April 15, 2007

How The Dutch Learned To Rock And Roll (Without Any Black People To Speak Of)

This nifty little video is the Tielman Bothers, shot in 1960, and it's a classic of a too-little known genre called Indo-Rock. I urge you to watch the whole thing, a first rate rockabilly raveup.

To really appreciate it, a little historical background is helpful. Indonesia won independence from the Netherlands in 1948, as Europe's colonial empires began to crumble. A bunch of Indonesians stayed in or chose to move to the Netherlands, despite the racism they faced.

Something funny happened when US rock and roll hit Europe in the mid-50s. There were precious few Black people in the Netherlands, and even fewer whites from the rural South of the US. Who, then, was going to make this exotic new music?

Answer: exotic young Indonesians and kids of mixed marriages. They stood out, tending to have slighter builds and darker features and hair than the chunky blond Dutch. And they came from an eclectic musical culture. Portuguese colonialists had introduced the guitar in the early 1500s and it became the main instrument centuries before it did in, say, the US. This "traditional" music, Krontjang, meant that Indonesians had been readily able to incorporate elements of country and Hawai'ian music they heard on American radio stations based in the Philippines and Australia.

Starting in 1957 with The (Real) Room Rockers, Indo-Rock groups blossomed all over the country, shaking up Dutch youth to their core. They specialized in guitar instrumentals, like the Ventures in the US and the Shadows in Britain, and were more likely to sing in English or Indonesian than Dutch. Many of them made their living playing across the border in German bars (where the hunger for rock was great and people of color were so scarce that Liverpool bands like the Silver Beatles also found it easier to make a living than on their home turf).

The Tielman Brothers, who became the best known of them all, didn't even leave the Indonesia, where they played as The Timor Rhythm Brothers, until 1957, and hit it big the next year with a fill-in gig at the "Hawai'ian Village" section of the Dutch Pavilion of the Brussels World Fair. Can you imagine the good burghers and their families leaving the grass huts of the "African Village" section of the Belgian Congo pavilion, falling by the "Hawai'an Village" and catching this?

One final note. All those reggae stars with the adopted mobster names and the gangsta rap types like Irv Gotti are just Vinny-come-latelies. Indo-Rock outfit The Alcapona's were recording in Gouda (one of them later went on to the Cheese Town Jewels--ya gotta love it) in 1960!

[Above, the Alcapona's, circa 1966.]

Meanwhile, am I alone in thinking it weird that the only way that live rock & roll could break through in the Netherlands was when performed by people of color, even ones who had nothing culturally to do with its roots?


celticfire said...

Thanks for that interesting history.

Unknown said...

Cool ... nice history

Anonymous said...

By accident I came upon this R&R site and read about these Indonesian boys. In fact I saw them play as boys, now men, at the annual affair called Pasar Malam in The Hague, Holland.
Andy Tielman is still playing better than ever and singing with depth and feeling.
Great show,
Ineke JV