A chain of islands that is home to almost as many people as the United States has, Indonesia has a lush variety of music and dance. Its epic poetry of ancient times informs the effusive storytelling of mainstream artists and underground rappers alike. Genres such as dangdut (evolved from Indian film scores) and J-pop dominate, with hints of universal rhythms and polyglot verses. Here are five Indonesian musicians rocking our world.
Considered one of the biggest pop stars in Indonesia, this songstress has been delivering hits since the early 1980s. She has a crisp, mellifluous voice that can raise your spirits and ascend earthly bounds. Her latest release is 2016’s ballad-heavy Best of Me, a career-spanning retrospective with remixes and re-recordings of her dramatic tracks. It’s an astounding comeback, considering she had been living in the United States for 13 years, working in retail and all but resigned to abandoning her musical roots, according to the Jakarta Post.
Prefab vocal groups get a bad rap, but in Asia, they’re all the rage. These precious performers lean more on the pop-punk side of pop, having more in common with Paramore than, say, Fifth Harmony. The quintet debuted in 2012 as a dance troupe in tribute to Japanese bubblegum, but they evolved into their own powerhouse entity.
Somewhere between Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky lies the art of Chasing Noise, a one-man band spearheaded by Donnie Ankuw. His instrumentals are celebratory and star-crossed, the perfect soundtrack to falling in love on a warm summer night. “My dream is to turn art into an energy for people in need of consolation and comfort,” he explains in his Bandcamp profile. We think he succeeds brilliantly.
“Zuhal” is the Indonesian name for Saturn, and the moniker fits this indie rock outfit to a t. There’s a cyclical, calming quality to the mainly acoustic tracks off 2017’s 1984—and how appropriate a title given the very Orwellian world we live in. This band aims to bring the most important things in life to the forefront: friends, family, faith. With Zuhal, all the distractions of modern existence fade in the company of the three Fs.
From Jakarta to Melbourne, Australia, and back again, Sonu Tolani melds his ancestral culture with Western hip-hop. His brand of rap is full of feel-good vibes, guaranteed to make you bop your head. He spits rhymes in Indonesian and English, shouting out Mos Def and the Roots as major influences. His most recent album is 2014’s Sonu, a diverse mix that flows like the best of Tribe Called Quest.
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