Shedding Light on Colonial Sonic Archives: Finding Information About Vernacular Music

Ignatius Aditya Adhiyatmaka (Indonesia) 

September – November 2023, The Netherlands
*Funded by The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision

Abstract: The aim of this research is to find information about and explore the contextual existence of vernacular music from the Dutch East Indies recorded within the colonial sound archives.  

Michael Denning defines vernacular music as music that emerged and was performed outside the aristocratic tradition. In the 20th century, vernacular music emerged in big cities of the former colony, such as Batavia and Surabaya, which resulted from and in the encounters of various ethnic groups —forming contemporaneous sounds and cultures. Keroncong, orkes gambus, and gambang kromong are examples of popular vernacular music forms which were very popular in the Dutch East Indies.  

However, due to its blend of cultures and heavy orientation towards the modern entertainment industry, popular vernacular music was often looked down upon by aristocrats and high colonial society. As such, vernacular music tends not to be recorded nor published by officials or researchers related to the Dutch colonial government. The disdain against vernacular music in the Indies raised the possibility that there was still a lot of data and information —including text, visual, and audio materials —stored in colonial archives but not (yet) published.  

Against this background, this research will look into the archives of The Jaap Kunst Collection at the University of Amsterdam and The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum to find and collect data and information about vernacular music in the Dutch East Indies. Findings from this investigation will provide a deeper understanding of how colonial society in the Dutch East Indies, especially researchers, viewed and treated vernacular music at that time.