Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Last Balinese Suling Master

On the misty slopes of Bali’s mountainous central highlands dwells a charismatic man renowned as a master flute maker. Made Ransi has spent over half of his 65 years fashioning instruments from the abundant bamboo growing all around his ancestral home.

Ransi specializes in crafting the suling, a type of bamboo flute particular to Bali, using the slender reeds which grow in every yard of his small village of Kerta.

Ransi learned the craft from his grandfather, who was also a renowned suling maker. Now a grandfather of three himself, Ransi remembers how driven he was to practice both the making and playing of the flute as a young boy.

“I first learned to play traditional tunes, such as “Semaradana.” At that time, playing the flute was a way to entice girls, so I had some strong motivation for wanting to perfect my style,” he said with a look of mischief in his eyes.

“Sometimes, when I’m playing my flute, people will toss coins at me,” he said with a laugh. He can play traditional Balinese music, dangdut and even the theme song for “Titanic” — Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” “If tourists hear me play that, they really become interested!” he said. Some tourists have even visited him in Kerta, wanting to witness for themselves the process of making the suling.

For his painstakingly-crafted flutes, Ramsi charges a modest $15 for the smallest ones, with prices up to $50 for the largest flutes. He can usually sell a good number of them at the art market. “But I don’t only seek profit — if I make my customers happy with my flutes, then that is worth more to me than the money,” he said.

More worrying to him, however, is the influx of new wind instruments made from lightweight materials such as fiber, plastic and ebonite, which are more durable than bamboo. Ransi said these mass-produced wind instruments exhibit less beauty and subtlety in their sound.

“I worry that if these kinds of wind instruments take over, it will not bode well for the bamboo flute, whose alluring and beautiful sound will be lost. It is possible the art of bamboo flute-making may end with my generation,” he lamented.

If so, Ransi really may be among the last of the true Balinese flute-makers.

Full article by Wayan Budiartha

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