Suarasama: “Fajar Di Atas Awan”

It begins with a flutter of guitar, a dusting of cymbals. Then a female, faintly ethereal vocal arrives, accompanied by bells. At first, it sounds like she might be distant kin to the acid folk scene which still percolates away in the US; there’s a very vague resemblance to Meg Baird and Espers, perhaps. But then again, she’s not singing in English, and there’s something discreetly exotic about the song, “Dawn Over The Clouds”.

Trending Now

It begins with a flutter of guitar, a dusting of cymbals. Then a female, faintly ethereal vocal arrives, accompanied by bells. At first, it sounds like she might be distant kin to the acid folk scene which still percolates away in the US; there’s a very vague resemblance to Meg Baird and Espers, perhaps. But then again, she’s not singing in English, and there’s something discreetly exotic about the song, “Dawn Over The Clouds”.



That’s the English translation of the song’s title, I should say. Actually, it – and its parent album – are called “Fajar Di Atas Awan” – and they are the work of a bunch of ethnomusicologists from Sumatra called Suarasama. Since it turned up about a week ago, I’ve been obsessing over “Fajar Di Atas Awan”, and also wondering how I would describe this incredible, tranquil, deep record on Wild Mercury Sound.

Given my dilettante-ish knowledge of global music, I can’t pretend to have much experience of the sounds of Indonesia, let alone the specific ones of Sumatra. I could say, in a generally rather crude way, that the beauty of this record is that it has a mystique, a spiritual imperative, that aligns it to other ‘world music’ (rotten patronising phrase, but you know what I mean) which can be appreciated by fans of psychedelia; I’m thinking of Tinariwen here, for a start.

According to the sleevenotes, “Irwansyah Harahap is the main composer in the group. In his compositions he has explored various different musical concepts and aesthetics in world music, such as African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Sufi Pakistani, Eastern European, Southeast Asian, as well as North Sumatran (the Bataks and Malay) traditional music.”

Again, I’m struggling to parse this. I can spot a little of the Sufi Pakistani tradition in there – if that refers to qawwali singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. But the acoustic guitar leads, the graceful melodies and so on, seem incredibly close to Western folk tradition, at times, though it’s impossible to tell whether that’s by accident or design.

But in general, the whole thing blends so harmoniously that trying to separate the trace elements seems not only unnecessary, but even a little vulgar. The Drag City press release references Sandy Bull (who we’ve been listening to a lot of late), John Fahey and the collaborations of Ravi Shankar and Andre Previn, which all make certain sense: there’s that same elegant elision of Eastern and Western scales and techniques, providing a really enveloping, devotional music. I’m reminded, too, of some of the Anatolian psych collected on the Turkish edition of the “Love, Peace And Poetry” compilation series; artists who delicately adjust Eastern melodic and rhythmic strategies, rather than the appropriation of them that we’re more used to.

The press release also references Ghost and Six Organs Of Admittance, and I can definitely see affinities with the latter. It should be noted, though, that “Fajar Di Atas Awan” was first released ten years ago, and that this reissue is coming out on the same label as Six Organs. Knowing Ben Chasny’s voracious appetite for music, it’s certainly plausible that Suarasama might have been a potent, semi-secret influence on the whole generation of fingerpickers, underground mystics and so on in the free folk/psych world.

But I can’t recommend this record enough. I’ve just taken a cursory trip round the web to try and find anywhere where you can hear Suarasama, with no joy. But if you do manage to track it down (the reissue isn’t due ‘til August), let me know what you think, as ever.

Advertisement

Latest Issue

Advertisement

Features

Advertisement