Friday, May 21, 2010

Dutch-Indonesia Encounters Day 2

The symposium on Dutch-Indonesian Musical Encounters continued for a second day on Thursday 20 May. Today was quite a mix of papers - from obscure performance forms in Indonesia's outer islands to a postcolonial critique by Indonesian composer Franki Raden to theatre in Suriname and pop music in the Netherlands.

Anthropologist Gerard Persoon spoke about versions of the Wilhelma as sung in Mentawai. The national anthem was learned in colonial schools and sung annually at the Queen's Birthday (a major celebration in the Indies, often involving 'folk games' like climbing greased poles and the like). The song was still proudly remembered in the repertoire of one of Gersoon's chief musical informants and recorded in a CD. A number of Mentawai language versions exist, with different lyrics etc.

Miriam Brenner, a young ethnomusicologist who works for a music festival in Nijmegen and a world music venue in Utrecht, spoke about research she did in Buton for a Bandung NGO on a drum and dance military style band known as galangi.

This band - which features a small ensemble of drummers (3), spear holders and flag bearers form a military kompaniya that appear in processions. Formerly a war dance, it is now typically used as a welcoming dance.Dutch sources going back to 1640 describe the use of drums to intimidate the Butonese. In an inversion of this, Butonese dress in the trappings of the VOC. Up until the late colonial period, galangi's flags displayed the VOC emblem.Drawing on Homi Bhabha, she described galangi as a sphere of activity where colonial power exerted its influence.

Franki Raden went back to materials in his PhD dissertation (2001) and linked the work of Ki Hadjar Dewantara to his own work as a composer (specifically his recent concert with the Indonesian National Orchestra). He argued that by having a national anthem in a Western diatonic mode, a European element was embedded in Indonesian national identity from the start. Ki Hadjar Dewantara's hybrid Kinanthie Sandoong (which has a piano part based on gender figurations and a vocal line that calls upon the singer to improvise cengkok wilet) was a sign of resistance against the hegemonic culture of Europe. He described and showed a DVD of the recently-launched Indonesian National Orchestra - working with 'masters' from around Indonesia and developing a few new instruments (incluindg a bass rebab redolent of Suryoputro's late colonial work) he continues Ki Hadjar's tradition of notating and allowing for self-expression. This is a big ensemble - 45 instrumentalists plus a choir of 15 - and Franki is still looking for funding to support the work. It is a nationalist projecgt - Franki rejects European instruments (he says he will only use them as soloists), wants to return to indigenous tradition and explore resources and develop tradition as a composer.

Discussion focused on the role of notation and what it means to be a composer in Indonesia. Wim van Zanten said that notation was only an aide memoire - in contrast to Judith Becker who argues (with Walter Ong) that notation fundamentally changes the way we think. Henk Mak van Dijk said he knew of only 3 compositions by Ki Hadjar (Franki knew only one) and questioned whether Ki Hadjar could then be called a composer. Ben Arps countered that Ki Hadjar wrote many other pieces - but used a cypher notation of his own devising. Dutch composer Jos Jansen questioned how innovative Franki's work is - he says he has heard much similar music in Yogya and Solo over the years. He urged a more radical approach to gamelan.

This lively discussion was followed by a paper by Fridus Steijlen on the Maluku band H-Gang, the Merantau choir and a theatre of liberation play titled Degnan Harapan. All were part of a radical moment in Maluku cultural politics in the Netherlands in the 1980s in the wake of the violent highjacking of trains, as the community moved from being exiles to reconciling themselves to the position of migrant. The community in their arts made strategic alliances with other communities of struggle - the gay rights community, South African anti-apartheid activists, East Timorese activists, ex-PKI. This is legible in their arts - through singing South African songs, singing song such as N Bomb (a nuclear protest in reggae style) and Indonesian-language songs such as Buka Mata Sama-Sama (1981) - in which Indonesians are called upon to vote against the Soeharto regime. Interesting ironies emerge. A South African song turns out to have lyrics urging people to kill the Boers - this was sung without knowledge at the time. The speaker presented as a musician participant in this early 1980s scene - speaking from direct knowledge. This inclusivity has been a characteristic of Maluccan bands in the Netherlands for years. Discussang Wim Manuhutu (himself also a musician) said that the Maluku community generally found H-Gang and affiliated organisations 'weird' both musically and in terms of their political alliances.

After lunch, we heard a paper by Annika Ockhorsst on Javanese elements in the Surinamese multicultural theatre companiy Doe Theatre (1974-1983). Annika wrote her MA in history on this company, basing herself on historical documents as well as interviews with suriving ompany members, some of whom live in the Netherlands. Doe (from a word meaning song-and-dance performance as well as 'do' - a sense of political action) was a postcolonial theatre that aimed to define a national Surinamese identity by drawing on elements of all the major ethnic groups and enacting stories addressing real issues confronting Surinamese society. Gamelan instruments were used, costume and set elements (including a gapura) were incorporated, mythological figures (including a wayang wong Hanoman) could be found. Dancers returned from dharmasiswa in central Java taught the company dance. The company played for middle class audiences in the capital. Few Javanese attended, despite the fact that 2 out of the 10 core members were of Javanese descent. While touring in the provinces, it played sometimes for Javanese audiences. It was noteworthy also for introducing gamelan instruments (played in a non-idiomatic way) to indigenous people in the interior. The company resisted the European style of theatremmaking by drawing on indigneous elements, inspired by the black theatre movement in the US (the director had studied in the US before founding Doe) and a variety of other cultural influences. It also worked strategically with a number of other organisations - including at least 2 Javanese NGOs. Other performances (to date) have people present their own cultures. But Doe showed people from different ethnic groups enacting each other's rituals and dances and expressive arts. Franki Raden wondered in the discussion about the influence of Amir Pasaribu, who lived in Suriname for 30 years.

We also heard two papers on pop music in the Netherlands by people of Indonesian extraction. A and R manager Harry Knipschild showed clips from youtube of a number of bands famous in the 1950s and early 1960s - speaking about them from the perspective of the music business.

Lutgard Mutsaers, author of the book Rockin' Ramona (1989), described the bands in a discussion afterwards as 'unDutch' (meaning excellent). They made their fortune playing in Germany to soldiers in American army bases desparate to hear rock 'n roll and returned to Holland in cadillacs and gold chains. Knipschild was not only nostalgic for the past - he also promoted the Sarawak singer Zee Avi, showing a clip of her 'Just You and Me' (2009), and spoke about singers of Indonesian extraction who are still making music today. Rein Spporman argued that Maluccan musicians are not defined by musical style (though they share a core repertoire of 150-200 folk songs). Rather they are 'the gypsies of the Netherlands' playing whatever music is in vogue.

A festive dinner at the Prentenkabinet followed in the evening.

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