Audible Locality: The Recording Industry in Indonesia and Its Approach to Minangkabau Music and Oral Tradition

SURYA SURYADI is a lecturer in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, Leiden University Institute for Area Studies at the Leiden University, Netherlands.

KITA UKM (First Published, 2020)
437 pages including Appendices, Bibliography, and Index


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Audible Locality: The Recording Industry in Indonesia and Its Approach to Minangkabau Music and Oral Tradition is the first thorough study on the cultural ramifications of recording technology on ethnic sensibility in Southeast Asia. Exploring chronologically the representation of Indonesia’s regional culture through recording media, it recounts the Dutch East Indies colonial society’s initial encounter with such media and the local adoption and social uses of various types of it among the Minangkabau of West Sumatra and their diaspora.

Audible Locality is a study in a diachronic perspective on the impact of recording technologies, more specifically cassette and video compact disc (VCD), on Indonesian local cultures and societies. It examines how modern reproduced sound, which is constantly proliferating and multiplying up to today through various (social) media, but initially facilitated by recording media technology through the agency of regional recording industries, has influenced the contours of Indonesian local cultures. The book relates Indonesia’s first encounter with recording technology, examines the nature and cultural ramifications of the expansion of recording technology among Indonesia’s ethnic groups, and looks at its engagement with other media. As a case study, the West Sumatran recording industry is explored, along with the commercial cassettes and VCDSs it has produced. The author examines the features, content, and socio-cultural meanings of mediated Minangkabau cultural expressions.

In this study, the author’s starting point is a local perspective rather than a metropolitan one. The author focus attention on the outskirts of the nation: West Sumatra in the western part of Indonesia, a province inhabited mostly by the Minangkabau ethnic group. Exploring the use and consumption of recording media in this Indonesian regional context and its effects on local culture and ethnicity, the study approaches the topic from the perspective of the region. The author uses the term ethnicity in this book, among various understandings and theories about it, to refer to ‘the social construction of descent and culture, the social mobilization of descent and culture, and the meanings and implications of classification systems built around them’.

Ethnicity is a highly elastic concept applied to groups who say they share or are perceived to share some combination of cultural, historical, racial, religious, dress, food, or linguistic features and also ancestral origins, by which the connection between its members is not conceived as a familial bond. Of those elements, ‘common descent and shared origin are central’. By applying such a region-centric perspective, this study provides a view of the multi-faceted and heterogeneous character of Indonesia’s media industries, specifically its regional recording industries, thus complementing the predominantly national and metropolitan-centred approach of studies of Indonesia media and culture.

Indonesia’s regional recording industries have not received much scholarly attention. Scholars of media and popular culture spend most of their energy studying the use and impacts of digital social media on urban societies, which is an important arena of contemporary ethnic-cultural productions. The products of the West Sumatran recording industry, like the products of other regional recording industries in Indonesia, are an outstanding agency for the Minangkabau ethnic community to express their attitudes to a changing world. Minangkabau commercial cassettes and VCDs chronicle the Minangkabau ethnic group’s past and contemporary cultural dynamics in the engagement with the outside world, in which foreign and indigenous elements are constantly competing.

The author not simply examining the effects of cassette and VCD technologies on the changing nature of the local music industry, as has been studied by some experts; far beyond that, the author argues that regional recording industries, through which the mediation of ethnic cultures have greatly increased and the (re)production of local cultural sounds has continued to accumulate since the early twentieth century, have moulded the traits and existence of ethnicities all over the contemporary world.

This book asks how and to what extent recording media are used in regional cultural production in Indonesia, and how recording media interact with ethnicity, Minangkabau, in this context. In order to answer this principal issue, the author formulated questions that guided his work in collecting data and arranging the body of this book. The questions are: when did Minangkabau culture and society first engage with recording media, and what were the cultural-historical circumstances that engendered such technology contacts? When did the regional recording industry connected to Minangkabau ethnicity emerge, and what political, economic, and social factors stimulated that? What are the products 0 this local media industry, and what are their characteristics? What aspects are involved in this media-based regional cultural production, and who are its consumers? To what extent does the regional recording industry, as a manifestation of cultural mediation, bring about the transformation of ethnic Minangkabau culture and society?

Audible Locality, thus focuses on two aspects. First, a chronological outline of the arrival of various types of sound recording technology in Indonesia and the recorded sounds they reproduced, from the phonograph to the VCD, and Indonesia’s domestication of them; this gives us a historical depiction of the ongoing mediation of Indonesia’s ethnic-cultural expressions using recording media technologies. Sound technology ‘offers a route into a field of conjunctures among material, economic, technical, ideational, practical, and environmental changes.’

Second, the book examines the use of the various types of recording media in a contemporary Indonesian local cultural context and its implications for the public, by taking the case of the Minangkabau ethnic group. Both aspects are closely connected to each other because, as the author will elaborate in the volume, recorded sounds from the past continue to resonate and, together with current reproduced sounds, influence the configuration of the contemporary modern soundscape, which in turn influences how people are living now. The author wants to stress the cumulative effect of the capability of sound reproduction to keep the sounds of the past alive. With this in mind, in order to comprehend contemporary cultures and societies in the world—Indonesia in this context—one must consider the history of sound reproduction in the society and how it has influenced that’s society’s culture of listening.

List of illustrations and tables

Theoretical framework
Recording technology and socio-cultural implications of sound replication
Cassette and VCD revolution and reconfiguration of local culture
Research methods
The Minangkabau
Outline of the book

PART I Recording Technologies Encounter Indonesian Local Cultures

1. The early days of recording technology in Indonesia
The first demonstrations of Edison’s tin-foil phonograph in Java
Demonstrations of the new Edison phonograph in Java
‘Press sting’ in the Netherlands East Indies
Archibald’s trip to West Java
A professor with a phonograph from Australia
A famous magician and a female entertainer with a phonograph in Java

2. The disc era: circulation, utilization, acceptance
The ‘talking machine’ in the Indies: from public exhibition to private reception
The ‘talking machine’ comes to West Sumatra
Native responses to the ‘talking machine’
Attraction and irritation of modern sound

3. Post-disc era and the emergence of the West Sumatran recording industry
Arrival of the cassette in Indonesia
Emergence of the West Sumatran recording industry
CD and VCD
The West Sumatran recording industry enters the ‘VCD culture’
Proliferating mediation of local genres

PART II Insight into the West Sumatran Recording Industry

4. Actors and ventures in the West Sumatran recording industry
The products
The producers
The singers
Financial remuneration of singers
The song composers
Marketing and distribution
Surviving the siege of piracy

5. Pop Minang: Its features and sociological aspects
Pop Minang: a cultural definition
Pop Minang: born in rantau, growing in the homeland
Pop Minang as an assortment of genres and subgenres
Aesthetic enrichment: pop Minang standar and pop Minang baru
Pop Minang cassette and VCD covers as cultural texts
Pop Minang and redefining Minangness

6. Traditional verbal arts meet recording industry
Minangkabau oral literature genres
Early recordings of Minangkabau verbal arts
Commercial cassettes and VCDs of Minangkabau verbal arts
Kaba VCD clips: anachronistic images
Effects of recording on oral texts
New ways of reception

7. A media-bound genre: Minangkabau children’s pop music
Minangkabau children’s pop music as a media-bound genre
Advent of Minangkabau children’s pop music
Content of Minangkabau children’s pop music
VCD clips: children in a contestation between tradition and modernity
Regional child singers in the media business

PART III Modes of Reception of Minangkabau Recordings

8. Remediation of Minangkabau commercial recording
Media convergence
From broadcast radio to Internet radio
Mobile phone

9. Beyond homeland borders: Minangkabau cassettes and VCDs outside West Sumatra
Minangkabau migrants in Malaysia
Production and distribution of pop Minang in Malaysia
Consumption and reception of pop Minang in Malaysia
Music and daily life in Chow Kit
Minangkabau migrants and radio broadcasts in Pekanbaru, Riau
Pirated new pop Minang VCDs in eastern Indonesia

The history of (re)production of Indonesian sounds and its effects
Emergence and growth of the West Sumatran recording industry
The West Sumatran recording industry and Minangkabau ethnic sensibility


Appendix 1. Minangkabau commercial cassette producers

Appendix 2. West Sumatran recording companies with their own recording studios

Appendix 3. Production houses in West Sumatra

Appendix 4. Satayu’s 50 top song compositions

Appendix 5. Rabab Pariaman commercial cassettes and VCDs produced by Tanama Record and Sinar Padang Record

Appendix 6. Rabab Pesisir Selatan cassettes and VCDs

Appendix 7. Minangkabau children’s pop albums


Weight0.665 kg
Dimensions22.8 × 15.4 × 2.3 cm





Year Published

  1. Ahmad Murad Merican (store manager)

    Before digitization, it was the mechanical media—oral and aurality. The mediation and remediation of culture demonstrate the ongoing adaptation of cultures to media technologies. One such study was done by fellow academic, media and cultural studies scholar, Dr. Suryadi. His book Audible Locality published in 2020 is a rare contribution to the scholarship on what I call Malay Media Studies. Suryadi (he goes by one name), who teaches at the Department of South and Southeast Studies, Leiden Institute for Area Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, explores the use, consumption and effects of the recording media in the West Sumatran Minangkabau context. He sees the Minangkabau recording industry as an agency for ethnic expression in the modern world. […] Suryadi categorises the products of the Minangkabau recording industry into three types. First is the Minangkabau pop music—called pop Minang, the focus of this essay. Second, traditional genres associated with Minangkabau oral literature or traditional verbal arts. Third, how the genres shaped by the use of recording technology itself, depends on the media for their existence. These are called media-bound genres.

    Melaka Hari Ini, 14 Ogos 2021

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  2. Ahmad Murad Merican (store manager)

    The work by Suryadi is welcoming, at least informing us that the use of media technology in the production of music is peculiar to that society. I would embrace his study as presenting a significant corpus to the construction of the academic theme of Malay Media Studies. There is certainly an intellectual and cultural lacuna in the study of media specific on Malay nations and society in the Archipelago. […] According to the author, there is thus far no extensive study from a diachronic perspective on the subject. Even in the context of Malaysia, studies on Malay media institutions and expressions are glaringly absent. Over the decades, the perspective and subject are altogether ignored. The scholarship on media in Malaysia and Indonesia has been prejudiced of culture and traditions. This study reflects the author’s curiosity about what happens in the collusion and intersection between customs and cultures with modern technologies of sound (re)production. Students of media studies, anthropology, history and society of the Malay Archipelago, and specifically of Malay/Minangkabau culture and society, should immensely benefit on the discourse linking media to ethnicity. In fact, Suryadi’s corpus embraces merantau as a critical feature in Minangkabau society and how that institution has structured the production and reproduction of sounds, expressing belonging and nationhood. The merging of the rantau with new technologies have forged the sense of Minangness to her perantaus.

    Malaysian Journal of Media Studies 24(2), 2022: 1-18.

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  3. Tan Sooi Beng (store manager)

    This book is a significant contribution to sound studies. Written from a Minangkabau perspective, the book shows the agency of the Minangkabau people in promoting their own budaya daerah (regional culture) and expressing their own identity in contrast to the budaya nasional (national forms) that is disseminated from Java. Cassettes, VCD s, and new social media have decentralized ownership, increased the number of local singers, and enlarged the audience for regional music; they help to subvert the nation state’s control of the media that tends to be prohibitive and Java-centric.

    Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde 178(4), 2022: 542-544.

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