Like its Southeast Asian neighbors, Indonesia boasts a proud and varied musical heritage. In fact, each of the 18,000-plus islands that make up this country has its own unique flavor. Percussion-based gamelan orchestral music—particularly from Java and Bali—is known the world over, and plays a central role in Indonesia's most prestigious cultural events. The angklung, a bamboo instrument originally used for religious rituals, is also a major part of the country's soundtrack; it was recently honored by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity for its cultural significance. The country's love affair with music has been long and fruitful—and now its youth are taking it global.
Indonesian music can pound with the vibrancy of its cities or sway gently at the pace of rural life. The instrumentation of keroncong, a subgenre that fuses lilting ukulele music with a jazz sensibility, still echoes with the island’s Portuguese colonial history, but it has taken on a life of its own since it hit the mainstream in the early 20th century, with the help of a burgeoning Indonesian movie industry. Keroncong gave voice to its rebel poets during the political unrest of the ‘40s and ‘50s—and that influence continues today in a dynamic indie scene that has seen the rise of bands like Seringai. Indonesian dance music—or dangdut—is rich with ‘70s signifiers, and key artists like Rhoma Irama and Elvy Sukaesih fill dance clubs all throughout the islands. More recently, dangdut has taken bold new directions in the hands of Julia Perez and Dewi Persik. The country’s homegrown sound merges ancient tradition with a modern mindset—and remains as vibrant as ever.