Thursday, October 16, 2014

Abbhama - 1978 - Alam Raya

Alam Raya

01. Kembali (4:37)
02. Asmara (2:57)
03. Alam Raya (3:42)
04. Karam (3:53)
05. Keriadaan Yang Ada (5:24)
06. Terlenia (Instrumental) (3:04)
07. Air (4:34)
08. Malam (3:54)
09. Indonesia (7:40)
10. Ibu (4:16)

- Iwan Madjid / piano, vocals
- Oni / keyboards
- Darwin / bass
- Robin / drums
- Dhrama / flute
- Cok B / guitar
- Hendro / oboe

It’s hard for a band outside Europe or USA to reach the rest of the world and sadly some good material is lost due to the limitations of Asian or African countries, this is the case of ABBHAMA, an Indonesian band who released a cassette in 1978 called “Alam Raya”.
The information about them is pretty hard to find being that they were not popular even in Indonesia because as in many countries of Asia, the charts are dominated by native Folk bands and Pop groups mainly from United States and there’s a very small fan base for Progressive Rock bands.
ABBHAMA was born in 1977 and was the brainchild of the talented keyboardist Iwan Madjid, who was clearly influenced by Yes, Genesis, ELP and all the Symphonic icons but with also a strong French and Italian influence, the special touch are the lyrics sung in their native language and the clear ethnic influences.
The addition of Oboe by Hendro (That’s how the musician is credited) gave them a very special and unique taste. Due to the strong and characteristic Indonesian sound, ABBHAMA could have a place in Folk Prog, but the essence of their music is clearly Symphonic.
Sadly their story ends with the release of Alam Raya, proving once more that you don’t only need to be skilled but also require to have the luck of being born in a country with a strong musical industry.
After ABBHAMA disbanded Iwan Madjid and the bassist Darwin formed a more mainstream oriented band named WOW that apparently had more luck in the Indonesian charts releasing three albums.

One of my obsessions since I joined the Symphonic team and started to clean the bandlist was to listen ABBHAMA, a band from Indonesia that had only released a cassette back in the late 70's called "Alam Raya", almost unknown even in their country, for this reason I thought it would be one of the few bands in the genre I wouldn't listen, until I got a copy of the album (It was released by a Japanese label on CD).

I must say it's quite an experience, not the best music available but very addictive, somehow sounds like a soundtrack of a movie made in Bollywood (knowing of course that Indonesia is not India, but I find similarities in style) but one that mixes Neo Classical, Baroque, Prog, Pop and even some ethnic music with birds chirpings and everything.

One thing I must say Iwan Madjid does a very proficient work with the piano, Ona makes miracles with a set of keyboards that sounds very unprofessional (cheap), and Dhrama plays the flute in the purest style of Peter Gabriel, but the most impressive fact is the sweet voice of Iwan Madjid, very childish, almost like a kid before the change of voice, something like Jon Anderson meets Annie Haslam when they were 12, the arrangements are very solid (probably the best) but they lack of musical weight maybe even a bit cheesy but just can't stop listening it.

Sometimes they try to be pompous but neither the instruments, the music or the voice helps them, it's evident they are a Symphonic band in structure but their style is so unique that puzzles me, the only thing I can't stand are the terrible electronic drums..

For some people they may not sound too professional or even be too innocent, but the beauty of their music is precisely there, simple tunes very naïve but they have something special, but lets go with some tracks.

The album starts with "Kembali", really frightened me, I don't know what they tried to do at the beginning, some sort of Indonesian Disco intro very rhythmic that suddenly changes when the vocals start, not very radical to be honest but you know they have something, until then the real deal starts, the keyboard work first influenced by ELP and then a hard guitar work with a jazzy flute that suddenly turns Baroque to return to the poppy intro with some Focus reminiscences...that they are Prog there is no doubt, but this is not the strongest track of the album, despite this fact it's evident they know how to make radical changes.

"Asmara" starts promising with a solid keyboard intro until the voice joins, lets be honest, it's a bit hard to get into such a complex language, again some diluted Baroque influence and a guitar a la Ian Akkerman, provides some delightful moments, good track, maybe a bit soft for people used to the classics but they are good.

Now is the turn for "Alam Raya" which starts again with a Flemish guitar and flute which brings again the name of Focus to the memory, but the structure of the track is closer to TRIUMVIRAT, the bird chirpings are very cheesy and sound out of place unless there's a relation with the lyrics (Something I don't pretend to know), another good track except for the horrendous drums at the end.

"Karam" is more or less, in the same vein of the previous track but more melodic, to be honest by this point the voice of Madjid is starting to sound annoying, but for some reason I can't stop listening the album, the track evolves to something very light, almost like a Christmas song in a weird (for us) language.

Most of the other tracks are in the same vein, all mixing elaborate arrangements with simple tunes that go between naïve beauty and cheesiness and even an Instrumental called "Tarlenia" that is well performed but looses that charm that only Madjid vocals can ´provide, so it would be useless to describe each track except maybe "Indonesia" which is the closer they get to an epic.

"Indonesia" is the longest track of the album (7:40 minutes) and one of the most interesting, this time we listen an extremely beautiful folksy tune guided by the flute and later oboe that reminds me of the Peruvian band FRÁGIL, most precisely the song "Lizzy", but again the trademark appears, Madjid and his peculiar voice that starts a series of changes, the piano work is simply outstanding, but then they start to Rock in the purest style of the late 50's for some seconds, just to return to the same melody but this time slightly more dramatic and then close the song with the full band. Extremely good material that is closed with a synthesized violin, the best song of the album.

What else can I say about ABBHAMA and "Alam Raya", well, all the musicians are well trained and most of them obviously have classical formation, because of the sound iseems evident they don't use the most expensive instruments or the most advanced technology, but they know how to get the best from what they have.

The music is good but not outstanding and the voice well, it's definitely their trademark, some people may find it funny or amateur, but I believe we are before professional musicians that make an absolutely unique album (I never heard something remotely similar).

Now we get to the hardest part, the rating, if we were judging only quality in comparison with other Prog bands, then the three stars that the two previous reviewers gave would be perfect because that's what they deserve, but here we are before a special case and according to the guidelines we must also evaluate if the album is an excellent addition for any Prog collection, and for God's sake it is, something so unique will make any collection richer without a single doubt.

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