It's taken me a while to really think what I wanted to write about when it came to my experience of music in Indonesia. I couldn't comprehend the K-pop craze sweeping South East Asia and as beautiful as the harp-like Sasando and as impressive as a 23 piece Gamelan orchestra is you really have to hear it to believe it. There was nothing even slightly interesting about the endless Indonesian pop ballads ready for the karaoke bar and the sound of the birds and wildlife of the Tanjung Puting national park where I'm writing this doesn't really count as music. When one of the crew of our boat, chugging up the Sekonyer rive,r started listening to 'Marry You' on his mobile phone it finally hit me. I'm coming to the end of two months travelling through Indonesia and I still can't get Bruno Mars out of my head.
Music is everywhere in Indonesia, whether it be the tinkling haunting chime of traditional Gamelan emanating from the countless spas across Bali, the bass heavy blast of Indotrash trance blaring from the public Bemos that hurtle through the city streets, the reggae cover band that seemed to grace the corner of every bar nationwide, one thing was for sure, no matter where you were you were guaranteed to hear some Bruno Mars. So instead of writing about Indonesian music Indonesia has finally helped me forgive Bruno Mars.
My initial dislike to little Mr Mars did not actually stem from his saccharine pop croon, nor from his oh so annoyingly pristine celebrity image, not even from the fact that he now makes the world think being a good boyfriend is agreeing to jump on a grenade. No, in fact it was one very late night in the university library spent putting together a recorded presentation on something to do with 'blah blah politics, the West is bad because Orientalism'. Thanks to the Asda radio ruining my snack run, I had my great friend Bruno reverberating through my coffee stained, panicking, impossibly tired skull all night long. That night (and morning) I really did feel like I'd been locked out of heaven, forever, and I never thought I'd forgive him for it.
Whilst travelling through dramatically changing scenery, encountering a host of different religions, traditions, and people spread across a nation as huge as Indonesia, all I kept hearing was my, to this point, sworn nemesis Bruno Mars... I couldn't help but wonder why?
It's not because the songs are so painfully catchy, I was already well aware of this.
What Bruno Mars music has is a cocktail of musical flavours which is precisely why he is so popular across Indonesia, a place filled with different cultures, religions, landscapes and tastes in music. Mars' songs veer from the funky danceable vibe of 'Locked Out of Heaven', to straight up unashamed modern pop, and guitar plucked reggae-lite. Reggae is the only other music that you're guaranteed to hear and Reggae has always been the music that brings the people together.
Understandably it's this ear for mixing it up whilst keeping one toe in the familiar that has put Bruno Mars and his cronies at the forefront of the global music scene, not just as a pop star in his own right but as part of a writing team that dictate the taste of modern pop.
Unlike the intrigue and beauty that characterises Indonesia's cultural and environmental diversity, the musical melange of Bruno Mars actually ends up defining 'middle of the road'. Reggae, poppy funk, and balladry are far too safe a set of genres to straddle, unlike the often potent cocktail of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and deeply set tradition that spreads across the 17,000 Indonesian Islands, varying from tropical jungle home to Orangutans, to arid islands roamed by Komodo dragons. I guess musically Bruno Mars is something that sonically unites through the performance of what is most definitely popular music as his pan Indonesian popularity proves, not quite the bite of an infamous dragon, more the familiarity of a foreign house dog.
I've come to realise again how sick I am of the 'dance' and 'electronic' music that rules the charts back in the U.K. I've been delightfully spared the grief of having to listen to David Guetta, Calvin Harris, or anything with a 'drop' for 2 months. Whilst little Mr Mars sits often frustratingly in the middle of a well trodden road of pop music, at least he manages to entertain a mix of genres, even if they don't veer far from the tarmac trail.
The only other voice we kept hearing was Adele, I still haven't forgiven her...
To keep up to date with my travels and for more on where we've been in Indonesia take a look at our travel blog www.jolly-travels.blogspot.com