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Anoushka Shankar/ Buena Vista Social Club/ Irshad Khan/ King Sunny Ade: Discover Indonesia, Selections from the 20-CD Series

Mention Indonesian music and the g-word reflexively springs up, as if gamelan-tuned percussion-was the sole musical product of that diverse chain of islands. Gamelan is a formidable contribution to world culture, but there’s more to Indonesia’s story, which was the central notion driving an amazing 20-CD project from Smithsonian Folkways, recorded over seven years in the ’90s by Philip Yampolsky.

For anyone curious about Indonesia’s musical life it’s a worthwhile investment to get all 20 albums, but, in a way, the basic objective of the project is best served by the series sampler, Discover Indonesia, Selections from the 20-CD Series (Smithsonian Folkways 40484; 71:03). The CD’s 15 variegated tracks, culled from the individual, more specifically curated earlier Smithsonian releases, offer a real compare-and-contrast sense of the sheer diversity of Indonesian traditional music. Aspects of gamelan are ever present, but so are tracks from islands other than Java and Bali, the usual sources of Indonesian music that reaches these shores.

The sampler opens with a xylophone duet from Sumatra and closes with a lute-like sampeq duet from East Kalimantan, with brass band, funeral gongs, violins and other cultural hybrids along the way. The main message gleaned here is that the musical identity of Indonesia is a complex world unto itself, more varied than stereotypes permit.

Originally Published