This week’s weird band was suggested to us by a reader called Major A, who describes them as “rhythmic and melodic, modern and primitive, simply rich and beautiful.” And I gotta say, Major A, you nailed it. Indonesian duo Senyawa make some of the most powerful, original music I’ve heard in a very long time — and they do it all with just a voice and a homemade bamboo instrument called a bambuwukir. I’m not even going to attempt to describe what they sound like — just listen and watch for yourself:
Amazing, right? What singer Rully Shabara does with his voice is unlike anything I’ve heard. It reminds me a little of a cross between Tuvan throat singing and Mike Patton at his most unhinged, but even that doesn’t really do it justice. And the sounds Wukir Suryadi gets out of his instrument are equally mind-blowing, as he uses it play microtonal drones, screeching leads and percussive fills, sometimes all at once.
Senyawa have been around since 2011 and achieved some international success. In 2012, French filmmaker Vincent Moon made a short documentary about them called Calling the New Gods, and in 2016 they did a split EP with Japanese noise band Melt Banana. But in a Vice Indonesia clip from 2016, they noted that in their hometown of Yogyakarta in central Java, most people still don’t know who they are. “Lots of people in Yogya still haven’t seen us play,” says Shabara. “For some reason, Indonesians who have not seen us perform live tend to assume that our music leans towards traditional music. This is wrong and it makes me so irritated.”
Admittedly, my knowledge of Indonesian music begins and ends with the gamelan and Rich Brian, but I’m pretty sure there’s not much traditional about performances like the one below, taken from something called the Radio Asia Festival in Warsaw, Poland in December of 2017. I get why people sometimes describe their stuff as metal, even though that doesn’t really capture what they do either. I say we dispense with genre terms and just say Senyawa are amazing. Agreed?