the kacapi, it traced out the most beautiful pentatonic melodies. I liked the way, at the very end of the piece, it sometimes raised the last note – as if it wanted to carry on, or maybe was asking us a question…

The third member of the trio, a metallophone of the kind you would see in a gamelan, played a kind of perpetual-motion accompaniment – mesmerising and evocative.

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For the final set of pieces, the kacapi player switched to a second kacapi, tuned to a different pentatonic scale. Whether it was just the refreshment of the new ‘key’, or a different character to the pieces, this set was especially appealing and had me imagining a voice riding above the instrumental textures – whereupon the kacapi player did indeed begin to sing. Apparently a lot of this music can have a vocal part as well, and be used to accompany late-night revelries. But still it is very dreamy and a little melancholy – I for one could have listened all night.

PS Would you like to know more about this music? The three musicians were part of ‘Sekar Enggal’, a London-based group (they were amazing) – I spoke with their leader Simon Cook afterwards, maybe we’ll arrange an interview…


Looking through London

Sunflowers in the concrete jungle… The fabulous ‘Shaped in Mexico’ exhibition at Oxo Bargehouse (on until 12 Sept)… Delicious cake and a strange climber. Anna May Wong finally hits the big time outside the BFI. Various Indonesian goings-on at the Southbank (continuing today Sun 6 Sept), a sublime Iranian concert in the evening. And a nice touch with the old Foyles Bookshop sign (though we still miss the old café). Enjoy these photos of a stroll through London yesterday! More reviews etc coming soon!

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