Thousands braved Jakarta’s blistering heat to experience the live music performances by talented Southeast Asian and South Korean artists at the 2023 Round Festival on 21-22 October 2023. After holding virtual concerts since the event was launched in 2020 as part of the ASEAN–Republic of Korea (ROK) Music Festival, the artists could finally perform before an enthusiastic crowd.
Embracing the theme “Step Out, Sing as One,” the festival started with a captivating line-up of performers.
Malaysia’s Gerhana Skacinta electrified the stage with their 1950s ska beats. Dila Aisyah and the Boys from Brunei Darussalam enchanted the audience with their versatile sounds. Cambodia’s One Peace Band and Myanmar’s Velocity X Jewel dazzled the crowd with their energetic acts.
The excitement soared higher when Filipino boy band SB19 took the stage and performed their high-octane hit Gento. Korea’s Se So Neon and SGO kept the momentum going with their riveting performances.
The night ended on a high note with Indonesian artists Barasuara and Isyana Sarasvati, the latter delivering a stunning duet with So Yoon from Se So Neon.
The excitement continued into the second day, featuring performers from Thailand, the Lao PDR, Viet Nam, Singapore, ROK, and Indonesia.
ASIA7 from Thailand fired up the crowd with an exciting fusion of traditional instruments and modern music. This was followed by dynamic and heart-pounding performances from Black Eyes of the Lao PDR and Pháo from Viet Nam.
The audience next enjoyed the soothing music of brb. from Singapore, Indonesian artists Pamungkas and Ardhito Pramono. Korea’s Galaxy Express, Jimmy Brown, and SURL also graced the stage and delivered unforgettable performances.
The two-day festival drew 8,000 people on the first day, ballooning to 15,000 by the festival’s close. It left a lasting impression on the attendees. Twenty-six-year-old Fatima Nur Alifa, a festival attendee from Jakarta, noted: “I found out about this event through social media. Initially, I came just to see SB19, as I’ve been a fan since their early days. However, the festival piqued my interest in the other performers. I’ve been here since the start today, and I think I’ve enjoyed every country’s performance.”
She added: “When I found out it was free, I decided to give it a try. The experience was intense, almost like a ticket war, but it was worth it. I couldn’t sleep afterwards, but the memories made it all worthwhile.”
In his remarks, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary-General of ASEAN, eloquently captured the essence of the event: “As music is a universal language that breaks boundaries and brings people closer together, I am positive that ROUND 2023 will resonate with our peoples far and wide, and strengthen the spirit of camaraderie of the peoples of ASEAN and Korea.”
Similarly, Ambassador of the ROK to ASEAN, Lee Jang-keun, emphasised the broader implications of such cultural exchanges: “It is very important for future generations to be at the centre of friendship and partnership between ASEAN and Korea, and I hope that the ROUND 2023 will become a venue for young people to interact with each other and build friendship through music.”
Striking a universal chord: Artists reflect on musical connection
The participating artists were excited to be part of the festival. Iga Massardi, vocalist and guitarist from Barasuara of Indonesia, stressed the importance of music as a universal language.
He told The ASEAN: “An interesting point to highlight here is that the primary challenge has always been the language barrier. We often think that not understanding each other’s languages prevents us from working together with people from other nations. However, it turns out that through melodies and explorations in musical arrangements, we can break down these walls, creating a universal language. We can share across various genres and from different countries and nations. Music, in its pure form, is what we have in common. It binds us together.”
Puti Chitara, also from Barasuara, highlighted the event’s potential for cultural exchange and underscored the necessity of increased international collaboration opportunities. She also pointed out the significance of learning from South Korea’s example in presenting popular culture on a global stage.
“South Korea has been laying the groundwork for initiatives like this for an extensive period, given its status as a government-backed programme integral to the Korean wave. Recognising the vital role of music and culture as significant and easily shareable products, similar initiatives are crucial for our country,” Puti noted. “There is a pressing need for substantial support from the government and various sectors to generate more opportunities, especially in Indonesia, where we have a wealth of musical talent possibly amounting to millions. With the right opportunities, there’s no limit to what we can achieve,” she added.
Vocalist and guitarist Seol Hoseung from SURL, meanwhile, expressed his delight, noting the unique chance to connect with Korean musicians and fans, as well as artists and attendees from across Southeast Asia. “I am absolutely delighted because we got the chance not only to meet with South Korean singers and audiences but also to interact with various artists and attendees from different countries, especially from Southeast Asia,” he said.
“After listening to both Korean and Southeast Asian music, what we feel is that music is universally enjoyable. If the singer is good, it’s good. If the song is good, it’s good. So what I’ve learned is that music is indeed universal.” drummer Oh Myeongsuk added.
The festival was hosted by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) and supported by the government of the ROK through the ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Fund. It was preceded by a two-day music forum from August 3-4 that gathered ASEAN and ROK industry professionals to network and exchange ideas. The festival is expected to continue showcasing the diversity of Asian music and its power to unify by breaking through language and cultural barriers.
SB19: Setting the Gold Standard for P-Pop
Introducing SB19: the Filipino boy band sensation featuring John Paulo Nase (Pablo), Josh Cullen Santos (Josh), Stellvester Ajero (Stell), Felip Jhon Suson (Ken), and Justin De Dios (Justin). Established in 2018, this group has garnered attention for their dynamic live performances, vocal prowess, and versatility, releasing original tracks that span various musical genres.
Last May, SB19 dropped six tracks in their latest EP, PAGTATAG, translating to establishment or founding in Filipino.
Gento, the lead track from the EP, is a certified hit, confirming SB19’s expanding international appeal. SB19 offers a distinctive and compelling musical style to the local music industry. Now, the group is making waves as it brings Pinoy or P-pop to the global stage.
The group’s main songwriter, Pablo, explained, “‘Gento’ directly translates to ‘gold’ [ginto]. In the South, it means ‘like this’ [gan’to]. Essentially, the song is about all the hardships we’ve endured and the perseverance that has made us golden.”
“If I were to recommend three songs, I’d start with Gento. It’s a track that resonates with a wide audience. Next up is Crimzone, an energetic anthem that’s perfect for amping up your workout or boosting your mood. And the third is Mapa, one of our biggest hits. It’s a tribute to our guiding forces, our parents, hence the title ‘Mama and Papa.’ I encourage you all to give it a listen,” he added.
The release was followed by a second successful North American tour and 5th anniversary fan meet in Manila. A rousing performance and two awards at the recently-held Asia Artists Awards 2023 has solidified SB19’s growing international appeal.
The group is one of the most-awaited acts at the 2023 Round Festival in Jakarta last October. SB19 fan, 22-year-old Ayu Wija, travelled over 1,000 kilometres on a motorbike from Bali to Jakarta to watch her idols perform. The trip took five days. “Their incredible talent is a spirit lifter, pushing negativity away. I see them on par with South Korean idols, given their massive fanbase,” she told The ASEAN.
“It is my first time meeting them. On the 19th (October), we joined fan club admins at the airport to welcome them. Our group was diverse, with members from Singapore and the Philippines,” Wija added, proof of the group’s fanbase geographic spread.
“The group came to my radar in June through TikTok. I fell for their complete package—the visuals, the rap, their undeniable coolness,” added another concert-goer Yue Karyadi, enthusiastically.
Just before SB19’s performance at the Round 2023 Festival, Stell told The ASEAN, “First and foremost, we want to urge everyone to ride safely. We often hear stories of fans going to great lengths to see us, travelling from distant places. It’s overwhelming, and we’re incredibly grateful. We would love to give each of them a personal hug as a thank you. We are very happy to have them.”
Pablo added, “We are profoundly thankful for everyone who supports us, especially those who travel great distances just to watch us perform. If I could see her right now, if I could talk to her, I would say, ‘Thank you so much, we love all of you dearly.’”
Addressing what distinguishes Southeast Asian music from global genres, Pablo highlighted the area’s rich web of cultures and experiences. “Take Indonesia, for example, with its extensive archipelago of over 10,000 islands. This geographical diversity translates into a rich cultural heritage, offering us, as Southeast Asian artists, a unique set of experiences and stories to share on the global stage. It’s an incredible opportunity to showcase how these varied communities unite and engage with one another,” he concluded.
As the group was preparing to go on stage, Stell delved into the brilliant idea behind Round Festival, highlighting the significance of such events in bridging cultures and celebrating diversity in music.
“Events like Round Festival are such a great way to celebrate each country, everyone’s culture, and every music artist in the world. Because this event connects every artist, the language barrier is nothing if the music really connects to the people. All artists have the same goal to connect with everyone.”
brb.: Bringing R&B Back to the Heart of Singapore
brb., a Singaporean R&B trio, masterfully weaves together the nostalgic echoes of the 80s and 90s with the sounds of today’s music scene. The group consists of Clarence Liew (CLO), Auzaie Zie (Zie), and Marc Lian (Marc). Each artist infuses brb. with their unique musical heritage from previous bands—CLO, Disco Hue, and TRICK. Their 2018 debut with the single “Cool With It” marked a significant milestone, setting the tone for their unique musical journey.
Originating as a passion project in a home studio in central Singapore, brb.’s foundation was built on a shared love for R&B, hip hop, and soul. This fusion of genres and influences from diverse backgrounds has contributed to their distinctive sound and style. Their music has resonated with audiences across Asia, thanks to their groovy hits and their 2020 album “relationsh*t,” which showcases their exceptional talent and the natural chemistry among the members.
During a pre-performance interview with The ASEAN at the Round Festival 2023, brb., despite Zie’s absence, gladly shared their insightful reflections and future aspirations.
CLO said he envisions a future with more intimate stage setups to enhance the connection between the artists and their audience. “I think for the next time, maybe we can have more stages, ones with more intimate setups. There, the audience and the performer can have a more personal interaction, which would be nice,” he reflected. Marc supported CLO’s idea, noting that “having more stages with diverse acts will attract a broader range of musicians and audiences.”
Marc delved into the uniqueness of Southeast Asian music, attributing its distinctiveness to the region’s rich cultural diversity, which significantly influences their music. “What sets Southeast Asian music apart is the sheer amount of culture. The music is a reflection of that. Talking about our culture, our food, it all affects our music,” he explained.
Marc also emphasised the significance of events like the Round Festival for the Southeast Asian music industry and musicians. “This event plays a huge role in the Southeast Asian music industry. Opportunities like this for Southeast Asian musicians are rare. We don’t often get the chance to see performers from countries I have never visited before, which is pretty amazing,” he said.
Concluding our conversation, brb. extended an invitation to Southeast Asian music enthusiasts. “Give us a shot because our music is spicier!” they encouraged, inviting listeners to embrace the distinct flavours of their sound.
Pháo: From Social Media Sensation to Cross-Cultural Collaboration
Twenty-year-old Nguyễn Diệu Huyền is a Vietnamese rapper and producer. Growing up in Tuyên Quang and later moving to Hanoi, she chose the stage name Pháo (also known as Pháo Northside), symbolising passion. Her love for rap grew when she was 15. Meanwhile, her music career began while she was a Hanoi College of Art student.
She gained notable recognition with the release of her song 2 Phút Hơn [More than 2 Minutes] in 2020. This song became particularly famous internationally after a remix by DJ/producer KAIZ and later with American rapper Tyga. The remix went viral on social media platforms like TikTok, helping to catapult Pháo to global fame.
Her work stands out for her unique voice and catchy rhythms that blend traditional Vietnamese elements with modern hip-hop and rap. This exciting mix marks her as an influential figure in the evolving landscape of Vietnamese music.
In an interview with The ASEAN after her performance at the 2023 Round, Pháo shared her aspirations for Southeast Asian music. She expressed gratitude for the acceptance and support she’s received, enabling her to contribute to cultural exchanges within the region and beyond. As a proud representative of her country, she believes in the power of music to foster cross-cultural understanding and collaboration.
“I see myself as a small part of a larger movement promoting cross-cultural understanding and collaboration,” she conveyed.
Pháo hopes to expand Vietnamese music globally, recognising that while Western music dominates, there is a growing interest in Southeast Asian sounds.
“My hope is for our music, culture, and artistic vision to reach and resonate with audiences worldwide. This exposure will not only showcase our unique cultural heritage and foster collaboration and deepen connections in work, love, and human relationships,” she shared.
Reflecting on her recent performance in the 2023 Round Festival, Pháo described a mix of exhilaration and nervousness.
“Although I was quite anxious, I reminded myself to hide it from the audience. The thought of them realising my nervousness was daunting. Nevertheless, I focused on overcoming my fears and delivering my best performance.”
Pháo’s music is about more than entertainment; it’s about creating a bond with her audience and sharing their emotions, whether joyful or somber. “My goal is to be in harmony with the audience. It’s about sharing experiences—being there for them in moments of joy and comfort in times of sadness,” she concluded.
ASIA7: Blending Tradition with Innovation
ASIA7, established at Mahidol University in 2013, is a Thai Asian Pop band renowned for integrating traditional Thai folk instruments with contemporary sounds.
The band features Amornphat Sermsap (Aoy) as lead vocalist; Tontrakul Kaewyong (Ton) on the Pin (an Isan lute) and Khaen (an Isan bamboo mouth organ); Narisara Sakpunjachot (Yoye) playing the Saw Duang (a Thai fiddle) and Saw U; Phoowich Tawasinchanadech (Dew) as bassist; Thitirat Dilokhattakarn (Note) on drums; Kritamet Kittiboonyatiwakron (Oam) as saxophonist; Preeda Kesdee (Boom) on keys; and Suntorn Duangdang (Suntorn) as the guitarist.
During a 2023 Round Festival interview with The ASEAN, Ton shared the band’s philosophy and journey. This festival, especially post-COVID, represented a significant new chapter for them.
“This is our first time here, and we’re grateful for the invitation. We had the chance to experience diverse musical styles from artists across Southeast Asia and South Korea,” he said.
Emphasising their commitment to modernising traditional music, he highlighted ASIA7’s inclusion of diverse Asian elements, from Thai folk to influences from Japan, India, and China.
“We studied traditional music; we tried how to make the traditional music more modern,” Ton said. This drive to contemporise resonates throughout their music, infusing traditional Thai instruments with a modern twist.
ASIA7 views their focus on traditional instruments within the global music scene as a unique opportunity for innovation and a compelling challenge. With a vision to inspire, the band encourages more musicians to embrace traditional music and instruments boldly and wholeheartedly. “If you want to play folk music, traditional instruments, don’t be shy, just do it,” he encouraged.
Looking ahead to more international collaborations and festival appearances, ASIA7 aspires to break new ground and gain wider recognition on the global stage.
“We are not a pop band. We have traditional instruments. We cater to a niche market. In the grand scheme of the world, we are quite small. Our challenge is to break down the wall between musicians and the audience. For now, we are trying to do that. We haven’t broken the wall yet, but we are climbing it,” said Ton, wrapping up our conversation.