Global Sounds: Empowering Indonesian indie-folk


Ade Fathiawati introduces her favourite indie-folk songs and explains why the genre has become so popular among Indonesian youth.

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Image by Sahaya Record

By Ade Fathiawati

Music plays an important role in young people’s lives across the world. Universally, we all like to listen to our favourite songs to recover from a long day or when we are feeling overwhelmed. Different countries and cultures have their own styles of music though, and elements such as genre and lyrics give us an insight into the specific cultural meanings behind different pieces.

Among Indonesian youth, indie-folk is currently a very prominent genre that has gained popularity due to its contemplative nature, poetic lyrics, and societal focus. Appreciation for this genre has been increased through the organising of indie-folk music festivals, tours, and gigs, with lots of talented Indonesian musicians performing and sometimes collaborating with each other.

Empowering messages are central to many of the indie-folk pieces that are being streamed nowadays in Indonesia. A lot of these songs are having a positive and influential impact; they draw attention to important topics such as mental health issues, psychological well-being, self-acceptance, gratitude and happiness. Many people spend a significant amount of time listening to music, and it seems apparent from Indonesian songs in particular that what we listen to can inform an important part of our identities and allow us to explore who we are.

Indonesian youth are finding comfort in this type of music as the messages often support and enlighten people in a way that encourages self-love and the validation of one’s own feelings. If you would like to explore this genre and the empowering messages that it projects, here are some picks that are worth listening to, along with explanations of their meanings:

1.    ‘Semoga, ya’ and ‘Tumbuh’ by Nostress

This indie-folk musician comes from one of the most beautiful islands in Indonesia, Bali, and she has been making music since 2008. ‘Semoga, ya’ and ‘Tumbuh’ are both accompanied by acoustic guitar and express infinite optimism in life. The thing that I like most about ‘Semoga, ya’ is how it highlights that we, as human beings, can always find a source of hope. Although the song is intrinsically romantic, it also has a more general message about positivity, emphasised through its simple repeated lines such as “I hope today is better than yesterday”.

Meanwhile, ‘Tumbuh’ serves as a reminder about the importance of growing up and taking real action in life to create change, rather than just grumbling. This song has a more energetic tempo but maintains a reflective sound, with a harmonica instrumental after the chorus.
2.    ‘Hingga Tenang’ by Figura Renata

Another epic indie-folk single is ‘Hingga Tenang’ which means ‘until calm’. This song’s message is about the gradual process of accepting oneself with patience. With the soothing guitar accompaniment, this piece is the perfect soundtrack for when you are in a contemplative mood.

3.    ‘Lagu Pejalan’ – by Sisir Tanah

Bagus Dwi Yanto (a.k.a Sisir Tanah) is a musician from Yogyakarta in Indonesia. This poetic single is refreshingly straightforward and yet deeply meaningful. The narrative of the song tells us that humans should always keep walking on their journey no matter what their purpose might be.

4.    ‘Kembali Kita Berlayar Pelan’ – by Reruntuh

Released in September 2019, this ambient folk soloist created ‘Kembali Kita Berlayar Pelan’. He creates a tranquil sound through his music which is accompanied by samples of sounds from nature, giving the piece quite a unique feel. The music video enhances the listening experience too, as it was filmed in the spectacular scenery of East Sumbawa, Indonesia. This particular piece speaks about his admiration for the power of words and language, which have the potential for change through writing, prayer, and creative expression.

5.    “Yang Patah Tumbuh, Yang Hilang Berganti” – by Banda Neira

This folk duo are famous for their meaningful and calming melodies sung by Rara Sekar, the female vocalist. They formed on an island located in Maluku in the eastern part of Indonesia. This song actually means ‘What's Broken Will Regrow, What's Lost Will Be Reborn’. The lyrics state that what is fertile will bear fruit and the fallen things will take a stand again, which essentially means that at the end of the day, everything will be fine.

To listen to the songs listed above follow this link to our Global Sounds playlist on Spotify: