Irwansyah Harahap

posted November 5th, 2021

Drag City is grieved to convey the news of Irwansyah Harahap’s passing; his long-running musical project, Suarasama, remains an inspiration to us all. When we heard his music for the first time (at the Bonnie ‘Prince’s enthused recommendation), we knew immediately that we wanted to be a part of bringing it to the world. Grounded in Southeast Asian music traditions, Suarasama’s delicatepan-nationalist fusion of styles to convey a ‘one-world’ quality that, lifted up by the band’s fervent, soulful playing and singing of, reminds us of the shared ground in all the music of the world.

        “Like some/many people, I heard Suarasama because of the inclusion of their song "Fajar Di Atas Awan" as the closing track of the epic 20 volume series on Indonesian music released on Smithsonian Folkways in the 1990s. The entire series had captivated me, but it was Suarasama's song that had me searching for years for more of their music. In the search I eventually came into contact with Irwansyah Harahap and with Ritha. Music is about connection, with listeners and practices and with times and places difficult to access. Suarasama were great translators and broadcasters, grafting styles, elements, beliefs and emotions from inside of themselves, from their scholarship and from their musical devotions. Because Harahap was so young (early 60s) and so vital, this is a loss accompanied by sadness and regret for musics that could have been.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  - Will Oldham

Born into a musical family in 1962, Irwansyah played music for nearly his entire life, starting on guitar at the age of five, and studying classical and jazz music as he moved into his teens. He gained a Master’s Degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of Washington, then returned to Sumatra to teach at North Sumatra University (USU). In collaboration with his wife (and fellow USU Ethnomusicologist), Rithaony Hutajulu, Irwansyah’s investigations into the world’s music cultures as Suarasama have been ongoing since 1995, exploring the traditional music of Africa, the Middle East, India, Pakistan’s Sufi, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, informing their playing of their own traditional music, from Northern Sumatra’s Balak and Malay traditions. 

In 2008, Drag City reissued the first Suarasama album, the transcendent Fajar Di Atas Awan, and we are presently in production for the reissue of their 2013 album, the equally sublime Timeline. We were pleased by the press attention and fandom gained following Fajar’s reissue, and we have looked forward to playing that music and the music of Timeline for many more people in 2022 and beyond. In the past few years, Suarasama have released a handful of new songs, all of which implied compelling new fusions in their world. Irwansyah Harahaps’s untimely passing changes the future in ways we can’t imagine yet, but it will not detract at all from our intention to go forward and share the joy of Suarasama’s music with everyone we meet. May it live forever.

Artists in this story: Suarasama