Bowling Green OH, 6 June 2004
Krakatau did fusion in reverse. While many of the American artists
the Indonesian group emulates blended pop elements into their work
to gain greater commercial appeal, the musicians of Krakatau have
sacrificed popularity by incorporating more traditional music into
their established pop jazz sound.
In 1988, the band was well established in Indonesia and two of its
members—keyboard virtuoso and composer Dwiki Dharmawan and Trie
Utami—were certified Indonesian superstars, according to Jeremy
Wallach, an ethnomusicologist at Bowling Green State University who
has closely studied the band. And lest those few parochial readers
smirk at the concept of the Indonesian superstar, it’s important
to remember that the country is the fourth most populous in the world.
The band, Wallach said, had a number of hits. But around 1988, they
started to move in another direction. Pra Budidharma, who plays electric
fretless bass, explained that he had been working with classical Indonesian
musicians on a recording project. One of the drawbacks of incorporating
Indonesian roots music with Western instruments is the incompatibility
of the Indonesian microtonal scales and Western tempered tonality.
This was especially difficult since even Indonesian musicians couldn't
agree on the precise intonation for some notes. But with the assistance
of a traditional musician, the players arrived at a tuning for one
pentatonic scale and then layered another on top. "After that
no one complained", Budidharma said.
Budidharma was already considering how to link the band's fusion with
traditional gamelan. He had studied and worked for a time in the United
States. On a trip to New Orleans, he heard street musicians playing
jazz. He realized then how rooted the music he loved was to its native
soil. Budidharma wanted to somehow link his own music to his own native
But neither he nor keyboardist Dharmawan had any training in Indonesian
traditional music. "We sacrificed our background, erased everything
and started learning something new", Budidharma said. "Nothing"
from the band's previous incarnation "was applicable". They
were able to enlist the services of some of the music’s masters—principally
Yoyon Darsono, who plays spike fiddle, the double-reed tarompet, bamboo
flute and sings and traditional percussionist Adhe Rudiana. Both are
respected as performers and as teachers. The reception Krakatau's
new sound received was decidedly mixed, both Wallach and Budidharma
Budidharma said traditional musicians were concerned that people would
prefer this Western blend, thus threatening the existence of the already
endangered gamelan. Most, however, had their fears allayed once the
band's mission was explained to them. "Traditional people live
in the underground", Budidharma said. Krakatau can serve as a
bridge from that traditional world to the modern world. "More
and more people can explore and live in different ways." And
most of the band's fans preferred its earlier pop sound. "Rich
urban people like Western music", Wallach said, "and jazz
is the most prestigious."
Still, this Indonesian roots fusion is the music the members of Krakatau
are devoted to playing, so they now support the band with their other
endeavors. Dharmawan is a noted composer who is sought after for film
scores, for example. Budidharma plays in an industrial rock band.
Rudiana and Darsono teach in the university.
The band continues to record. The most recent endeavor is Magical
Match from 2000. The album—not available stateside—features
Utami's keening soprano, soaring over dense rhythmic patterns. The
recording, though it shows a significant traditional influence, also
clearly reflects the band's pop past. The tracks, all collaborative
efforts by band members save for two traditional pieces, are all tight
and well crafted. The percussive energy seems contained, yet its potential
for musical explosion is evident.
Krakatau realizes that potential more live, Wallach said. And American
listeners are finally getting a chance to experience the band. This
summer Krakatau is engaging on its first tour of the United States
and Canada, with dates scheduled through early July. The band will
return to Indonesia for a few weeks before returning for several dates
Live, the band is markedly different from the sound on Magical
Match. The most obvious change is that Utami is not touring with
the band, which shifts the focus from world pop to an exotic—to
Western ears—jam band. The traditional elements of the music,
especially Darsono's vocals, fiddle and tarompet, really come to the
On the band's second US date in Bowling Green, Ohio, they sounded
like a perfect blend of gamelan and Weather Report. Darsono proved
a charismatic front man whether singing or playing. His lines snaked
through the crevices of the diatonic scale, full of piquant lyricism,
at times astringent, at other times ethereal. His tarompet provided
Wayne Shorter-like commentary over the layers of polyrhythms and funk
set down by the traps drummer Gary Herb and traditional drummer
Like other great fusion ensembles, the band developed throbbing grooves.
They ratcheted up the rhythmic tension before releasing it in a burst
of melody. Both Dharmawan and Budidharma showed chops that would be
the envy of any American fusioneer. The concert concluded with percussionist
Zainal Arifin and Rudiana playing a duet on barrel that had the vigor
of improvisation, but was played in unison with drum-line precision.
Krakatau at once offered some new, even exotic ideas, and yet remained
very true to the promise of American fusion—proving that the
band has successfully found a way to honor both its Indonesian roots
and its American forbearers.