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Review: Sounds of Origin (2018)

Directed by: Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich | 112 minutes |

In “Sounds of Origin”, filmmaker takes the viewer back to the 1950s and early 1960s when Indo musicians caused a furore in the Netherlands. Shortly after the Second World War, these Indo-Europeans had come in large numbers from the then East Indies. The situation there had become untenable for them as a result of the struggle for independence and in particular the Bersiap period. Sukarno had incited the Indonesians against anything that had the appearance of foreign authority. This led to a massive and extremely violent popular anger against civilians with a full or half Dutch background, among others. The Indos with their (partly) Dutch roots and upbringing were no longer welcome and had to leave. In the Netherlands, however, they were certainly not received with open arms. In “Sounds of Origin” Indo musicians tell about that eventful period in their lives: the traumatic experiences in Indonesia, the cold reception in the Netherlands, and their attempts to settle down in a new country.

The turned out to be their salvation, because in addition to Indonesian culture they brought something with them that was practically unknown in the Netherlands: rock ‘n’ roll. This American music was frequently heard on the radio in Indonesia and was again influenced by traditional Indonesian music, such as Gamelan and Krontjong. With their exotic appearance and excitingly modern sound, the Indo musicians achieved great success in the Netherlands, and even more so in Germany, or sometimes even worldwide. For example, it is impossible not to be touched by the great playing of a band like the Tielman Brothers. The enthusiasm for their virtuoso playing is infectiously conveyed by lifelong fans who are still moved to hear Andy’s guitar playing and Loulou’s drumming.

The strength of “Sounds of Origin” lies in the vitality with which the musicians, who are now in their seventies, talk about the influence of their origins on their music, and what that meant for their new life in another country. It is a succession of beautiful anecdotes, moving stories and a touch of nostalgia, held together by well-dosed historical information. The focus sometimes swings as a result of the investigative style of making; sometimes the emphasis is on the music, sometimes more on the person. That is not disturbing, however, but when those two research areas coincide, “Sounds of Origin” is at its strongest.

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