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Innovative music takes off in Maritime Southeast Asia

Musicians are returning to their roots to create a new regional genre

Kuala Lumpur-based band Margasatwa repurposes the golden age of Malay and Indonesian Western-inspired rock music of the 1960s and 1970s, infusing it with a profound ethnic awareness. (Courtesy of Levi's Music Project)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Since the end of World War II, the soft power of Anglo-American popular culture has expanded to most parts of the developing world. Thanks to radio and television broadcasts, exported recordings and international tours, Western popular music has become a global standard of reference.

"Music has been sort of a medium for cross-cultural communication for a long time," says Kimal Mokhtar, who sings in the five-piece Malay rock band Margasatwa, which released its debut album in 2020. Based in Kuala Lumpur, the group situates its music in the tradition of Nusantara, an Old Javanese word whose modern Indonesian/Malay meaning loosely refers to Maritime Southeast Asia -- now divided into Indonesia, Malaysia, parts of Southern Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and East Timor.

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