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What is Gamelan Gambuh?

Written on June 25th, 2012 | Category: Indonesia | 8 Comments | 12,793 views

With the coming of the Majapahit Kingdom to Bali, and the subsequent rise to power of the Gelgel Court of Klungkung, a golden age of art proliferated. One of these art-forms was a style of music and orchestration called Gambuh. With its roots possibly in West Java where there is a village with the same name, this type of gamelan orchestra features long bamboo flutes (suling) and a spiked fiddle (rebab), augmented by percussive instruments, and driven by two drums (kendang kerumpungan).

The end-blown suling and the rebab carry the melody line of the compositions which can be more than 20 minutes long. They play in a seven-tone scale over several of octaves with many harmonics variations in between and – due to their size and the cyclic breathing technique – take many years of practice to master. The rebab is thought to have its roots in Persia and was probably inspired by Indian traders who would have come to Bali via Java. The rebab is also found in Java and on other islands, but in a slightly different form. Read More »

What is Gambuh Part II

Written on June 25th, 2012 | Category: Indonesia | 21 Comments | 20,386 views

Gambuh is Bali’s oldest dance drama that developed in the 15th century in the Klungkung kingdom of Gelgel. The stories feature blue bloods and their servants, and Gambuh was obviously used as a tool by the palaces to demonstrate their power and importance. The dramas included a large cast of dancers – around 22 – who were originally all-male, playing both male and female roles.

The ancient drama is based almost entirely on the tales of Prince Panji, which were modified from the palm leaf scripture called Malat. The central theme of the Panji stories is ‘love’ – his attachment for his wife, her disappearance and his subsequent journeys hunting for his soul mate. Read More »

Gamelan – the Life-Breath of the Balinese

Written on April 27th, 2012 | Category: Indonesia | 12 Comments | 18,868 views

“Gamelan music and instruments are a fundamental part of the life of a Balinese which is focused around the relationship between people and god, people and nature and between all people. These three concepts of harmonious living are known as Tri Hita Karana” (Dr. I Made Bandem)

This analysis by a Balinese musicologist is based on the old palm-leaf manuscripts which were written hundreds of years ago by court intellectuals. A couple of manuscripts in particular, known as Aji Gurnita and Pra Kempa, reveal a great philosophy behind music making in Bali. Diagrams involving the directions of the wind, the gods which imbibe each particular tone and even colours associated with vocal sounds are found throughout the scriptures. There is a section on the different types of court gamelan, their instrumentation, scales and even a guide how to play them. Read More »

Bali’s Believe It or Not

Written on April 27th, 2012 | Category: Indonesia | 1 Comment | 5,009 views

In Bali, everything is alive. Everything has a soul, so they say. Shrines, statues, even trees and boulders are ornamented with sacred black and white sarongs, as if they are human. Some ‘in the know’ people have suggested to me that if you start making offerings to an object, you can arouse its spirit. From this point on you must be prepared to constantly prepare offerings for it on certain auspicious days. Neglecting to do this could cause unrest, disharmony and even sickness. Read More »

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