Various Artists – Smithsonian Folkways, Discover Indonesia

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
An ideal primer to some of the world’s strangest, and sometimes remotest, places.

This compilation pulls from the label's exhaustive 20-album collection of Indonesian music, all recorded in the field. The sheer variety of music is overwhelming — not surprising, when thousands of islands make up Indonesia — and thrilling. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's gamelan music (listen to the funeral piece "Tabung"), but there are plenty of unexpected pleasures, like choral pieces, and a xylophone duet, "Tetigo," which is simple and brief but eerily hypnotic. You have to wonder about some of the influences; both "Mares" and "Kemayoran" seem to have originated in some mythic Celtic hinterland before taking a turn into the bizarre, while the epic "Stambul Bila" employs Hawaiian slide guitar to create a mutant Polynesian paradise and "Sampeq Penihing" carries distant echoes of West African blues. It's all weird and wonderful, and at times larger than life, an ideal primer to one of the world's strangest, and sometimes remotest, places.