What is Gamelan Gambuh?

Written by von from | Category: Indonesia on June 25th, 2012 | 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.

The percussive section of a Gambuh orchestra includes one small to medium gong (kempur), a time keeper (kajar), another time keeper (klenang), a three-keyed xylophone (kenyir), small cymbals (kangsi), two bell trees (gentorag), and two or three gumanak (horizontal hollow tubes). These are all made of bronze. The conical double-headed kendang kerumpungan control the dynamics of the orchestra, giving lively cues to and working on vocal and physical cues from the large cast of dancers.

According to Wikipedia, the kenyir, kangsi and gumanak are only found in Gambuh orchestras; however, this is incorrect as old-style orchestras such as semara pegulingan, semara patangian and even angklung use at least one of these instruments in their complete form.

Gambuh was once nearly extinct in Bali and is still considered a gravely endangered art-form. Perhaps its lack of appeal is due to the length and breadth of much of the court repertoire, as well as serious nature of the drama it accompanies.

© 2012 Mekar Bhuana ( and

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