Zoo, "Trilogi Peradaban"
This terrific debut from Indonesia shows how passion, rage and sorrow translate into any language. It's a concept album reflecting cultural destruction and persistence; echoing Melt Banana, Naked City, and zeuhl before devolving into folk laments with added flute.
Trilogi Peradaban consists of 22 pieces taken from three recording sessions circa 2007-2008. On the album they are divided into three distinct sections named Neolithikum, Mesolithikum, and Palaeolithikum, or New Stone Age, Middle Stone Age, and Old Stone Age. This all lasts about 40 minutes during which Zoo range from cathartic bass and drum blasts, fierce howling and jabbering, to heavy riffing, deep but abrasive melodies, pseudo-operatic bombast and peaceful acoustic ballads.
The album title means Civilization Trilogy and while this is not a blow by blow account of Indonesian history there is an underlying complexity here that had me researching. Not least, the language and the origin of certain important words. The song "Merdeka" for example is clearly a battle-cry for independence. The word itself is from Sanskrit and has come to mean "freed slave" since Portuguese and Dutch domination of the region. "Merdeka" is among the first 16 tracks which combine a punk aesthetic with the avant-rock genre "zeuhl" as pioneered by Magma. Starting out with "Manekin Bermesin" which probably means something akin to "Puppet Machine" these short, sharp, blasts of aggression use bass guitar and drumming to ignite a musical firestorm. Simple folk sounds and pacing are gradually introduced in the Middle Stone Age section; thecontrast is excellent.
Christian Zander of Magma, of course invented his own language -Kobaian- whereas Zoo appear to use Javanese with snippets of Sanskrit, poetry, Islamic references and punk politics. They incorporate a traditional Aceh poem on "Kelak" which doubtless refers to the recent quest for independence in that region. I had rather hoped it was a mention of the Cardassian Damar-class destroyer starship of the Cardassian Union's Central Command in active service around the year 2376 (as per Star Trek). Oh well, we can't have everything.
"Kelak" is part of the last section of Trilogi Peradaban wherein the group exhibit signs of having been possessed by ancient ghosts who shun aggression and modern electric instruments for a mode of expression which favors acoustic sound. Here Zoo slows rhythms and supplements its spirited wailing with mournful harmony and suling (a traditional flute). Throughout the album, lead singer Rully Shabara Herman whacks the jembe (hand drum) and his distinctive voice revels in both the grinding fury of much of the record and the minimal primitivism of the Old Stone Age section.
As aforementioned, this isn't a complete map or history of Indonesia. Indeed, it could be impossible to trace a path from what scientists believe is"Java Man," through Hindu and Islamic dynasties, into European (spice-trade motivated) co-option, independence, new orders, modern democracy, and East Timor, and somehow make coherent artistic sense of Indonesia (and its 17,508 islands). The territory is now home to the world's largest concentration of Muslims. Previously it was home to the world's largest concentration of communists outside of an actual Communist regime. That was until 1965 when (with a list of names from the always helpful CIA) the military and (in the words of Tariq Ali) "Islamist vigilantes" wiped out at least a million communists and their "sympathizers." One of Zoo's songs, "Perang, Saudara," quotes the word "Babat" from Pramoedya Anata Toer, a writer from that era. I'm not sure what the word means but he apparently said as much to Dutch colonists. He was imprisoned (probably for being a leftist) but survived until his death in Jakarta on April 30, 2006.
Zoo use the word "perang" (war) quite often and their music seems to contain both cathartic anger and an accompanying desire for peaceful humanity. I suspect this is a normal reaction to hearing about times such as those when scores of genitals of murdered male communists were hung outside brothels as a warning, but it might just be a healthy rejection of MTV Asia.