Tag Archives: Java

Angklung and modernity

The musical style associated with the bamboo frame rattle called angklung embodies the egalitarian cooperation so essential for the agriculture that sustained Sundanese people in West Java for centuries. In the early twentieth century, Indonesian nationalists reimagined the sound of the angklung to index a connection to a distinctly Sundanese modern identity rooted in rural values.

The kind of angklung ensemble now popular in Indonesian schools and universities, which was designated an item of intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2010, is an elaboration of the innovations of the Sundanese music educator Daeng Soetigna. Current incarnations of angklung ensembles feature large numbers of performers, often playing arrangements of classical and popular hit songs as well as well-known Indonesian songs.

Angklung’s persistent appeal to Sundanese citizens has much to tell us about the relationship of humans to the places in which they live, the social structures that sustain them, and the strategies they concoct to remain grounded in a changing world.

This according to “From the rice harvest to Bohemian rhapsody: Diachronic modernity in angklung performance” by Henry Spiller, an essay included in Making waves: Traveling musics in Hawaiʻi, Asia, and the Pacific (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2018, pp. 19–38).

Above, a children’s angklung ensemble; below, Queen’s Bohemian rhapsody.

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Karinding Attack’s heavy metal bamboo

Karinding Attack is a group from Bandung, West Java, that performs original songs, covers international death metal hits, and engages in collaborations with musicians who specialize in other genres—all to the accompaniment of Sundanese bamboo musical instruments that were virtually extinct only 20 years ago.

After the Sundanese people’s embrace of a hegemonic modernity in the 20th century relegated these instruments to obscurity, their efflorescence represents an alternative modernity in which, instead of adopting disdain for their own past as the primitive Other against which European hegemonic modernity is constructed, Sundanese people construct their own history against which to articulate a coherent Sundanese modernity.

This according to “Heavy metal bamboo: How archaic bamboo instruments became modern in Bandung, Indonesia” by Henry Spiller, an essay included in Studies on a global history of music: A Balzan musicology project (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, pp. 241–55).

Below, Karinding Attack covers Sepultura’s Refuse/Resist.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music

“Bengawan Solo” and pan-East/Southeast Asian identity

Bengawan Solo (Solo River) was written by the kroncong singer Gesang Martohartono (above) in September 1940. A tribute to the beauty and significance of the river for the common people, the song subsequently assumed national importance, symbolizing the struggle for independence during the Japanese occupation of Java (1942–45).

The first widely popular song by an Indonesian composer written in Bahasa Indonesia, the Malay-based national language adopted by independent Indonesia, Bengawan Solo now evokes images of Indonesian revolutionary fighters to whom homage must be given. The song has spread throughout Southeast Asia, and it has even become popular in Japan and China, making it a potent symbol of pan-East/Southeast Asian identity.

This according to “The pan-East/Southeast Asian and national Indonesian song Bengawan Solo and its Javanese composer” by Margaret J. Kartomi (Yearbook for traditional music XXX [1998] pp. 85–101).

Below, a recording featuring the voices of the composer and Asti Dewi Christianna.

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