I am sufficiently acculturalised to enjoy a lot of Indonesian ‘traditional’ music, although I particularly enjoy those forms which have absorbed influences from elsewhere.
Culture is not static, although here in Indonesia what most tourists generally get to see are museum artefacts, a resemblance of those performed ‘in-house’ by members of particular ethnic and/or familial groups.
Due to my familial and cultural background as well as my musical journey through life, I have a particular penchant for ‘ethno-jazz’, so albums by Indonesian groups from Krakatau to Java Jazz (not this one) to simakDialog and Tohpati’s Ethnomission get a regular airing in Jakartass Towers.
A few weeks back I spent four nights in Bali accompanying Son No.1 as he ‘inspected’ various luxury hotels and resorts for potential inclusion in the brochure of his travel company. Our last night was spent in Ubud and we ended up in an excellent restaurant, Bumbu Bali. This is opposite the palace which was crowded with tourist witnessing royal dances accompanied by the court gamelan orchestra.
There is no better way to enjoy a fine meal in Bali than with the sounds of a live, rather than canned, gamelan performance wafting over the warm breeze…
Last night, along with gamelan and volcano climbing aficionado Dan Q., I trundled up to Gedung Kesenian (the Jakarta Arts House), for a performance by Sambasunda which was part of the Festival Musik Indonesia. Formed in 1995, the group is lead by Ismet Ruchimat “who started his career in 1989 in Gugum Gumbira’s famous Jugala Orchestra and has appeared on a number of international recording projects: with Spanish percussionist Vidal Paz (“Sunda-Africa”, Globestyle); Indian flautist, Hariprasad Chaurasia (“Moon Magic”, BMG India); the Madagascan group, Tarika (“Soul Makassar”, Sakay); and on the Kartini label with Sabah Habas Mustapha & the Jugala Allstars (“Jalan Kopo” and “So La Li”)“.
This was to be the first time that I was to both hear and see the group, though I’ve had a couple of their CDs for nigh on ten years. I also have a couple of ‘bootleg’ recordings from their gigs in Chichester, UK, back in 2002 and 2003. These I passed on to Pak Ismet shortly before the ensemble took to the stage.
Gedung Kesenian is a beautiful Dutch building, comfortable, although the air conditioning always seems to be set too low. It is one of my favourite venues of all those I’ve been in down the years. What we weren’t prepared for was the incredibly sparse audience; From our vantage point in the centre seats of the front row of the balcony we counted just 49 folk, maybe five of whom were westerners like us – and as many as nine at any one time had their mobile phones lit up. With Sambasunda’s 17 – count ’em – musicians, along with Gugum Gumbira’s daughter, Rita Tilla, as ‘lead singer’ and three dancers, and with 20 or so staff and technicians, the audience was nearly outnumbered. That doesn’t say much for my advertising potential nor that of the Jakarta Post which contributed just two lines in yesterday’s issue.
What I also wasn’t prepared for was the incredible drive generated by the gamelan instruments over which, in some of the compositions, Rita Tilla sang, but not as a western pop singer would. I don’t understand a word of Sundanese, but judguing from her dancing, she sang about the familiar themes of love and betrayal.
I can say little about their music which isn’t said here, but I heard enough of their “pulsating wall of sound that shakes the foundations of their tradition to the core, [emerging] with a spellbinding, at times wistful, and highly original blend of music both vocal and instrumental” to want more.
It is traditional music for urbanites, so I wanted to know where they were. As we left, I asked the lass I chat to on my increasingly frequent visits to Gedung Kesenian why more folk hadn’t come.
She told me that they preferred western music.
Shame, I thought, and something the character instillers should take note of.