Indonesian Music

Indonesia’s music is as diverse as its people. Best known abroad are the Javanese and Balinese orchestras generally called gamelan, which consist largely of gongs and other metallophones, but gamelan is only one aspect (albeit an impressive one) of the whole. Solo and group singing and solo instrumental music (played typically on flute, shawm, plucked or bowed lute, plucked zither, or xylophone) are found everywhere, as are ensembles of mixed instruments and ensembles dominated by instruments of a single type (most commonly flutes, drums, xylophones, zithers, or gongs).

Much of this music may be termed traditional in the sense that its scales, idioms and repertoires do not in any obvious way derive from European/American or Middle Eastern (or other foreign) music. Nevertheless, some of the most prominent and commercially successful genres of popular music definitely do derive from foreign sources but since these are sung in Indonesian, disseminated nationwide through cassettes and the mass media, and avidly consumed by millions of Indonesians, they must certainly be considered Indonesian, regardless of their foreign roots. Finally, along with the indigenous and the clearly imported, there are many hybrid forms that mix traditional and foreign elements in delightful and unpredictable ways.

Indonesian music description courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.