INDONESIA – TRADITIONS: Is the archipelago’s traditional music under threat?

We reproduce here a report from the Jakarta Post expressing the concerns of traditional Indonesian musicians.

Over the years, betawi music group has performed Jakarta ethnic gambang kromong music for birthday parties, weddings and sangjits (bethrotals) around Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi. “We lived more on the road,” says Ukar Sukardi, the founder of the troupe. “It was hard to find time to relax at home because we performed every day except Thursday nights.” Every day after school, many children would gather at their headquarters in Gunung Sindur, Bogor to learn how to play gambang (a kind of wooden gamelan), bangsing (a kind of bamboo flute), tehyan (a kind of stringed instrument). an instrument made of coconut shell and teak wood) and many other instruments used in betawi music.

“But those were the good old days,” says the 74-year-old with a rueful smile. “Taste nowadays [des gens] changed in music”. Today, the troupe of 25 musicians and singers considers itself lucky to be invited to a performance twice a month. Now they mainly perform in and around Bogor. Sinar Baru presented nine classical gambang kromong scores to the audience at the International Ethnic Music Festival organized by the Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ) Music Committee at Jakarta’s Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) on November 7-8.

The decline in interest in ethnic Indonesian music is felt almost everywhere in the country. Although the archipelago is home to thousands of ethnic music from almost every tribe, many young people now prefer contemporary genres. “Since the early 2000s, the situation has worried me a lot,” said Rino Dezapaty, co-founder of Riau Rhythm ethnic music group. “Back then, major labels were bombarding Indonesia with western pop, alternative and grunge music. Many TV and radio stations also broadcast these songs. These mass promotions changed the preference of young Indonesians for local ethnic music. “I also did a small survey at that time and found out that the youth in Riau don’t know their ethnic songs at all anymore,” said Rino. “It’s shocking.” The decline in interest in the country’s ethnic music is taking its toll on performers and their bands. More than half of the “Sinar Baru” troupe is over 40 years old. And these days, hardly any children come to their headquarters after school to learn how to play the gambang kromong. Ukar Sukardi says: “Today, children prefer to play with their gadgets in their free time.

As there are few requests for ethnic music performances, there are also few requests for musical instruments.

Indonesian drummer Gilang Ramadhan, who has been actively campaigning for Indonesian ethnic music, revealed in a discussion on TIM that many ethnic instrument makers have now changed professions. “Many of them called me and said they changed jobs to become tukang bakso [colporteur de boulettes de viande]Gilang said with a sad smile.

If this heartbreaking situation continues, Indonesian ethnic music may no longer be heard. But thankfully, neither the government nor the ethnic musicians are sitting around waiting for this to happen. Legal Protection In 2017, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo passed Law No. 5 of 2017 on the Perpetuation of Indonesian Culture. Gilang Ramadhan added, “We are all blessed by Law No. 5 of 2017, which clearly states that the state protects Indonesian ethnic music.” In March 2018, Indonesian singers, musicians and producers gathered in Ambon for the Indonesian Music Conference (KAMI). At the three-day conference, Indonesian music stakeholders issued a 12-point statement that they will work together to develop a supportive ecosystem for Indonesian ethnic music.

Thanks to Paul Di Rosa

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