One realizes, after a while, that popular music, while it may appear in many guises, has certain things in common. Sometimes it is subject matter, sometimes it is more elusive. But, more on that later.
Jaipongan is a newly designated Sundanese “traditional” form that incorporates elements of several other Indonesian forms of traditional dance theater, Sundanese gamelan styles, and even pancang silat, a traditional martial art, along with influences from Western rock and pop music. Developed by Gugum Gumbira in the 1960s and ’70s, it was for a time banned by the Indonesian government for being “immoral.” Gugun soon thereafter founded the Jugala recording studio and the Jugalan Gamelan Orchestra, which in succeeding years racked up an impressive series of hits. Somewhere along the line, jaipongan became a traditional form.
Uun Budiman began singing with puppet theaters as a teenager and later began singing jaipongan. At the invitation of Gugum, she joined the Jugala Gamelan Orchestra for this recording, her international debut.
The music in Banondari reveals a strong foundation in gamelan with its shimmering textures on gongs and metallophones and the characteristic driving rhythms. The songs fall very much into the “popular” area, being mostly about love. Uun Budiman’s vocals, which seem to float above the instrumentals, have been described as “ethereal,” but I’m not sure that’s really the most accurate description. There are sections in which her voice does take on an almost angelic quality, but there are others in which she has all the brass of a diva on the Broadway stage.
Which leads me back to those commonalities I mentioned earlier. Odd as it may seem, when I first listened to this disc, I got a strong sense of show tunes. Or course, these are popular songs, although in a idiom I had not previously encountered, but in addition to the traditional subjects of such songs, there is a definite dramatic quality, as though we were hearing a portion of a larger narrative — I suspect a live performance, in keeping with most Indonesian music, would offer more than a “concert version” such as is presented on this recording.
At any rate, it’s a very interesting listening experience, although as might be expected given the Southeast Asian attitude toward tonalities, for Westerners not used to Indonesian music, the singing takes some getting used to. I found myself acclimating quite easily, however — in fact, Uun Budiman’s presence as a soloist is such that I found myself quite absorbed.