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Music of Indonesia

Indonesia is culturally diverse and is home to hundreds of forms of music, with those from the islands of Java, Sumatra and Bali being the most frequently recorded.

Tembang sunda

Tembang sunda is a form of sung poetry which arose in the colonial-era Kabupaten of Cianjur. The lyrics are typically sung in free verse, but a more modern version, panambih, is metrical.

Kecapi suling

Kecapi suling is a type of instrumental music that is highly improvisational and popular in parts of
Java. It is related to tembang suling.


The most popular and famous form of Indonesian music is
gamelan, an ensemble of tuned percussion instruments that include metallophones, drums, gongs and spike fiddles along with bamboo flutes. Similar ensembles are prevalent throughout Indonesia and Malaysia, but gamelan is from Java, Bali and Lombock. There are rivalries between different regions' variations of gamelan, especially Java and Bali.

Central Java

Central gamelan is intricate and meticulously laid out. The central melody is played on a metallophone in the center of the orchestra, while the front section plays elaboration and ornamentation on the melody, and, at the back, the gongs slowly punctuate the music.

The metallophones cover four octaves, and include types like the slenthem, demung, saron panerus and balungan. The soul of the gamelan is believed to reside in the large gong, or gong ageng. Other gongs are tuned to each note of the scale and include ketuk, kenong and kempul. The front section of the orchestra is diverse, and includes rebab, suling, siter, bonang and gambang. Male choruses (gerong) and female (pesindhen) solo vocalists are common.


Gamelan is rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism, though the island of Java is almost entirely Muslim today. Islam arrived in the 15th century, filtered through Hindustani Indians. With the arrival of the Dutch colonizers, a number system called kepatihan was developed to record the music. Music and dance at the time was divided into several styles based on the four main courts in the area -- Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Pakualaman and Mangkunagaran.

West Java

West Java, or Sunda, has a diverse brand of gamelan. Gamelan degung, gamelan salendro and trembang sunda are three primary types.

Gamelan degung

Degung is accessible and enjoyable, using a small variety of instruments, most notably the distinctive Sundanese suling, a type of bamboo flute. Degung developed in the courts controlled by the Dutch. A
pop form, called pop Sunda, became internationally famous in the 1980s.

Gamelan salendro

Gamelan salendro is used primarily to accompany classical or more modern social dances, and is considered a low-class form. The
20th century saw a rise in the popularity and importance of male and female singers.

East Java

Gamelan from eastern Java is less well-known than central or western parts of the island. Perhaps most distinctive of the area is the extremely large gamyak drum.


The Osinger minority in Java are known for social music for weddings and other celebrations, called gandrung, as well as angklung, played by young amateur boys, which is very similar to
Balinese gamelan.


Bali is known for its imitative "monkeychant", or kecak, singing style, in which the men imitate jungle monkeys while gamelan rhythms accompany them. Angklung, a style played entirely by young boys, is also popular. Parades featuring cymbals playing gamelan bebonangan are common. Most recently, kebyar developed during the Dutch occupation. Kebyar is a dance-oriented, popular music. The 1950s saw the development of joged bumbung, which was based on an old dance style called joged. Spiritual kinds of gamelan include gamelan gong gede, gamelan gambang, gamelan selunding and gamelan semar pegulingan.

Pop and folk music

Indonesian pop and folk is quite diverse, embracing rock, house, hip hop and other genres, as well as distinctly Indonesian forms.


Kroncong has been evolving since the arrival of the
Portuguese, who brought with them Europeean instruments. By the early 1900s, it was considered a low-class urban music. This changed in the 1930s, when the rising Indonesian film industry began incorporating kroncong, and then even more so in the mid- to late 1940s, when it became associated with the struggle for independence.

Langgam jawa

There is a style of kroncong native to
Solo called langgam jawa, which fuses kroncong with the gamelan seven-note scale.

Gambang kromong

Early in the
20th century, kroncong was used in a type of theater called komedi stanbul; adapted for this purpose, the music was called gambang kromong.


Dangdut is a form of dance music that has been popular since the mid-1970s. Dangdut is based around the singers, and stars include Rhoma Irama and Elvy Sukaesih (the King and Queen of Dangdut), along with Evie Tamala, Mansyur S, A. Rafiq, Dewi Yull and Fahmy Shahab.


Jaipongan is a very complex rhythmic dance music from Sunda. The rhythm is liable to change seemingly randomly, making dancing difficult for most listeners. Its instruments are entirely from Sunda, completely without imported instruments from the West, China, Japan or elsewhere. It was invented by artists like Gugum Gumbira after
Sukarno prohibited rock and roll and other western genres.

Qasidah modern

Qasidah is an ancient
Arabic word for religious poetry accompanied by chanting and percussion. Qasidah modern adapts this for pop audiences.


Gambus literally means
oud, referring to a type of lute. It is used to denote a type of orchestra and the music it plays, believed to be introduced by Muslim settlers from Yemen. Though popular among Arabs in Indonesia, it has gained little popularity elsewhere.

Tapanuli ogong

From Tapanuli, tapanuli ogong is a form of
dance music played with a type of lute, trumpet and flute.