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

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

During these years the betawi music group performed Gambang kromong ethnic music of Jakarta for birthday parties, weddings and sangjit (engagement) around Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi. “We mostly lived on the road,” said Ukar Sukardi, the founder of the troupe. “It was hard to find time to relax at home because we were performing every day except Thursday nights.” Every day, after school, many children also gathered at their headquarters in Gunung Sindur, Bogor, to learn to play the gambang (a kind of wooden gamelan), the bangsing (a kind of bamboo flute), the tehyan ( a kind of 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 sad smile. “Nowadays, taste [des gens] in music it has changed”. Today the troupe, consisting of 25 musicians and singers, consider themselves lucky to be invited to play twice a month. Now they mainly perform in and around Bogor. At the International Ethnic Music Festival, organized by the Music Committee of the Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ) in Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), Jakarta, from November 7 to 8, Sinar Baru presented nine classical scores of gambang kromong to the audience.

The decline in interest in Indonesian ethnic music is being felt in almost all parts of the country. While the archipelago is home to thousands of ethnic music from nearly every tribe, many of its youngsters now prefer modern genres. “I have been very concerned about the situation since the early 2000s,” said Rino Dezapaty, co-founder of ethnic music group Riau Rhythm. “At that time, major labels were bombarding Indonesia with Western, alternative and grunge pop music. Many televisions and radios also broadcast these songs. These massive promotions have shifted Indonesian youth’s preference for local ethnic music. “At that time, I also did a small survey and found that the young people of Riau no longer recognized their ethnic songs,” Rino said. “It’s shocking.” Declining interest in country’s ethnic music is taking its toll on artists and their bands. More than half of the Sinar Baru troupe are over 40 years old. And these days, almost no children come to the headquarters after school to learn how to play gambang kromong. “Kids today prefer to play with their gadgets in their spare time,” says Ukar Sukardi.

As there are fewer demands for ethnic music performances, there are also fewer demands for musical instruments.

In a discussion at TIM, Indonesian drummer Gilang Ramadhan, who actively advocates for ethnic Indonesian music, revealed that many ethnic musical instrument makers have now changed professions. “Many of them called me to tell me they were changing jobs to become a 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 fortunately, neither the government nor ethnic musicians are sitting around waiting for that to happen. Legal Protection In 2017, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo enacted Law No. 5 year 2017 concerning the perpetuation of Indonesian culture. “We are all blessed with Law No. 5 of 2017 which clearly states that the state protects ethnic Indonesian music,” Gilang Ramadhan added. In March 2018, Indonesian singers, musicians and producers gathered in Ambon for the Indonesian Music Conference (KAMI). During the three-day conference, Indonesian music stakeholders released a 12-point statement that they will work together to develop a support ecosystem for ethnic Indonesian music.

Thanks to Paolo DiRosa

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