“There may only be 500 people who are interested in the record I am putting out, but I am trying to find all 500,” said Phil Freeman, whose Burning Ambulance is one of two tiny American imprints working with Senyawa. “Wherever they are in the world, great.”
Shabara gushed when he discussed this scheme’s future feasibility, detailing organizational refinements he imagines. And Rabih Beaini, the owner of the German label handling manufacturing, suggested that bands big and small could increase their audience by recruiting a plethora of cooperative partners. “You could have 100 labels that reach obscure markets in countries where you might not normally sell your music,” Beaini said from Berlin. “It’s quite utopian.”
But Stephen O’Malley — the co-founder of metal duo Sunn O))) and a label owner — warned against reducing Senyawa’s idea into a novel strategy for sales. Several years ago, O’Malley invited Senyawa to perform with him at Europalia, a biennial arts festival, each event devoted to a different country’s culture. He reveled in their openness and enthusiasm.
“Senyawa are approaching this record as a way to connect with a lot of people, a way to collaborate,” O’Malley said from his home in Paris. “So why does it have to be sustainable as a business? Of course music is sustainable. It’s been around since the beginning of the species and transmitted the whole time.”
But the added connectivity is already changing the way Senyawa functions. This weekend, the group is presenting Pasar Alkisah, a two-day virtual festival of performances, D.J. sets, cooking classes and interviews, a massive act of coordination between the band and their dozens of partners.
In September, when Senyawa recorded “Alkisah,” it reconvened near Borobudur, the iconic Buddhist temple built on Java a millennium ago. Shabara and Suryadi isolated themselves in a friend’s sprawling home there, surrounded by a patch of jungle and a panorama of converging rivers and twin volcanoes. It was a postcard version of Indonesia — and a perfectly ironic place to capture a less stereotypical perspective on the world’s fourth most populous country.
“We are normal musicians like anyone else in the world who experiments. We just happen to be Indonesian,” Shabara said, his words arriving in a torrent. “If we want Indonesian musicians to flourish and be as highly respected as musicians from the West, we have to think we’re part of the world, not the ‘Third World.’”