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Artist
Saratuspersen
November 11/01/13, 2013
album review

SARATUSPERSEN -

The Sound of Orang Kampung (the villagers)

Presenting a Sunda Indonesian Ethno-Parade

 

ALBUM REVIEW - Gigsplay

 

RATING :

 

ORIGINALITY       : A

MUSICAL QUALITY: A +

PERFORMANCE     :  B

TOTAL SCORE      :  A

 

OVERVIEW :

 

GENRE                 :   World Music

CITY                   :   Bandung - Indonesia

LENGTH               :   40 minutes

RELEASE DATE      :   2012

PRODUCER          :   David Karto

 

TRACK LISTING    :         1.         Do Not Move (3:33)

                                    2.         Latinamina     (4:05)

                                    3.         Brastagi          (4:31)

                                    4.         The Earth        (4:42)

                                    5.         The Gone of Nyi Roro Kidul (5:20)

                                    6.         Labyrinth        (5:01)

                                    7.         Doger Monyet (4:20)

                                    8.         Ubud             (4:52)

                                    9.         Walkman       (3:54)

 

RECORDED AT:        Orange Music Room, Kana Studio, Studio Karawitan STSI Bandung

LABEL:                      Demajors Records

 

 

OUR REVIEW:

 

For a work to be 'artistically rich' in today's world, it usually needs to move flexibly enough to break the stiff sides of current trends. It can give birth to collaborative meeting points between creative elements which may at first seem to be at polar opposites. Ironically, this can serve to increase its appeal.  If it's driven with appropriate balance, and if its energy is symbiotic with the current times, it can inspire a dynamic response.

 

Talking about something being 'artistically rich' in the broad atmosphere of Indonesian art means considering the cultural wealth of the nation and its traditional wisdom. The cultural identity of Indonesia is working overtime to survive the onslaught of various modern cultures from outside the archipelago, which are invited into the native culture by popular demand. Indonesian culture and outside cultures have seemed to be at odds on the native soil for many decades. They often do not want to relate to each other, much less meet with one another.

 

Many Indonesians already consider outside cultures to be the 'winners' in this 'battle'.  There seems to be a stigma that causes many young Indonesians to view traditional Indonesian culture as old-fashioned, rigid, tacky and unable to inspire. In Indonesia, the term kampungan (referring to people from rural areas who are not “hip” with modern society) has successfully become one of the most dreaded epithets among young people, as if any individual who has this term pinned on his or her identity becomes an automatic social outcast. However, the opposite term ngota (referring to urban life) does not necessarily have a better connotation; it's simply a term based on the reality of what has happened to life in Indonesia, including what has happened in the scope of art and music.

 

Despite the stigma that is placed upon people from the rural villages (orang kampung), the sources of artistic wealth in the Indonesian archipelago have for centuries been largely situated in the rural areas. So, to make a long story short, I was intrigued when I read “The Sound of Orang Kampung (the villagers)on the cover of Saratuspersen's 2013 CD.  It seemed to be an invitation to take a peek at the hidden energies of the villages that are currently being ignored.

 

This is the 2nd album from Saratuspersen, the11-piece band which recently held a concert to celebrate its 13th anniversary.  The band gained a name in the early 2000's in the city of Bandung, West Java, as a group influenced by the musical traditions of the archipelago. The positive local response to their driving stage-act gave birth to their first disc, Sundanese in Bali.  Their 2nd album, unlike their debut recording, has been creating a professional brand image for the band. Whether that will be beneficial for their continued longevity remains to be seen.  In the sense that Saratuspersen has already been through the process of in-depth exploration into world music and is no longer floating along with the principles of raw experimentation, it's probably a positive thing. 

 

Stirring traditional Indonesian sounds into a pot of multiple global ethnic genres does make the ear do a double-take at times.  On one hand, the music is bound to appeal to most western fans of world music.  On the other hand, the homages to the Sundanese (the main ethnic group of West Java) and Indonesian styles feel almost as egocentric as they do ethnocentric to native Indonesians such as myself, as we witness Indonesian 'village music' asserting itself with world music juggernauts like reggae and samba.  The brashness of it is a bit embarrassing and worrisome, scary and exciting.

 

The good news about the 'professional world music band' image that Saratuspersen seems to have earned with this album is that they are signaling out of the 'industry professional' lane and moving over to the  'musical professional' lane (the 'right lane' in my opinion). "The Sound of Orang Kampung" was first conceived when the Perseners (the Saratuspersen fan club members in Indonesia) created a local buzz with news that the band had been gigging abroad.  Nearly all of the band members were in their teens then, and fans were highlighting the need for them to master their instruments and repertoire and make Indonesia proud.  The maturity and musicality of the band was in question, and I myself voiced some doubts at the time.  Those doubts were erased the first time I listened through this new CD, but new questions emerged to take their place.   One question was, "Your main goal is to present Indonesia's musical art traditions to the western world, isn't it? So now what's this?".  Another question was, "What happened to the voice of 'the villagers' here?”.

 

This album contains about 40 minutes of instrumentals divided into 9 pieces, each of which seem to have its own narrative, illustrated with the atmospheric nuances that often characterize Indonesian music. It could be heard as an 'emotional journey' navigating through the sea routes of the Indonesian islands.  Continuing the “nautical” metaphor, the album sails furiously through the treacherous channels of listener attention in order to keep the wind fully in the sails, i.e. maintain a multidimensional approach throughout the album and keep the listener engaged.  A fixed major scale acts as a sturdy ship mast, making the music approachable to the western ear instead of wandering off in a strange tonality as some might expect by looking at the instruments themselves.

 

The 'ethno-parade' mentioned in the subtitle first finds its expression in the opening track, "Do Not Move". Dance-style beats create a groove with the Balinese gamelan, which is inserted at its traditionally feverish high-speeds.  The title "Do Not Move " is of course is an invocation to move, to break away from what is demanded and start dancing.   This declaration is mostly clearly heard at  00:67; the arrangement loses itself in an a violin “hoe-down” in the traditional Sunda and Betawi scales (the native ethnicities of West Java and Jakarta). The music steadily returns to a carnival theme before jumping back into a Javanese melodic allusion, then resolving in recapitulation of the song's opening.

 

Moving into th 2nd song, it sounds as if the instruments are fighting a battle between Latin music and Sundanese Daminatila. A percussive solo session starts the bickering between Iwenk Darwiansyah and Ganjar Purnama, Saratuspersen's staple drummers.  The Daminatila pentatonic scale is used in the melodic sessions, while the Latin beats lay the rhythmic foundation. Thus is born "Latinamina", the name of track 2 and a new name for a creative and unusual sub-genre.  This Latin-Sunda battle is mediated by repetitive inter-ethnic bass and violin patterns as the brass cheers on the brawl.  The contestants are broken up and sent back to their corners during an interlude session overseen by percussionist Iman Muhammad.  The pause then gives way again to rising dynamics. The song demonstrates one of the overarching themes of the album, that music from around the world shares universal rhythmic similarities which when brought together can make the gaps for harmonization and improvisation even more versatile.

 

Saratuspersen gives us a look at one of their most endearing quirks in the the song "Labyrinth". The song is reminiscent of ska bands like Reel Big Fish, as are many of the bands early songs. However, this is Reel Big Fish in a trance, performing in Bali as the spirits are conjured in the kecak or barong rituals. The song was conceptualized as a comfortable groove to be danced to, although in terms of musicality the arrangement and variable tu-ti beat makes it quite unusual. The composition tells the story of a boundless dimension of space, and it is arguably the most complex piece on this album.

 

The song "Doger Monyet" is a form of social criticism from the perspective of an artist on the status traditional art.  The title refers to the street buskers in Indonesia who entertain with a monkey on a leash. The monkey is often given props like an umbrella or stilts, and he works through various tricks on the side of the road.  The monkey performs to a rudimentary style of gamelan music called doger, which is played on a small xylophone by his trainer. The monkey is constantly moving and going through his repertoire of tricks so that he can be fed.   In “Doger Monyet”, the music is tragically cheerful and percussive, illustrating the obvious analogy to life as a traditional artist. 

 

A consistent image that Saratuspersen seems to portray in this album is that of a conflicted rural village. There is a spirit of tranquility co-existing with a restless type of energy.  This feel comes through in track 3, “Brastagih”, which is unique in its experimental tonality.  The traditional scales of North Sumatra are played on Balinese instruments, demonstrating gutsy experimentation which is a highlight of the album.  The multi-ethnic cross-over is performed by the band's signature gamelan quartet of David Setiadi, Satya Purnama, Ade Sopiana, and Sendy Novian.  The natural feel of the Sumatran village jumps out at 2:30, when Rivan's somber violin meets up with folk rhythms and Asep 'Tatoz' Lukman's thumping minimalistic bass-lines. The song could make immigrants from Sumatra settled in Java (or vice-versa, immigrants from Java settled in Sumatra) long for their hometowns. Whether in Sumatra, Java, or anywhere else, wanting to return home is a universal longing, and the feelings of an immigrant are matters of both geography and imagination. 

 

No Saratuspersen album would be complete without diving into the theme of traversing the country. The song “Ubud” remains true to this theme, asserting that life in the village is nothing to be ashamed of.  The actual village of Ubud in Bali is internationally famous among foreign tourists, alive with the type of artistic and explorative energy that is present in the song. Here Saratuspersen marries Balinese gamelan with Sundanese melodies under an atmospheric umbrella of varied tempos and volatile dynamics.  Like Ubud village, the song sprinkles modernization into the sacred rites of Bali, with exotic natural charm floating within spaces of western musical patterns.

 

The album diverts to a more relaxing atmosphere in "The Gone of Nyi Roro Kidul". This track offers an antiquated glimpse into the coastal areas of southern Java. The slow tempo Javanese gamelan accompanied by jazzy bossa-style guitar strumming would be quite fitting for a seaside lounge act. It is also a bit reminiscent of southern Java during the kingdom period several centuries ago, when the famous legend of the Queen of the South Seas began, and the region became revered for its mystical aura.

 

Finally, the song "Walkman" illustrates an afternoon of trekking through the village and seeing how its character has been influenced by modern life. A harmonized brass-section led by Mochammad Febri's trombone creates this understated yet energized impression. This song also features the revival of the traditional Betawi (ethnic Jakarta) song "Kicir-Kicir", inserted into the middle of the arrangement.

 

Perhaps the most impressive thing about “The Sound of Orang Kampung" is that Saratuspersen  embraces a variety of genres besides just jazz to weave into the cultural fusion.  This is a refreshing break from the clichés that have long existed in the modern era of Indonesia's music scene, where Indonesian ethnic music is constantly thrown into jazzy types of musical collaboration. The song titled "The Earth" is a decent “world map” that shows how to bypass the wearied Indo-jazz roads. The gamelan plays slowly with emotional accents, as if alluding to the lush charm of the Indonesian rainforest. Meanwhile, the tones of the bass and flute communicate anxiety and ambiguity. Here we have both a collaborative paradigm and a commentary on modern Indonesia, which is always somewhere between beauty and brokenness.  Maybe that's the secret to Saratuspersen's longevity as a band; their ability to not only depict Indonesia's broken beauty, but its beautiful brokenness as well.

 

| BOBBIE RENDRA | @ BobbieRendra | berbbanrodie@gmail.com

| Interpreted by @HowAreYouMrDan |


 

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About
saratuspersen is a unique musical group that was formed on September 1, 2001 in Bandung, West Java. then in May 2015 changed management and pop music genre. but still brought the instrument from the archipelago Indonesia (Bali, Java, Sumatra) combined with western insrumen. in every show saratuspersen using instruments Kendang (a kick drum Sunda), Seruling (a flute Sunda) and djembe (African... more
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