The Music of Minangkabau

Music has always been an important element in the Minangkabau society of West Sumatra. Traditional music is a major part of the rituals and festive activities of Minang community life. Moreover, Minang music has developed as a genre and has widely contributed to the development of modern music in Indonesia, while continuing to maintain the Minang identity.

Influences on Traditional Music

The unique sounds and instruments of Minang traditional music reflects the roles and statuses of each group in the community and serves to strengthen collectivity and cohesiveness. Minangkabau traditional instruments include the serunai (a wind instrument influenced by Indian culture), saluang (a bamboo flute), and talempong (a gong-like percussion). Some musical instruments are influenced by Arabic culture, such as the rabab (similar to a small violin) and the rebana percussions. The latter has its roots in Arabic culture and is frequently used in social or Islamic-related events. All these instruments are known to provide a distinct character to Minang traditional music.

A musical group playing the talempong instrument

In Indonesia, the Minang people are not only known for their traditional music but also for what is called the Minang pop genre, where modern musical instruments are also used. In the Minang pop genre, traditional instruments are played in combination with the piano and the guitar and other instruments. Many modern instruments that originated from Europe, made their way to Indonesia during the Dutch occupation. For example, the guitar was first introduced when a group of Portuguese people held captive by the Dutch would spend time playing guitar.

Hybrid music containing various elements of local and foreign features, which formed the Minang pop genre date way back to the 1880s when the Dutch theatre (tonil) presented these kind of musical influences in the theatres of Kota Padang and later in Bukittinggi. Gamad-Melayu music containing elements of Indian and Portuguese music has also been identified as the beginning of what would later be known as Minang pop. The Evening Market Fair (‘Pasar Malam’) which was held regularly in Kota Padang featured other types of popular music, such as keroncong, which has its influence from the Portuguese. The Javanese people who were taken to Sawahluntho by the Dutch to work in the coal mines played an important role in spreading keroncong in West Sumatra.

Minang Pop Music

Elements of music which combined traditional and modern characteristics continued to influence the development of modern music in West Sumatra and outside of the province, especially the genre known as Minang pop. In fact, a kind of Minang pop music invasion emerged in the early 1950s during the Soekarno era when Western influences and culture were suppressed. It provided the right moment for regional music to rise and grab the attention of the nation.

A musical group playing the rebana instrument during an islamic festival event

The Minang pop genre was popular in Jakarta mainly in the 1950s to 1970s where it was initiated by the Minang people who migrated to the cities. Leaving their village town (especially for men) to find a better living is part of the Minangkabau way of life which is still practiced until today. Minang pop music, sung by using the Minang language and with lyrics sometimes describing the landscapes of the villages, was soothing to the hearts of those Minang migrants far from home and at the same time it served as maintaining their Minang identity. More than that, the music was received quite well by the Indonesian public.

The mid-1950s saw the emergence of a Jakarta-based musical group under the name Orkes Gumarang who succeeded in making Minang pop a commercial break through. In a political climate which restricted western music, Orkes Gumarang was smart to adopt elements of Latin music. Not only did their song received high radio airplay, they even succeeded in performing live on the national radio, RRI (Radio of the Republic of Indonesia), where they had to go through a very tight selection process. The band reached its peak of success in the ‘60s and is considered one of the pioneers of Indonesian modern music.

Sawahlunto women singing keroncong melodies

Orkes Gumarang enjoyed internationally acclaimed success, they toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. In 1971 they played for the first time in West Sumatra, but only in two towns, Padang and Bukittinggi. Other towns, such as Sawahlunto, which was a title for a popular Minang pop song, ‘Nasib Sawahlunto’ (the Fate of Sawahlunto) were left disappointed.

Even today, Minang pop music has not lost the innovative sense which it had during its heyday. The music now combines elements of hip hop and various types of dance music mix. Whilst maintaining the importance of the Minang cultural identity, the Minang people have shown to be receptive to change, making the Minang culture always dynamic.


Written by Alemora Hadiz and Liza Hadiz



Barendregt, Bart (2002)
The Sound of ‘Longing for Home’ Redefining a Sense of Community through Minang Popular Music (Accessed 23 April 2016).

Yori, Dean Stales, Zusmelia, and Zulfa (n.d.)
Orkes Gumarang: Pelopor Musik Minang Modern Tahun 1953-1980 (Accessed 24 April 2016).

Various sources on music, musical instruments, and Minangkabau music.

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