Indonesia's borders emerged not from a shared cultural identity but rather as a manifestation of the political, trade and military goals of colonial governments. Such ethnic and cultural diversity is found within it that a primary challenge of nationalistic thinkers and bureaucrats since independence (1945) has been the effort to, somehow, forge a common national culture.
Historically, the only musical traditions shared across ethnic boundaries were Islamic Koranic chant (which is not considered "music" in strict Islam) and Middle-Eastern-derived Islamic vocal and instrumental music such as that made from gambus (12-string, pear-shaped guitars). These traditions began to be incorporated throughout many areas of Indonesia by the 16th century. Today, mass-produced popular forms that borrow Western musical languages as a primary influence are the most widespread genres in Indonesia. By the late 15th century European explorers and merchants had made contact with the islands, introducing their string and brass instruments along with European vocal styles. The keroncong form, which can trace its lineage back to Portuguese contact, combines Western instruments and music with indigenous elements. Keroncong was the first Indonesian form to be recorded, in 1903 in Singapore in Melayu, the trading lingua franca of the islands. Pre-World War II Indonesian popular music was heavily influenced by the new sounds introduced by radio and the advent of affordable record players.
American jazz and "race records" were heavily marketed in Asia, and foxtrots, tangos, rumbas, blues and Hawaiian guitar styles were all imitated by Indonesian musicians; these influences began to appear even in otherwise traditional gamelan compositions. Fearing an overwhelming influx of "decadent" Western popular culture, the first postcolonial government, led by Sukarno, strongly discouraged the performance, recording and import of Western music, although this was never enforced through an outright ban. In the violent events that followed the convoluted coup of 1965, Indonesia's second president, Suharto, quickly reoriented Indonesian political, economic and cultural life toward the West.
Beginning in the late 1960s a new form of Indonesian popular music, called dangdutafter the rhythm performed on the bongolike drums used in the ensembleemerged, drawing its influences primarily from Malaysian and Indian film music and American popular bands. Dangdut grew out of poor, urban Indonesian culture and sung of the hopes, loves and destitution of the country's lower classes. Dangdut's first stars such as Elvy Sukaesih (the Dangdut Queen) and Rhoma Irama (the Dangdut King) became national icons whose lives were often dramatized in Indonesian cinema. Today dangdut remains popular and is a regular feature of Indonesian evening variety shows.
Besides dangdut, the most common form of Indonesian pop music today is known simply as pop Indonesia and is heavily influenced by trends and recordings from America. Despite being a relatively localized phenomenon, the industry is active. Although influences ranging from Bollywood soundtracks to Hollywood pop acts are obvious, the Indonesian pop phenomena is not completely derivative; it expresses the sentiments and styles of contemporary Indonesian life. Popular bands include Peter Pan, Raja, Gigi, Dewa 19, Shiela on 7 and Slank, all of which tour regularly in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia and are featured daily on MTV Asia.
Other artists include Dina Dellyana, a Javanese electronica musician heavily influenced by Björk, and Rudolf Dethu, a Balinese who fronts his own rockabilly band. Various other groups fuse contemporary Westernized band music with the traditional music of their hometown. In the case of Krakatau, a band from Bandung, West Java, the traditional Sundanese gamelan orchestra is performed alongside drum set, keyboard and guitars. Andrew McGraw