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V/A - Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra Vol. 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra Vol. 2

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Feb. 27, 2005

The first Sublime Frequencies collection of Sumatran folk and pop was the label’s flagship release, the beginning of an impressive collection that documents and celebrates music unheard by many Western ears. Seventeen releases later, label curator Alan Bishop returns to his treasure trove of Sumatran cassettes for another compilation of beguiling gems from the island nation.

Spanning two decades and numerous styles, Bishop’s selections offer a glimpse into the wide musical spectrum of an era slowly disappearing from the public consciousness, even in the Sumatra where, Bishop explains, such music has begun to be viewed as antiquated and disposable. While oldies, classic rock, and ’80s stations thrive in America – the land of never-ending nostalgia – these songs fall victim to the effects of time, both physically on cassette, and anthropologically in the more rapid fading of the music from the collective mind of Sumatra’s popular culture.

Bishop’s collection here, containing music anywhere from 25 to 45 years old, touches on everything from rather modern (but unmistakably exotic) pop to more traditional styles, such as the Dangdut, an indigenous folk form, or Orkes Gambus, an Oud-based orchestral music trickled down from Yemenite settlers. None of the tracks, with the exception of two traditional Minang (ceremonial music) pieces, are without certain flourishes or ornamentations that signify a certain modernity; much of the album’s music is material the likes of which remain unheard among fans of the region’s more traditional fare. The frenetic organ of Syamsundin’s “Bunga Rampai,” or the seductive funkiness of Elly Kasim’s “Ayam Den Lapeh” are far from the music of the Sumatran tradition, and alongside some of the Orkes Gambus and Minang, sound positively modern.

From the conventional to the progressive, however, the tracks on Bishop’s compilation each represent a distinct facet of the music of the Sumatran people, music that could have easily receded from memory were it not for Bishop’s efforts. This isn’t to say that Sublime Frequencies’ conservation efforts will defeat years of changes in cultural preference in the music’s home country, or that it will signal any sort of renaissance in Sumatra or elsewhere. But this album is a pure delight nonetheless, and any ears that find these hidden musical treasures are lucky ears indeed.

By Adam Strohm

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