Los Morenos: “Borondong Garing” (Indahnya Cinta, 1982)

Sometimes when I’m surveying my listening habits as a continuum, it strikes me that a lot of my seemingly disparate impulses are actually facets of the same impulse. I think this is most clear in the way I’ve always been drawn both to music recorded before I was born and to music from places I’ve never been to.

I get asked often why I like music from parts of the world I have no personal connection to, but pretty much no one ever asks why I listen to music from before I was born. But isn’t it really the same thing? In both cases, you’re going somewhere you haven’t been, somewhere you can only know second-hand. 

I know why I get asked about one and not the other. Most people listen to at least a little bit of music from before their own time, or are at least exposed to some of it. The same can’t be said of music from other countries, particularly ones that don’t speak English. But really, I go to both places looking for roughly the same thing: people with experiences and worldviews different to my own or at least born of different backgrounds. Also, sounds that are different from what I hear around me. 

This Los Morenos song wasn’t recorded before I was born, but I was only two years old at the time, which is almost the same thing. The band was from Indonesia, and formed in 1957, a little less than ten years after the country’s independence. And when I listen to this recording, I hear a band with from halfway around the world that nevertheless shares some of my same curiosities.

This is exotica, in pretty much the same way the music made by Martin Denny is exotica—from their name on down, Los Morenos looked to the music of Latin America for inspiration, and the sound they arrived at was a hybrid of Latin and Indonesian music, with congas bumping along under vibraphone as the singer delivers a melody that is very much rooted in local Indonesian music. 

I gather that the band was often called upon to entertain international visitors, so this South Hemisphere-spanning fusion might have seemed like a sensible way to appeal to a broad clientele. Their Mexican-style costumes, though, suggest that their study of Latin music might have been fairly surface-level:

Los Morenos in their Mexican gear 

Still, I think it’s a lesson worth learning that Westerners have no lock on exotica, and that people everywhere share fascination with each other’s cultures.