PESTA RAYA - MALAY FESTIVAL OF ARTS: JOGJA HIP HOP FOUNDATION
Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Saturday
Mixing age-old music and literature with a contemporary and urban music genre such as hip-hop can be a tricky affair.
It takes balance and the right mix of care and consideration for the traditional arts as well as an acute understanding of how the more modern genre works.
Indonesian rap collective Jogja Hip Hop Foundation, one of the headliners of the Esplanade's Malay arts fest Pesta Raya this year, is one music act that knows how it is done properly.
In the wrong hands, merging classical instrumentations such as the gamelan with spitfire rap verses and anthemic choruses - in their native Javanese tongue, no less - might sound gimmicky.
But the quintet - Kill the DJ, M2MX, Balance, Ki Ageng Gantas and Radjapati - consistently pulled the feat off with class. Whether you understand the language or not, the verses ebbed and flowed, carried along by the guttural bass lines, bouncy beats and trance-like gamelan samples courtesy of the group's female DJ, Vanda.
Fiercely proud of the city of Yogyakarta as well as their Javanese roots, the anthemic Jogja Istimewa, for example, is a love letter to their home city, with a military march intro and infectious earworm of a chorus.
Dressed in batik shirts and baggy pants, the group did not rap exclusively in Javanese though. On Song Of Sabdatama, another ode to their city, the verses were split between three languages.
"We are from Jogja/The heart of Java/ Our rhyme is mantra/Flows down like lava" goes the English refrain, after which they took turns rapping in Bahasa Indonesia and Javanese for the rest of the tune.