Batanghari sembilan is a genre of popular guitar music performed in the province of South Sumatra, Indonesia. The sound of batanghari, for many locals, evokes a strong sense of cultural pride for their natural and agricultural surroundings, especially for the long winding rivers that flow across the elongated island’s mountainous landscape. Some have described the genre as melancholic or romantic for its minimalistic sound. In earlier times, the sound of batanghari sembilan was more dense as it was performed in small ensembles comprised of a gambus (a lute instrument similar to an oud), suling (an Indonesian bamboo flute), and small hanging gongs. Today, however, it is performed primarily on solo acoustic guitar.
In the village of Batu Urip, batanghari sembilan accompanies the sekedah bumi, a ceremony performed to summon the spirits of the deceased as a form of memorialization, expression of gratitude, and to repel future misfortune. The version of batanghari sembilan performed here in sekedah bumi is unique in its incorporation of pantun, a Malay poetic form, in this case, used to express deep sadness and longing for ancestors or recent relatives who have passed away. For instance, in the popular pantun phrase below, the third and fourth lines describe a sense of seduction that can be attributed to either an ancestor or perhaps a lover.
Betang hagu umban di tebang
Betang duku di buat hahang
Jengan ragu jengan bimbang
Linjang ku tuk ngas suhang
In this context, the performance of batanghari sembilan in sekedah bumi is not merely intended as entertainment but as ritual function, conveying the social values and history of South Sumatran cultures while strengthening local communities.
Learn more in “The function of pantun in the art performance of batang hari sembilan solo guitar during sedekah bumi ceremony held in Batu Urip hamlet, South Sumatera” by Imelda Tri Andari and Suharto (Harmonia 20.2, [December 2020], 195–204). Find this Indonesian journal in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature.
The video below features the guitarist Sahilin, one of South Sumatra’s most renowned contemporary batanghari sembilan performers. The second video features Suarasama, an Indonesian band that incorporates elements of the batanghari sembilan sound.
Pictured above are Randi Putra Ramadhan and Rosa Jannatri Harkha, two younger batanghari performers.