Palembang band Semakbelukar does not play the kind of “folk” music most of its peers from the independent scene claim to perform. There is no trace of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Fleet Foxes, or any other often-cited “folkie” names — either classic and modern — in their music. When Semakbelukar mentions “folk music” it is as the word truly means — music that regular folks surrounding them played.
Their previous two extended plays (EPs) saw a band already trying to mix the old with the new, but their latest three-song EP “Drohaka” — which is free to download from the website of Yogyakarta-based digital label Yes No Wave Music — introduces a sound so simple in its originality, you’d question why no local musicians had thought of it before.
Yes, there are traces of hip “world music” bands such as the American musicians Beirut, whose songs feature a heavy Balkan influence, but Semakbelukar still stands far and above plenty of its cutting-edge peers.
The band claims Malayan music as its primary influence and it clearly shows. The setup is relatively minimalistic: Middle Eastern percussion and vocal turns command center stage alongside melodicas. What sets it apart from traditional Malayan bands is an adherence to a pop structure of catchy verses and choruses. The tracks’ particular sound and the melodies play off each other, shaping the songs into more than just intriguing concepts.
Formed in their South Sumatra hometown in 2009, the band revolves around vocalist and lead songwriter David Hersya, whose voice has often been compared to that of a muezzin, the person chosen to sing the adzan (call to prayer). The comparison is apt; David’s voice commands attention without losing any of its natural tone. It is also capable of high melodic twists that do much to give his songs their memorable quality.
The EP’s three tracks are instantaneous, both as pop singles and as neo-traditional music. “Malasmarah” (“Too Lazy to Be Angry”) is a call to work hard, while “Gita Cempala” (“Toward the Moon”) is a track of longing. David and his bandmates realize how different their sound is compared with most of their contemporaries — a fact that they are quietly proud of.
“We just don’t want to fool ourselves. Where our feet rest is where the skies will be adored,” David says poetically, explaining his loyalty to the band’s homeland.
“The progress of local music, which has experienced plenty of boosts and influence from Western music, has not resulted in a growth of [traditional] local music itself.”
David thinks that Malayan-based music itself has not been explored enough, leaving a wealth of unwritten ideas and songs. He regrets the fact that even with many influences, local musicians have not been able to mix their modern influences with traditional Malayan music. Instead, many look to modern Western music.
But the band sees no wrong in playing music that has no apparent local influence. They are just happy to introduce Palembang’s name to the music scene.
Says David, “We’re sure that our existence in the [local] music community has shown that Palembang has many musicians whose quality is worth listening to.”
Semakbelukar’s “Drohaka” is free to download at yesnowave.com.