Lost in the New Groove of Indonesia

What’s considered a rare groove is open to anyone’s interpretation. For me it needs to possess a certain feeling, be it one with rock and psychedelic leanings, or straight-up floor fillers of disco, funk and soul. The phrase “Indonesian rare groove” was coined by two of my good friends from Jakarta, Merdi and Aat. In Indonesia they refer to this as Irama Nusantara; Irama meaning groove in Indonesian and Nusantara is a contemporary term for the Indonesian archipelago. The music that Jiwa Jiwa represents bears this groove.

In Indonesia, the scene for Irama Nusantara is quite small, though a modest group of people who I’m glad to call my friends are creating more awareness for this sound within the country, where most popular music is either Western or Dangdut. Dangdut is a blend of Indonesian folk and traditional popular music that is partly derived from Hindustani, Malay and Arabic music. Under the moniker Diskoria, Merdi and Aat both DJ as well as host parties in and around Jakarta. They’ve teamed up over the past year with the people from Suara Disko to create amazing parties aimed at pushing Indonesian music to the country’s subculture and party scene, where again Western music is predominant. A lot can happen over the course of a year. They now host parties at much bigger venues, compared to just a year ago when I attended a Diskoria party in Jakarta held in a small bar called Fitzroy.

 

 

The music scene in Indonesia has known many setbacks, mostly brought about by the Sukarno regime. Sukarno was against everything that wasn’t from Indonesia, so naturally that included music from “the West”, which was officially banned. This later gave rise to a whole bootleg cassette culture in the 70s in the likes of Yess records, which was essentially a label consisting predominantly of bootlegs. Since Indonesia wasn’t party to an international treaty such as the Berne Convention, the UN’s agreement on copyright protection and royalty distribution until 1997, they were basically handling a legal business according to Indonesian law. A lot of music is still being released on cassette tapes today; one can really call Indonesia a cassette country. Most of the records that I’m looking for from the 70s and 80s had served as promos for radio stations of the time, which means they can be quite beat up and likely come without official covers. When they do have covers it’s usually the cassette cover glued onto a 12” cover. Like this:

Ironically Sukarno’s son is an infamous composer who had access to all the studios his heart desired through his father’s connections. His recordings were big, bombastic and very clean sounding, as they were mostly recorded in Singapore where big studios such as EMI, Polydor and others were located. In Indonesia, one can only find local studios and labels that are usually less well-equipped. Guruh Sukarnoputra was a big fan of jazz-funk, going as far as to “sample” Manfredo Fest’s “Jungle Kitten” in the intro to one of his major hits “Damai”, which means peace.

The DIY nature of these locally erected studios and home studios gave the music from Indonesia a certain raw edge. Most English tracks were recorded after 1965 during the New Order era; partially as an act of newfound freedom. As the country’s censors were usually unable to speak English, they were often able to sneak some provocative lyrics to the masses. Koes Plus (formerly Koes Bersaudara) made several tracks and an album in English after they had gotten out of jail as a form of protest against Sukarno and the Old Order. Their album To The So Called “The Guilties” has a title track and another track named “Poor Clown” that were fully sung in English, by Tonny Koeswoyo, in a pretty “aggressive” style. Here, Sukarno is depicted as the “poor clown”.

Another interesting fact about Indonesia is the spelling system change in 1972 from the RSS (Republican Spelling System) to the PSS (Perfected Spelling System). This can be quite confusing if you’re not really an Indonesian native, as I found out first hand. I became aware of the older and newer spelling through noticing the difference between myself and how my grandparents write certain things in Bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language), except back then, I didn’t know it had taken place around that time in history. The music I’ve been searching for mostly came from or around that era and at the end of my journey, I found myself with three tapes from the same artist with three different types of spelling… Because in Indonesia, anything is possible.

As I mentioned before, this Island Groove or Irama Nusantara also refers to a project of the same name by two good friends of mine. Founded a couple of years ago, it has gathered a group of very keen, eager, knowledgeable and like-minded individuals around them. Tasked with all the work that comes with digitally archiving music, they’re constantly recording, scanning and researching their asses off; this all coming together online at www.iramanusantara.org. From links of old articles in music magazines, to connecting the dots between pieces of music and artists, there is so much on the music scene to be found on the site, with information stretching as far back as the 1920s all the way to the 2000s. One can also listen to low-bitrate songs of every album there.

While I was in Indonesia for three months, Irama Nusantara even received a subsidy from the government, which they then celebrated by throwing a release party at the Rolling Stone Magazine headquarters in Jakarta. So do check them out, especially if you’d like to listen to some stuff you’ve never heard of… well, except for maybe the stuff you hear on my Jiwa Jiwa Red Light Radio Shows.

Currently, the music scene in Bandung is flourishing again with artists like Midnight Runners who are spreading amazing soulful future funk on labels the likes of Hobo Camp, Neon Finger, Omega Supreme Records and even Amsterdam’s very own Dopeness Galore! Munir was the first person I came in contact with when I started pursuing my dream of starting an Indonesian reissue label. I had found some of his Indonesian Disco edits on the second page of Google, eventually locating his email through a Reddit post, and we’ve spoken weekly ever since. He showed me around Bandung when I was there last year and stayed at his place for a week. He’s been picking up some momentum lately with a feature on Stamp The Wax where he showcases music solely from Bandung. You can check that out here, together with one of my favorite releases of his.

What I would like to do with Jiwa Jiwa is bridge the gap between Indonesia and The Netherlands – two countries with so much in common through shared history; and of course be able to show this music to people all over the world because it is so unknown. A lot of the music I’m sharing has never left Indonesian soil, partly because a lot of Indonesians feel that their stuff might not be good enough or worth sharing.

“Something can only be good if it’s from outside of Indonesia” is a mindset I’ve witnessed more often than not. You could say they have somewhat of an inferiority complex. That said, when something Indonesian does go big outside of Indonesia, they would be the first to point out that it’s Indonesian.

“Be more proud,” I say to Indonesians. “Because you bring so much great stuff to the table!”

Being “indo” or half Indonesian has had a great impact on my upbringing; it’s made me feel out of place a lot of the times but also feel right at home anywhere. Jiwa Jiwa, for me, is a way to connect with my roots in the best way I know how, and that is through music.