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Various Artists: Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia

The fantastic umpteen-volume Indonesian music series released on Smithsonian Folkways in the last few years went a long way toward illuminating the musical depth and uniqueness of that cultural world. Generally, the focus of the series was a kind of preservationist documenting of traditional music from the island chain (apart from the delightfully offbeat Indonesian Guitars album at the end of the release cycle). What you hear on the new Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia (Roughnet 1055; 72:44) is something almost completely different: a survey of Indonesian music that goes every which way but pure. Contemporary notions, hints of pop and other exotic mix-ups blend in with elements of traditional gamelan to create a kaleidoscopic musical portrait of a region.

Ibu Maimunah Mochtar and Group’s stark, moving sound is followed by Uning-Uningan’s clippity-clop cadences. Microtonal acoustic guitar fingerpicking underscores a hypnotic vocal duo on Grup Bamba Puang’s sample of the style known as sayang sayang, and CBMW’s gamelan-electronica effect is cause for a sonic double take. And energies, inevitably, creep in from the West, as in the tropical undulations of Sandii, who is of Japanese and Hawaiian lineage. There’s a whole lot of meeting going on with this album, and it’s as much a treat for the ears as it is a challenge to our preconceptions.

Originally Published