Friday, January 25, 2013

Young gamelan players preserve the traditional ensemble

The beauty of gamelan, from Bali, Java or other parts of Indonesia which have similar sets of instruments, is well-known globally, especially among the “world music” community. 

Many master musicians from Indonesia, and sometimes from other countries, have successfully introduced this traditional musical ensemble to the international scene through collaborations with renowned composers and singers of various musical genres.

However it is not only famous, acclaimed artists or prominent, professional musicians who can bring a greater awareness of the wide range of possibilities of gamelan music while preserving this culturally and historically rich instrument. 

Nikimuzieku, a group of students from the Soegijapranata Catholic University in Semarang, none of whom are scholastic or celebrated musical experts, has its own way of introducing gamelan to the younger generation. The group, initiated in 2008 by the English department of the University, has had the opportunity to perform on various stages and collaborate with other musicians including recently awkward i, a rising new band from the Netherlands which recently performed in three cities in Indonesia.

Led by singer-songwriter Djurre de Haan, awkward i performed in Semarang, Jakarta and Bogor at the invitation of the Erasmus Huis, Jakarta. It was also Erasmus Huis that “found” Nikimuzieku to collaborate with the Dutch band.

“This is another milestone for Nikimuzieku since it was formed some four years ago as an extra-curricular activity for the students. Thanks to Erasmus Huis I hope more students will be interested in joining and participating in the group,” said dean of the faculty of letters Heny Hartono.

She said students at every grade were encouraged to participate in the extra-curricular activities, but not too many were enthusiastic about the gamelan group, particularly after a certain period of practice. “Occasions like the collaboration with awkward i are an achievement for Nikimuzieku; more new students will hopefully be interested in joining as they [the current members] will not be at the university forever.”

Ezra Igor, the music arranger of the group said that he had been with the gamelan ensemble since 2008 until after his graduation.

“I had no educational background in music but I like artistic creation and music. I joined the gamelan group as I don’t want to play a mainstream musical genre that I think anyone can do. In addition, as a member of the younger generation, I also want to preserve traditional music.”

Nikimuzieku aims to preserve gamelan as an aspect of Javanese culture. It has a motto of “Menyongsong globalisasi, Melestarikan Tradisi” or “Facing Globalization, Keeping Traditions.” Since its establishment in 2008, the group has tried to attract young people and be recognized by international audiences.

Consisting of students from various faculties of the university, Nikimuzieku tries to play an active part in keeping traditional art forms such as wayang and gamelan alive. Since the beginning, the group has explored the possibilities of combining different cultures by adapting a multicultural concept. It later incorporated the Japanese traditional beats of Taiko with Javanese gamelan in its musical performances. This is one of Nikimuzieku’s innovations dubbed Taiko van Java. 

Playing his own compositions on the stages of Semarang and Jakarta in harmony with the gamelan ensemble was not too easy for de Haan, who had just returned with awkward i from their gigs at EuroSonic 2013.

“Integrating gamelan into my songs has been a great challenge. I think the gamelan has different notes. I once listened during our only three-time rehearsals; it’s not C or D but in the middle. Fortunately there are three compositions which can be tuned with the ensemble,” he said.

In the performance at Erasmus Huis last Monday, the band played several of de Haan’s compositions integrated with the Javanese traditional instrument, including “Your Arrival”, “Hannah Hung Heavy”, “Let’s Get Ready to Die” and “Rock Stars”. The songs are in awkward i’s second album Everything on Wheels released in 2011. 

Defining his genre as alternative pop music, de Haan said that he would consider using the Javanese musical instrument in the band’s next album. “I’m more than open to working with a gamelan ensemble. I feel ‘Your Arrival’ is extra beautiful with the traditional touch.”

Two students who are musical and cultural fans attending the performance at Erasmus Huis, Leyly Khairani Zahra and Frida Ajeng Bayanti, said that the collaboration between awkward i and Nikimuzieku was enjoyable though more rehearsal was needed.

“It’s great to enjoy the ethnic element in the music or songs in English,” said Zahra. “It’s would have been much better if they had rehearsed more. It’s good but I felt it was not too smooth,” said Frida. (Jakarta Post)

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