August 10, 2011

Street Music of Java

I borrowed Street Music of Java on cassette from the San Francisco Public Library in the early 90s and I was so taken with it, that when I went traveling in Mexico and Central America a few years later I took a tape recorder with me instead of a camera and collected La Música Callejera.  Those voices and guitar melodies just socked me and helped confirm that the power and beauty in the music that I most love doesn't require an expensive recording studio to bring out.  And the noise of the street pushes these tracks over the edge into the sublime.

Hai Cium Dong (kroncong batawi)
Jasli Jali (kroncong)
Asoi (kroncong)
Kuda Lumping (dangdut)
Ing Ing (langgam jawa)

This tape is way out of print, and my cruddy dubbed copy is just about worn out, but I found the whole thing up at End(-)Of(-)World Music and Maemaipleng writes it up with a lot more knowledge than I could: 
Released in 1990 by the label Original Music, Street Music of Java is an joyous romp through various infectious forms of music played by small street ensembles in Java. Not all the styles are strictly Javanese but the music consistently fun and beautifully performed, full of hoarse female voices, scratchy violin, buoyant drumming. There's also plenty of that very Indonesian-sounding guitar playing.... often sort of a blend of old Portuguese colonial influences with kacapi playing.

Featuring various ramshackle forms of familiar Indonesian popular and folk styles, each song on this compilation feels like a hit single albeit minus any studio frills. You'll hear the Bollywood-informed dance music known as dangdut whittled down to an acoustic ensemble with near-shouted vocals, replete with gleeful outburst of laughter. There's also some languid keroncong (very Portuguese-sounding) numbers with enough of grit to them to differentiate them from the myriad adult-contemporary recordings of keroncong out there. Dry throated crooning voices sing sweetly weaving themselves "pitchy" yet quite ornate violin lines, atop the trademark interlock plucked parts.

The highlight for me is the folksy dangdut track "Kuda Lumping". With a lilting bounce in the drums, the loosely-strung twang of a cheap guitar and tambourines offer some rapid rhythmic propulsion. Meanwhile the shrill squawking vocals dance along the line of the song's ridiculously catchy and playful melody. Strangely I'm left with the thought that you could almost hear an Indonesian version of the Slits covering this song plugged-in!


  1. Agreed all around, I just love this stuff.. i checked this and many other Original Music label releases from the Beverly Hills library in the early 90's and they always have some gorgeous sounds on them! Cheers!

  2. I loved that one too! I wish I still had it.

  3. Really great of you to post this, thank you very much. I have this album on LP, but have not had the chance to listen to it in over 10 years now. One of my all-time favourites and an absolute gem of lagu Indo. thank you again :)

  4. Hey Tom, if you are into these 70s era field recordings from Java, you may like my website Aural Archipelago ('ve been travelling around Indonsia for four years recordings rare and unique traditional music, a lot of it never before heard outside of this country. Thought you might dig it, cheers!