Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gamelan Lila Cita on ZingZillas

Surfing the web I came across an episode of the BBC children's show ZingZillas, featuring a pencak silat number accompanied by Gamelan Lila Cita. This can be viewed in the UK on BBC iPlayer at: (starting at 6.54).

This sort of thing would have been reported upon in the past in Seleh Notes or the UK Gamelan Information website. Unfortunately since Sheila Cude stopped playing gamelan and managing the website and magazine, we aren't getting news!

Hope somebody else takes up this role.... The UK is not that large a country, but none of us surely is aware of everything going on in Indonesian arts....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wayang Garing

My recent show 'A Dalang in Search of Wayang' has been occupying a lot of my attention recently.

It is interesting for me to think about related efforts. The BBC has a short documentary about a Banten-based performer who has been doing what he calls Wayang Garing (Dry Wayang) for decades.

Then of course there is Jlitheng Suparman, who recently has been touring Wayang Climen, which features a reduced gamelan of 8 musicians plus 2 pesinden.

I did something similar to this at my British Library performances with the Southbank Gamelan Players back in 2008. It is of course normal practice in Cirebon to have a reduced gamelan for wayang awan and ruwatan, so perhaps nothing unusual. There is a lot to be said for performances with a reduced gamelan in smaller spaces to generate a more intimate relation with audiences.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Joanna Soh's tv feature on 'A Dalang in Search of Wayang'

Joanna Soh, a Malaysian student who studied wayang kulit briefly at Sunway College (in a course co-taught by my friend Eddin Khoo), has recently produced a short tv feature on my new production, 'A Dalang in Search of Wayang'.

She shot the full show when I did an 'open rehearsal' of it at the Centre for Creative Collaboration in London on 28 March 2011, and also conducted a short interview with me and people attending, including puppeteer Sean Myatt, Aya Nakamura, Matt Jackson, Caroline Astell-Burt and Mark Downs. (All were invited for the show, and also a workshop delivered earlier in the day by American puppet director and theorist Roman Paska.)

I think Joanna did a very good job - though no doubt some Indonesian viewers will not be happy that she included a clip of Kelantan-style wayang kulit by Malaysian puppetry students at the beginning of the video, and that she refers to wayang as originating in Malaysia and Indonesia - rather than the other way round! A salutary reminder that Malaysians see wayang as a bridge for cultural communication with Indonesia.

Have a look at the segment on youtube (

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Minister of Religion's Visit to Al-Zaytun

One of the remarkable developments documented in Laurie Margot Ross's PhD thesis on topeng in Cirebon and Indramayu (Journeying, Adaptation, and Translation:
Topeng Cirebon at the Margins, UCal Berkeley, 2009) is the introduction of topeng and other other regional arts into pesantren around the region. Pesantren had formerly been indifferent and often hostile to such traditions as topeng, and the motivations behind this move were a bit mysterious.

Today Al-Zaytun, the largest pesantren in Indramayu and one of the largest in Indonesia, put this arts education to use, playing terbang and gamelan to greet the arrival of indonesian's Minister of Religion.

(See for a video)

Al-Zaytun is being formally investigated for its links with Negara Islam Indonesia (NII), a banned political movement. I take the showcasing of gamelan in particular, prominently highlighted in news reports, as an attempt to showcase the pesantren's tolerance.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Baby Arabia

Yesterday I attended the only scheduled UK screening of a documentary titled Baby Arabia, about a Thai Muslim pop group based in Bangkok. After the screening at SOAS, one of the film's creators, a screenwriter who also writes for the Bangkok Post, conducted a q&a session.

The band started in 1976 as a nasjid group covering popular Arabic, Malay and Indonesian songs. (The Malay and Indonesian repertoire is referred to locally as 'Malay-Arabic'.) Baby Arabia added instruments over time - guitar, bass, drum kit, accordion - and also incorporated female vocalists and a backup chorus. On stage, the singers dress in Malay garb (though they wear normal Thai clothing off). They have little understanding of the meaning of the Arabic, Malay and Indonesian lyrics they sing, and even unable to articulate their sources, but these songs are enjoyed by local audiences The long-lived band performs some 150 concerts a year (lasting 2 to 6 hours), typically playing mosque fairs and private celebrations, sometimes earning only 300 baht. Band members have other jobs- one works as a motorcycle taxi driver.

The documentary is essentially a concert film which follows the band to gigs around the Bangkok area and also provides glimpses into band members' lives and religious practices. For example, we see the lead female vocalist teaching a class in Quranic recitation to boys. (She claims she is a better teacher than a man as her voice is closer in register to the boys'.) It is a portrait of a minority culture in a major Asian metropolis.

The film makers are all Thai Muslims and say they made the film to show the voice of moderate Islam. After 9/11 and the escalation of violence in the south of Thailand, Muslims in Thailand suffered from negative stereotypes, and the voices that dominated the media were extremists who espoused radicalism, counterposed by liberal Muslims who often offered anti-Islamic comments.

Listening now to the sound track as a type this post, I hear the music as Indonesian- a variant of orkes Melayu. But Thai experts in attendance said they perceived the backup rhythms as Thai country music, and the backup dancers in their cute costumes as typically Thai. So an interesting case of transnational hybridity.

A DVD of the documentary is planned.