Senyawa (+ Vincent Moon) – Calling The New Gods
Okraina Records – 2018
In 2012, Parisian filmmaker Vincent Moon set out to capture the sights and sounds of Yogyakarta, a city on the Indonesian island of Java. The resulting twenty-five-minute film (shown below) was soundtracked by the Javanese duo Senyawa (vocalist Rully Shabara and instrumentalist Wukir Suryadi), and now this soundtrack has been made available by Belgian label Okraina (featured here).
It is a stunning collage of found sounds, Indonesian folk music and a sprinkling of influences from the western popular music, recorded live in situ. The noise of decrepit motorcycles is drowned out by traditional instruments, Shabara sings a plaintive solo in the wilderness: it is the sound of a conflict between old and new. It is also the sound of old and new coming together in joy. Shabara’s virtuosic singing bubbles and gurgles, caught between jubilation and pain. A moped goes past a field of rice, its engine audible for a few seconds over the quick, impassioned runs of Suryadi’s strings, but it doesn’t stop.
Later, traditional instruments mimic a clock chime. It only takes a second or two before you recognise it as something you can hear coming from the town halls and church clocks of Middle England every day, but that second is more than enough to disorient you. The quick glinting monotone of metal on glass confuses even more: the most basic of percussion, it has a strangely modernistic feel.
Such strange, beguiling contradictions crop up all over the piece. In the film, hill farmers appear to graze cattle on a giant refuse site while green mountains stretch away into the distance. The limpid, liquid quality of Suryadi’s playing is offset by the noise and dust of a suburb. Shabara performs a kind of rap, breathy and confrontational, as a handful of people look on at a funfair. More motorcycles weave in and out of the crowd, weave in and out of the music and the film like leitmotifs. Suryadi attacks his instrument like a guitarist in a hair metal band, while a local in a Good Charlotte t-shirt looks on, bemused.
Senyawa take on the role of outsiders. Their music is a constant series of volte-faces against what is predictable or what is considered normal. Or rather, they distill the weirdness, the wonderful crookedness, inherent in what passes for normality in a fast-moving and hugely diverse culture. In that respect it is both a celebration and a challenge: a celebration of human life in all its imperfect and dirty glory and a challenge (to themselves, their peers, to art in general) to better reflect that humanity.
Order via Bandcamp: Digital and 10″ Vinyl – illustrated by Gwénola Carrère