The Senses and the Sacred:
Islam and Contemporary Indonesian Popular Music

How does music reflect the historical, cultural, religious and cross-cultural influences that shape a people or place? How is this specific to the influence of Islam in Indonesian music?

This lesson plan is designed to explore the role Islam has played in the evolution of two musical forms in Indonesia. Students will learn about two genres of Indonesian music—Qasidah Moderen and Dangdut—by reading a background essay, completing guided questions, and participating
in class discussion. Music examples will be analyzed in terms of instrumentation, lyric content, and purpose.

Students will be able to:

  • Identify and discuss historical, socio-economic, political, and religious influences that have led to the current form of Qasidah Moderen and Dangdut.
  • Recognize Islam’s continuing role in shaping popular and youth culture in Indonesia.
  • Understand music as a reflection and purveyor of cultural and religious experience.
  • Draw cross-cultural comparisons in American culture.

Two class periods

Visual Arts, Literature and Performance
Laurie J. Sears

Diversity and Community in Contemporary Society
Michael G. Peletz

  1. Begin by drawing students into a general discussion of the connection between music, culture, appearance, and the messages of music using the following questions:
  • What can visual elements signify in musical performance: what can a musician’s clothing, hair style, makeup, and other visual features represent? (Discuss Punk, Rap, Hip-Hop, Country or Gospel musicians, for example.)
  • How are visual elements connected to the kind of music that the musician might play, if at all?
  • What social functions does music play in society?
  • What influence can musicians have on listeners?
  1. Project or pass out a copy of the image of the guitarist from the band Ria and ask students to respond to the following questions:
  • What religion do students think this woman practices? Why?
  • What style of music do they think she plays? Why?
  • How do you think the music would sound?
  • Where would you expect to see this kind of music played? Point out elements of appearance: In Indonesia the head-covering is called the jilbab. Notice also that the
    woman’s dress is floor-length, and her sleeves go to her wrist. Despite these conservative elements the woman’s dress appears to be made of a shiny satin type material, enables the viewer to see some of her shape as a woman, and is covered in sequins; the woman is wearing make-up to enhance her attractive features; she is playing an electric guitar.

    Discuss these seeming incongruities. Conclude this part of the discussion by making certain that the students have considered the following questions:
  • What do you think Islamic music would sound like?
  • Without having heard it, what do you think the music would sound like?
  1. Play the song “Boleh Bersuka Ria” by the band Nasida Ria while students still have the picture of the band’s guitarist to contemplate.Ask students if what they heard was what they expected? Why or why not?
  2. Provide students with the Qasidah Moderen Background Sheet and Guiding Questions, and Comparison Chart. Ask students to work in small groups to read the essay and chart, and complete the questions. Bring students back together to discuss the responses. End the discussion by posing the following question:
  • What do you predict will be the future for the relationship between Islam and contemporary popular music in Indonesia? Why?
  • What does this mean for the influence of other forms of popular music in Islamic communities in Southeast Asia?
  • Play “Begadang” by Rhoma Irama, and “Boleh Bersuka Ria” by the band Nasida Ria, again. Ask students if they can discern elements that were mentioned in the essay? (Consider instrumentation, complexity/simplicity of music, language)

Students will be assessed on responses to Guiding Questions, participation in small group work, and whole class discussion.

Using heterogeneous groupings will support English Language Learners and students with special needs in reading the essay and responding to guiding questions. Oral review of key points and comparison chart will provide further support for content information.

Use of various learning modes are possible through visual, auditory and text based materials. A variety of extension lessons are provided for a range of diverse students.

  • Writing Assignment: Be an Ambassador
    Your assignment is to introduce Americans who have not studied or visited Indonesia to the country, and to get them interested in it. Write a short article introducing Qasidah Moderen music, saying why it is interesting and what you like most about it. When people visit a new country for the first time, they generally want to find lots of new things to see, hear, taste and do, and some things that remind them of home, too, that they can
    relate to without difficulty and which will keep them from being too homesick. So, be sure to tell your American audience what they will find new and fascinating, but also familiar and comforting, in the history, style and message of Qasidah Moderen music (and Dangdut, too, if you would like to discuss that style as well.)
  • Listening:
    Play additional clips from Indonesian music. Have students identify similarities and differences among the selections. Have them identify elements that seem to suggest
    western or local influences in a review of the selection.
    • World Music Network, The Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia, Cat. No. 1055, release date October, 17, 2000. (focus is track 4, “Begadang” by Rhoma Irama, and track 14, “Boleh Bersuka Ria” by Nasida Ria).
    • Smithsonian/Folkways, Music of Indonesia 2: Indonesian Popular Music—Kroncong, Dangdut & Langgam Jawa, Cat. No. 40056, release date July 13, 1992 (focus is the Dangdut selections found on tracks 1–7).
    • Excerpts from Qasidah Moderen group Nasida Ria’s album Keadilan are available for free from their German record label Piranha Records. There’s also a picture of the band, from the cover of the album.
  • Cross-cultural Extension:
    Review the relationship between Islam and popular music in Indonesia and ask students if this relationship seems familiar to them, or something unique to Indonesia. Discuss the relationship that exists between American Rock ’n’ Roll, R&B, Soul music, and even Hip-Hop, and the historical and musical characteristics each of these genres adopted from Gospel music. Have students examine the evolution of these contemporary American music forms by developing a series of musical segments that highlight the characteristic elements of the traditional gospel in contemporary popular music. Suggestions include
    track selections from Sony Music Entertainment Inc./Compilation, Music from the Motion Picture The Ladykillers, T Bone Burnett Producer (2004).
  • Blending the Secular and Sacred in Music:
    Direct students to create or choose a sacred/moral lesson text and a secular text to set to a beat, as might be done with Rap, Def Poetry, or as a step in creating more traditional song lyrics. Possible sources include religious texts of their own faith, traditional myths or legends, poems, chants or cheers from sports teams, or an original student work. Have students select one beat from the samples available on www.reeldrums.com or similar website to use for both texts. Have students provide a brief description of why they chose the text and how the selection of the beat influences the sound and message of the secular and sacred.