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Saving Balinese traditional music and dance

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If you happen to visit Bali, you will likely be exposed to music that is distinctive to the island. It usually happens when you pass by local town halls filled with children practicing routines or restaurants offering an authentic Balinese experience.

The gamelan music ensemble that plays Balinese traditional music might seem similar to those found in Java, but actually the tunes that they play are different.

Furthermore, Bali has more than 45 different types of gamelan orchestra, unfortunately not all of them are popular or preserved through proper documentation. They also find difficulties in terms of regeneration of gamelan players.

As a result, many of the lesser-known tunes are no longer in living memory. Vaughan Hatch, an ethnomusicologist from New Zealand, together with his wife, a dance instructor in Sanur, Putu Evie Suyadnyani, pay serious attention toward this matter.

The couple founded the Mekar Bhuana Conservatory that researches, studies, documents and reconstructs rare traditional Balinese gamelan music and dances.

There are no other archives apart from the couple’s collection. The words Mekar Bhuana mean “blossoming world" in Balinese, which symbolizes the hope that the traditional Balinese arts would someday blossom beyond Bali.

Mekar Bhuana has been working with local musicians over the past 13 years and in some case they have resurrect the lost forms of this art.

So far, the conservation group has managed to reconstruct ten pieces of music from the oral memories of elder musicians, some of the music is more than 20-minutes long.

These music has been reintroduced to their original villages to be taught so the local people will be able to perform it themselves in the future.

Mekar Bhuana have also formed a solid art-performer group, which comprises of male and females who aged from seven to 70. Aside from the music conservation project, Mekar Bhuana also strives to empower the people that have chosen the path of traditional music.

“[Modern] bands get paid better than those who perform traditional Balinese music," Hatch said during the Bali Spirit press conference back in March.

Hatch is attempting to increase the quality of performances as well as professionalism. In doing so, he hopes to improve the quality, the reciprocity and the treatment of the artists.

They have performed as far as Guangzhou, China, during the 2010 Asian Games by invitation of the organizers.

One of Mekar Bhuana’s successful projects is the preservation of tunes from the Kaliungu Kelod village. To achieve this, they had to extract the music 84-year-old I Wayan Gunastra who is the last artisan to remember the tunes.


Last changed: Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 8:35 pm

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