Among the people of Aceh, Sumatra, four concepts of space—cardinal directional, upstream-downstream, central-point-in-circle, and geometric—guide dance formations, the making of rapa’i Pasè frame drums, and the colors and associations of performing costumes and stage decorations.
The upstream-downstream concept, which stems from the tendency to travel upstream for raw materials and downstream for trade, associates upstream spaces with an inward-looking, mystical attitude and downstream spaces with an outward-looking attitude and commercial success. The cardinal directional concept, which is related to the upstream-downstream concept since most rivers in Aceh run between north and south, relates specific colors and metals to the four directions.
The central-point-in-a-circle concept enacts Perso-Arabic models, such as the building of towns around a central mosque, connecting Aceh with its historical links to the larger Muslim world. The dominant geometric concept, which probably dates to before 300 B.C.E., is expressed in straight lines, parallelograms, diamonds, and curved forms including figure-eights, ovals, and leaf and flower shapes.
The Acehnese dance form ratoh jaroe has empowered young women, especially high school students who are shaping their own youth culture, by taking center stage in Jakarta, one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world.
Young Jakartan women take advantage of the positive reputation of ratoh jaroe there, leveraging perceptions of the genre to channel self-expression and confidence, maintain their physical and mental health, and enrich their social lives, religious identity, education, and future. The genre is a medium for what young female Jakartan students consider success. Furthermore, Jakarta’s cosmopolitan engagement with consumerism and industry, along with the goal-oriented mindset of Jakartan youth, has created a fertile social space for ratoh jaroe’s popularization.
A network of practitioners and the culture of competition drives the circulation and economics of a ratoh jaroe industry, and Jakartan understandings of the dance’s historical roots in Islam promotes its acceptance, allowing young, mainly female, Muslim dancers to maintain their religious identities while performing on a public stage.
This according to “Ratoeh jaroe: Islam, youth, and popular dance in Jakarta, Indonesia” by Maho A. Ishiguro (Yearbook for traditional music LI  73–101; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2019-20798).
Below, a Jakartan group performs in 2012.
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The musical style associated with the bamboo frame rattle
embodies the egalitarian cooperation so essential for the agriculture that
people in West Java
for centuries. In the early twentieth century, Indonesian nationalists
reimagined the sound of the angklung to index a connection to a distinctly
Sundanese modern identity rooted in rural values.
The kind of angklung ensemble now popular in Indonesian
schools and universities, which was designated an item of intangible heritage
by UNESCO in 2010, is an elaboration of the innovations of the Sundanese music
educator Daeng Soetigna.
Current incarnations of angklung ensembles feature large numbers of performers,
often playing arrangements of classical and popular hit songs as well as
well-known Indonesian songs.
Angklung’s persistent appeal to Sundanese citizens has much
to tell us about the relationship of humans to the places in which they live,
the social structures that sustain them, and the strategies they concoct to
remain grounded in a changing world.
This according to “From the rice harvest to Bohemian rhapsody: Diachronic modernity in angklung performance” by Henry Spiller, an essay included in Making waves: Traveling musics in Hawaiʻi, Asia, and the Pacific (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2018, pp. 19–38; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-51723).
In May 2019 Songlines Magazine and the PRS Foundationlaunched a competition to find the best remix of David Attenborough’s recording of a performance of Balinese gendér wayang, a style of Indonesian gamelan that features a quartet of ten-keyed metallophones. Among the reactions of gamelan enthusiasts was concern that the unnamed musicians (or their descendants) were receiving neither recognition nor royalties for this reuse of their work.
The music and instruments in the recording (said to date from 1956 but in fact recorded in 1968, as discovered by Edward Herbst since the publication of the article) were instantly recognizable to people who knew the repertoire of the village of Teges Kanginan; the gamelan set is presumed to have belonged to this village for at least 100 years.
Soon after the competition was announced, the American ethnomusicologist Edward Herbst met with the village leader, his staff, and local musicians, and listened to the original recording as one of the current players tapped out the basic melody on one of the historic instruments. All the pitches matched, and everyone agreed that the recording was of the Teges gamelan, and that the royalties should go to that village.
Herbst presented the royalties to the village leader, and all were elated that the royalties would provide seed money for restoring and reviving this legacy gamelan, and that Teges could regain its heritage.
Çudamani, a sekaa (a communal club under the auspices of a ward) and a sanggar (a more tightly governed and broader arts organization) in the Balinese village of Pengosekan, is committed to studying and teaching Balinese music and dance; it is also a transnational arts phenomenon.
Çudamani is first a traditional sekaa, in the sense that it is committed to its local community, and one of the main missions of the troupe is to ngayah, or perform voluntary performance service at temple festivals. The original troupe was initiated in the late 1990s; today, the organization includes at least four different sub-groups (including children’s clubs).
The group is postmodern because of the transnational basis, the neotraditionalism, the mixing of new and traditional musics and the play of genre, the fluidity of local and global identities, and the fact that the troupe seems to defy preconceived notions of sekaa or sanggar and to transcend some principles upon which such organizations have been established. While its international notoriety distinguishes this group from most others, Çudamani’s global participation and embrace of neotraditionalism illuminates growing trends within Bali and provides a case study of circulating, 21st-century ideation on cultural representation and the role of the arts.
This according to “Between traditionalism and postmodernism: The Balinese performing arts institution Çudamani” by David D. Harnish, an essay included in Performing arts in postmodern Bali: Changing interpretations, founding traditions (Aaachen: Shaker Verlag, 2013, pp. 257–77).
Bengawan Solo (Solo River) was written by the kroncong singer Gesang Martohartono (above) in September 1940. A tribute to the beauty and significance of the river for the common people, the song subsequently assumed national importance, symbolizing the struggle for independence during the Japanese occupation of Java (1942–45).
The first widely popular song by an Indonesian composer written in Bahasa Indonesia, the Malay-based national language adopted by independent Indonesia, Bengawan Solo now evokes images of Indonesian revolutionary fighters to whom homage must be given. The song has spread throughout Southeast Asia, and it has even become popular in Japan and China, making it a potent symbol of pan-East/Southeast Asian identity.
This according to “The pan-East/Southeast Asian and national Indonesian song Bengawan Solo and its Javanese composer” by Margaret J. Kartomi (Yearbook for traditional music XXX  pp. 85–101).
Below, a recording featuring the voice of the composer.
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Kecak, one of the most popular dramatic dance forms performed for tourists on Bali, was developed cooperatively by Balinese artists and Western expatriates—most prominently I Wayan Limbak and Walter Spies—with the explicit purpose of meeting the tastes and expectations of a Western audience.
Driven by economic considerations, in the late 1960s kecak was standardized into the kecak ramayana known today. Kecak ramayana does not appeal to Balinese audiences in an artistic sense; instead it is perceived as a traditional way of generating income for the community. In contrast, kecak kreasi (or kecak kontemporer) has been developed by local choreographers since the 1970s.
With its use of both pre-1960 traditional elements and Western contemporary dance, kecak kreasi is rooted in the contemporary Balinese performing arts scene. These dances appeal primarily to a Balinese audience, showing that kecak as a genre can be more than income from tourism; in its contemporary form it is valued by Balinese audiences on the basis of its artistic value.
This according to “Performing kecak: A Balinese dance tradition between daily routine and creative art” by Kendra Stepputat (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV  pp. 49–70); this issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Gender wayang music of Bapak I Wayan Loceng from Sukawati, Bali: A musical biography, musical ethnography, and critical edition by Brita Renée Heimarck (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2015) is at once a memorial to I Wayan Loceng (1926–2006) and a tribute to his great musical genius.
This new critical edition documents nine compositions from the esteemed Balinese gender wayang repertoire. The music derives from the musical mastery of Loceng, arguably the most renowned gender wayang expert in Bali, who lived in the village of Sukawati.
This edition places the music within a historical, cultural, and biographical context and introduces a broad theoretical framework that contains a new definition for the discipline of ethnomusicology, and substantial discussion of the genres of musical biography, musical ethnography, and ethnomusicology of the individual.
The book also introduces pertinent scholarly perspectives, offers biographical information pertaining to Loceng, delineates the cultural concepts and contexts for performance and background of the shadow play tradition in Bali, and clarifies key aspects of the music itself.
Above and below, I Wayan Loceng in action.
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In August 1928 representatives from the German record companies Odeon and Beka were sent to Bali; their efforts resulted in 98 recordings on 78 rpm discs of a wide variety of examples of Balinese music.
As it happened, at that time Bali was undergoing an artistic revolution. A new style known as kebyar was rapidly gaining popularity, and older ceremonial styles were literally disappearing, as their bronze instruments were melted down and reforged to accommodate the new style’s requirements; the Odeon/Beka recordings preserve several musical traditions that were later lost.
These were the recordings that inspired the young Canadian composer Colin McPhee, who first heard them in 1929. McPhee went to Bali in 1931 and remained there for nearly a decade; his activities included making painstaking transcriptions of Balinese pieces.
This according to the commentary by Edward Herbst that accompanies the CD The roots of gamelan: The first recordings—Bali, 1928; New York, 1941 (World Arbiter, 1999).
Above, a Gamelan gong gede group in Denpasar around the time the recordings were made; this tradition dates from the 15th century. Gong gede survives today, as the video below attests.
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