Sunday, February 22, 2009

An Anniversary Party at Rarasati

Last night (21/2/09) I attended an anniversary party at Rarasati, a catering venue located in Mantrijeron, Yogyakarta. I didn't realise it would be a birthday party - I only knew from Facebook that Sampak Gusuran, an ethnic ensemble from Pati would be playing.

As it turned out, it was the anniversary of a Dutch couple celebrating 30 years of residence/continued visits to Indonesia - a couple we knew from Holland. We had actually visited their house some 10 years ago, and share a research interest in the field of Indonesian history. From an initial awkward welcome, we were embraced and became part of the party.

The venue Rarasati, which has a beautifully carved pendopo, is little known (our taxi driver had a very hard time finding it), but its owner Sugeng is an interior designer and businessman who is well-linked into the neo-traditional and modern performing arts scene here. He tells us Rarasati is often used for theatre and music rehearsals - and he happily provides this free of charge, even serving drinks. Among the guests were Mella, the owner of the Cemethi art gallery and a little person who is a member of Didik Nini Thowok's dance troupe. (I saw him perform at the Chinese New Year ketoprak show.)

There were the normal speeches, kaki-lima type food such as empal and soto and nasi liwet, and lots of beer and drinking.

The entertainments were divided into four sections. A solo guitar player/singer played some folksy songs. A mime in classic white face did a sketch with a friend wearing a plastic bag over his head. This was called Dunia Plastik, and featured a number of plastic bags - offered as presents to the sponsors, played with like a balloon, challenging the mime in various ways. The space was not well lit, and I found it hard to follow the plot, if there was one, but thought the miming was pretty good.

Then there was an open mike, in which a number of musicians and singers 'nyumbang suara' to the event.

Finally Sampak GusUran ( offered a set of 5 songs. The group's leader offered an introduction in Indonesian about how the group plays both big venues such as TIM and also worked at the local (desa) level promoting good causes. He believes that good art will be recognised and appreciated wherever it is performed. Their base in Pati - a pesisir area far from the major cultural centres such as Jakarta and Yogyakarta - is no impediment in today's globalized world.

The group of perhaps 15 or 20 performers combined guitars and drum kit with saron and terbang, various styles of singing and chanting. It was a good neo-ethnic show, slick and entertaining and high volume. (My wife commented that the neighbours must be very tolerant to allow for these sorts of events.)

There were fewer than 50 people in the audience at this time - and I felt very privileged to have been present at this private concert.

NB After writing this blog entry, I received an apologetic email from Sampak GusUran leader Anis Sholeh Ba'asyin via facebook. He had read this blog and apologised for the quality of the sound system, not greeting me on my arrival etc. He was lead to believe that the performance would be a much bigger affair than it turned out to be - that is why he advertised it via facebook. I was pleased to have a personal connection, and explained that the event was a special treat for me....

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