Many people listen to music because they can relate directly to the content. Indie rock is largely created by and for college-educated, urban-dwelling Americans in their twenties and thirties. The music draws on shared experiences of high hopes, dashed dreams, and awkward romantic entanglements to make a direct emotional appeal. When non-Western artists take the aesthetic components of Western rock and reassemble them to create music relevant to their own cultural and political situation, an unexpectedly powerful sound can result. Koes Bersaudara (literally “Koes siblings”; all members of the group are related), an Indonesian garage-rock quartet that emerged from Jakarta in the mid 1960s, is an example of just such a sonic re-purposing.
The group was jailed for playing Beatles covers at a state function, and they subsequently recorded the To The So-Called “The Guilties” LP, with lyrics directly challenging Indonesian’s ruling regime. Their sound is derivative of early Beatles, but the tumultuous political context lends an added dimension of passion that elevates them above garage-rock imitators.
Koes Bersaudara 1967 is a comprehensive overview including two full-length albums, the aforementioned Guilties and the earlier Djadikan Aku Domba Mu, as well as a rare compilation track. Guilties is the stronger of the two records, including a smashing trilogy of closing tracks; the understated, achingly beautiful “Laguku Sendiri” (the group’s unofficial anthem), the plaintive “Di Balam Bui” (translated as “In Jail”), and the raucous “Voorman” (literally “Jailer,” a high-energy rejoinder to the downbeat “In Jail”).
The quality of the Guilties LP is enough to endorse this collection, but the inclusion of Djadikan Aku Domba Mu, although a bit rougher around the edges, is also commendable. Opener “Bilikan Kamu Tetap Di Sini” is a paean to youthful romantic longing whose impassioned vocal melody make it a timeless tune in any language. Djadikan consists of mid-tempo ballads with an emphasis on evocative vocals and jangly guitar work, while the bonus cut “The Land of Evergreen” is a an upbeat slice of melodic guitar pop that’s a dead ringer for an early Beatles side.
Complete with exhaustive liner notes by Sublime Frequencies founder (and former Sun City Girl) Alan Bishop, Koes Bersaudara 1967 is the inaugural release in a planned series of Indonesian rock reissues. If other entries in the series approach the quality of this one, genre enthusiasts are in for a rare treat.