Bagus Shidqi
Photo: 1000Herz Records

Bagus Shidqi Sounds a Full Digital Gamelan on ‘Njondhil Njondhal’

Bagus Shidqi’s Njondhil Njondhal is a work full of heart and belief in keeping gamelan vibrant and available to contemporary practitioners and audiences.

Njondhil Njondhal
Bagus Shidqi
5 April 2024

Bagus Shidqi has racked up hundreds of thousands of subscribers to his Kamar Studios YouTube channel, where he posts interpretations of Javanese folk and pop music made with digital instruments. They’re thrilling productions, digital percussion and Shidqi’s lively vocals leaping together in buoyant performances of tradition packaged for the internet age, often alongside characters from Doraemon or Dragonball Z.

On his new album Njondhil Njondhal, the sixth release in 1000 HZ Records’ Digital Indigenous series, Shidqi continues his work as a contemporary culture bearer. Having forged an entire gamelan ensemble in the digital fires of his home studio, he composes and performs six songs, virtual gongs, drums, and bells, all chiming in impeccable synchrony. Their resonant rhythms give Shidqi a whole sphere of echoes off of which his voice ricochets. It moves in many ways, at times soaring and flowing in smooth melodic lines, then bursting into brilliant sonic fireworks.

While the materials Bagus Shidqi works with are far removed from those of a standard gamelan, there’s no question of his sincerity in honoring and disseminating these folk sounds. The textual and musical themes interwoven in his work link old and new traditional structures, conveying relevant messages of community, friendship, disappointment, and preservation of culture and self. He opens the album with a customary introduction and invitation on “Pambuko”, sets forth a mission of maintaining tradition on “Budhalan Njondhil”, and urges global harmony on “Laku Urip”.

The second half of Njondhil Njondhal includes a set of broad philosophical commentaries as Shidqi muses on the bittersweetness of life (“Mampir Ngombe”), the importance of taking responsibility for your time (“Ora Obah Ora Mamah”), and the pain of a broken trust (“Mblenjani Janji”). They’re grounding messages as suited to folk genres as to anything more overtly contemporary.

For new listeners to gamelan music, Shidqi’s music makes for an exciting, if unconventional, introduction to a centuries-old art. Gamelan is typically a form that’s remarkable for the coordination of many members and their respective rhythms in real-time. Shidqi’s asynchronous DIY approach challenges the importance of these premises, focusing instead on new ways to emulate the complexities of the gamelan sound.

Every track engages more contemporary electronic drums, adding a new layer of play to the metallic tones so emblematic of gamelan in general. The whole of the album is utterly cohesive, a full and variable performance rather than an album of separate tracks. While there’s never any question that you’re listening to virtual instruments rather than a three-dimensional set recorded in a massive studio, the thinner sound brings with it a charm of its own, especially in combination with Shidqi’s sweet, sincere vocal delivery.

The sentiments behind Njondhil Njondhal are admirable ones, embracing innovation as a way to widen the audience of a significant form that has, at least outside of Indonesia, primarily been relegated to college ethnomusicology departments and world music festivals. The strength of Shidqi’s beliefs in this vision comes through in the clarity and intricacy of each track. Will gamelan purists be put off by the indie quirks and the MIDI beats? Perhaps so, at surface level. Listening to the work, though, makes it clear that Shidqi’s creative choices are not made for the sake of ease but accessibility. This is a work full of heart and belief in keeping gamelan vibrant and available to contemporary practitioners and audiences, one that situates Shidqi clearly as a crucial 21st-century producer of folk music interpretations.

RATING 7 / 10

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