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Various Artists: Music of Indonesia 15: South Sulawesi Strings

With its ongoing series documenting the music of Indonesia, Smithsonian Folkways is helping to illuminate our understanding of this vast and complex region, demonstrating musical life beyond gamelan. While the Indonesian gamelan music of Bali and Java has exerted a bold influence globally, it accounts for only one tradition of many lesser-known styles. Take, for example, one of the three new titles in the series (which will ultimately number 20): Music of Indonesia 15: South Sulawesi Strings, (Smithsonian Folkways 40442; 74:27) presents entrancing string music from the island formerly known as “Celebes,” west of Borneo and south of the Philippines.

We hear examples from the Bugis, Makasar and Mandar people, featuring tight ensemble and solo work on instruments like the two-stringed kapaci, the lute known as the gambus, and violins (as heard in the scratchily charismatic duet “Dendang Sia”). Like everywhere, younger urban residents in Sulawesi are tuned into the global boombox, but the music documented here is traditional and acoustic. This field report is an important piece of the ethnomusicological puzzle of Indonesian culture, but it also surprises the western ear with its coincidental links to Celtic and, by extension, Appalachian traditions. Or is it coincidence?

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