Suriname, a former colony of the Netherlands, is on the Caribbean coast of South America, and borders on French Guiana, Guyana, and Brazil. In spite of holding little more than 500,000 inhabitants, Suriname has always had a prospering music scene. The country may be little known internationally, but it has a very strong influence in the Netherlands, where many Surinamese people live. The music of Suriname varies from kawina and kaseko—a fusion of African, European, and American styles, mainly played at festivals and celebrations—to Western styles such as soul, pop, funk, and jazz. Surinam Funk Force, a new compilation of music from the tiny nation, presents Surinamese disco-funk, including tracks from Surinamese stars Sumy, Steve Watson, Jam Band 80, and Ronald Snijders, as well as more obscure local artists.
Ronald Snijders, whose wild “Kaseko Attack” is featured on the compilation, is a legendary Surinamese musician with an extensive oeuvre. Snijders’ characteristically experimental approach led to surprising songs, taking the music from his country to a new level. “Suriname knows many types of music, and all of it is inflected with the sounds from the many cultural backgrounds of its inhabitants. There are the Creoles, the Hindus, the Javanese, the native American people, the Chinese, to name just a few… Kaseko is originally a Creole type of music that is widely played at celebrations. Then there is Hindustani baitak gana and Javanese pop, which is pop combined with a bit of Javanese krontjong,” he explains.
Cuba and other neighbor countries have had a big influence too—a lot of Afro Cuban music was played on the radio in the ’50s, while calypso arrived a little later, during the ’60s and ’70s.
Those musical backgrounds sometimes mixed with U.S. soul, disco, and funk, leading to unique, exciting results. Between 1976 and 1983, Suriname had a lively soul music scene, with the output varying from eccentric soul tracks to more uptempo disco and boogie crossovers.
“Surinamese funk is especially rare,” says co-compiler Antal Heitlager (his collaborator on this project was collector Thomas Gesthuizen), who wonders how much was actually made. “Only occasionally a funk track can be found on kaseko and soul albums or on a rare 7-inch pressing.”
Ronald Snijders: “A lot of the tracks we heard on the radio came from abroad. Jazz first arrived in Surinam during Second World War, when the U.S. occupied the country. After the war, jazz and rhythm & blues became popular genres. Disco-funk arrived in the seventies, with soul bands and singers mostly playing covers. The Units, the Tarkets and I were among the few who composed their own songs. The Creoles who lived in the Netherlands started composing their own music too. Some musicians there hooked up with their Dutch and Caribbean counterparts, following Anglo-American disco and soul traditions. The singers Etto Sedney, Louis Windzak and Erwin Bouterse, and bands such as the Falling Stones and Rutu all worked from the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. Of course there were also kaseko and kawina bands in the Netherlands, like the famous Happy Boys, with singer Lieve Hugo.”
Nowadays, these tracks are becoming increasingly rare and hard to find. The 2012 compilation Surinam! Boogie & Disco Funk From The Surinamese Dancefloor ’76 – ‘83, released on Dutch imprint Kindred Spirits, gave many outside of Holland and Suriname their first introduction. Its follow-up, Surinam Funk Force, now introduces a wider audience to even more obscure gems.
Silvy Singoredjo was only eighteen years old when she joined the Sound Track Orchestra (STO). An edit of the band’s “Tirsa Song” is featured on the latest compilation. The young singer of Indonesian heritage had previously enjoyed success as a teen, recording Javanese pop for the Disco Amigo label, including collaborations with Astaria’s Eddy Assan. STO was formed to record musical backdrops without specific plans to perform as a group. However, working with guitarist and composer Richie Maxwell, the American-born film director Ray Kril transformed the group into STOS (Sound Track Orchestra and Silvy) whose music would provide the inspiration for new video productions. “This track has little to do with Javanese pop,” she says. “It was totally out of the box.”
The title of this compilation is inspired by the Sumy Funk Force, the group Sumy took with him on concert tours. Sumy, probably the best-known Surinamese funkster, is an exceptional character who had unique ideas for his time. Rush Hour Music in Amsterdam has reissued most of Sumy’s work via the compilation Surinam Boogie and the re-release of Sumy’s album Trying to Survive. The one song lost in the reissue process, “The Funky ‘G’ (Only Comes at Night),” is included on the new collection. This was one of Sumy’s first works, released as a 45 in 1981 on the Dutch Philips label. In interviews, Sumy stresses the multicultural angle of his music. “I started in a band with Americans from various countries, such as Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia. We were keen on creating our own sound and music, instead of copying other music, which happened a lot at the time in Suriname,” he comments. “After a while I started a band with Surinamese and Dutch Caribbean musicians.” Sumy continues: “You know, Suriname is just a part of the American continent. Everything from Brazil to Alaska is like a family, that’s how I see it.”
Compilers Antal Heitlager and Thomas Gesthuizen have put together an exclusive mix for Wax Poetics that takes listeners on an encompassing trip through the many styles of Suriname’s music, running through kawina, kaseko, deep Afro roots, jazz fusion, disco, boogie, modern soul, funk, soul, jazz, and gospel.
Surinam Funk Force is out now in all formats via Rush Hour.