Indonesian Quintet Offers Sounds Of 'Sunda'

Banning Eyre reviews a new album by the Sambasunda quintet of the Indonesian island of Java. Eyre says that while the enchanting music contains a hint of sadness, it simultaneously feels uplifting.

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The Sunda people live in the western part of the Indonesian island of Java, and they've developed a unique style of music. You can hear it on a new album by the Sambasunda Quintet.

Here's a review from Banning Eyre.

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BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Sundanese music is one of those traditions you don't need to understand to appreciate. Its seductive, haunting aesthetics take you to a place you've never seen or imagined, but somehow feels like home right away.

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EYRE: The key elements in the Sambasunda quintet are the kecapi, a boat-shaped zither; the suling, a wooden flute; and a sweetly longing female vocal. Backed by barrel-shaped drums, the kecapis spin out jangly rolling grooves over which the singer floats and sighs, and the flute melody wanders distractedly, like a fairytale princess lost in a forest.

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EYRE: There's great wistfulness, even sadness, in many of these melodies. But the music's undulating textures are so enchanting that the effect is never dreary. This is epic sadness, the sort that has the paradoxical power to uplift.

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EYRE: Here's another paradox. The modern sound of Sunda came together in the 1960s at a time when then-President Suharto banned most foreign music in an effort to force a revival of regional identity. Generations later, the Sambasunda quintet is a refined, beautiful fruit of a rather ugly intrusion into artistic freedom.

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SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed the album "Java" by the Sambasunda quintet.

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