Thu, 11 Aug 1994

A passion for Bamboo rocks Balinese valley with music

By Amir Sidharta and Rayya Makarim

UBUD, Bali (JP): As the large bamboo of the Jegog musical band from Negara hummed its low melodic tones, the solemn valley of Nyuh Kuning, south of Ubud, Bali, was gradually transformed into a festive musical haven.

Soon, the music of the Gong Saron troupe from Singapadu could be heard from the bottom of the valley, while the Joged Gudegan performance began at the cabana on the higher main plateau. An entire day of enchanting music and dance from several regions in Indonesia followed.

The first Music in Nature festival held on July 31 at Irish- Indonesian designer Linda Garland's estate - home of the Environmental Bamboo Foundation - was a tremendous success despite the limited amount of time and money the organizers had for the event.

It went beyond being a mere trial run for the Fourth International Bamboo Congress, scheduled for June 1- 4, 1995, and was attended by approximately 1,500 delighted visitors. The festival has definitely created a hype about bamboo, as intended, and has become the lead event for next year's congress.

Six stages were spread strategically over the 10 hectare estate. In separate nooks and crannies, artists from 12 groups performed in sequence; as one finished, another began.

The contours of the valley and the architectural elements within the estate beautifully enhanced the visual as well as the sound effects of each performance.

A diverse selection of musicians and dancers performed on each of the stages. At the main open space, the Bambu Gila from Maluku was performed. This dance, originally created for the Sultan of Terinala, features several entranced men attempting to control the mystical force of a large bamboo pole. Later, a group of Madurese staged a circus like performance akin to the Kuda Lumping.

The famous Jegog troupe and the Angklung Ogang band played on one of the lower stages. The cabana just below the main area provided a simple, but nonetheless, attractive stage for the Joged Gudegan from Sebali and the Flores bamboo orchestra. On the southern terraces, below the entrance to the estate, the Gong Saron group from Singapadu and the Dingklik from Munduk alternated performances.

Some other artists performed near a cliff face by the river bordering the estate. Linda Garland's animal motifs carved on the volcanic rock became a spirited visual backdrop that animated the otherwise modest musical performance of the Pompang children's orchestra from Sulawesi and the Genggong from Munduk.


The focal point of the event was at the Western Sumatran rice barn stage on one of the lower terraces of the estate. Appropriately, the Gumarang Sakti dance company from Padang was assigned to this venue.

This Minangkabau company incorporated traditional movements with a touch of contemporary choreography. Dressed in black, the dancers combined the elements of pencak silat which involves crisp, sharp gestures together with the more modern motions of contemporary dance.

The Suling Gambuh dance troupe from Batuan followed, featuring a graceful elderly Balinese dancer. The 75 year old Ketut Cenik's vivacious movements were further emphasized by her brightly decorated costume. The mother of the famous mask dancer I Made Jimat is also the matriarch of Batuan's strong dance tradition and performed dances from the Panji story circle and a version of the Calonarang.

Seven other women later performed the Bumbung Gembyok, a performance inspired by the Balinese women's daily ritual of husking rice. The dance might be considered rather monotonous by some audiences, however, the syncopated rhythm produced by the women has an energetic although meditative quality. Hence it easily retained the attention of those present.

"Have you seen my tooth pick?" asked a character in the puppet show performed from the rice barn.

Canadian puppeteer Paul Serret performed an educational show to heighten environmental awareness and promote the use of bamboo for such things as toothpicks. Children loved his simple performance.

The Kuta Bamboo Musicians staged an unusual dance featuring a live python and a woman dressed like Tarzan's Jane in Edgar Rice Burrough's comics. The "campy" dance seemed rather inappropriate and some members of the audience thought that it was rather distasteful and also disrespectful to the other performers. Perhaps the inclusion of such a dance should have been reconsidered, even if the goal was to have an all inclusive festival.

However, each performance was interesting in its own right. The fact that the groups contrasted with one another was even more fascinating. The tremendous diversity of the performers, as well as the audience, was certainly the strong point of the event.


There were many elements of the festival that needed improvement. Linda Garland realized that there needed to be a selection process for the performers. Although the spatial arrangement of the festival was for the most part fine, certain performers, like the Genggong musicians, needed to be repositioned so that they could be better heard.

Marketing, ticket sales, and other logistical concerns always warrant improvements. Although many aspects of the festival were prepared well beforehand, it seemed that everything only started to emerge that morning. In all, considering that the event was prepared in less than one month with a limited budget, it was indeed a great success.

With a great passion and faith, Linda Garland once again managed to pull off a great show. "It's a miracle that it happened the way it did!" she cried.

Starting out with several different groups playing separately in various areas on the estate, all the groups finally congregated at the main open area. When the Gong Saron band from Singapadu started to play its energetic music, the Joged Gudegan group joined in with its dancer. Then the Pompang children's orchestra began meandering between the other performers. The simple regional music they played with their bamboo recorders added a sweet touch to the event and fetched well deserved applause from the audience.

The audience circled around the performers as more artists joined in. The Genggong mouth harp orchestra from Munduk attracted a lot of attention despite the low volume they were able to produce. The bamboo music orchestra from Ngada, Flores, and the group from Madura soon joined in as well.

The main open area became a place of congregation for the various groups from different regions in Indonesia as well as some groups from outside Indonesia. Linda was delighted with the outcome of the event. To her it had a "feeling of the archipelago, united together, bound by the spirit of art, music and dance." The audience seemed even more pleased and someone asked what the program was for the next day, hoping that the festival was going to continue for a few more days.

The multicultural range of performers in this year's Music in Nature festival foreshadowed the diversity expected at the upcoming Fourth International Bamboo Congress. Next year, bamboo experts of 86 distinct bamboo-related member organizations from 35 countries will gather together at the estate to create a dialog (or rather a "multilog') on the expansion of the use of bamboo as a multifunctional and environmentally friendly plant. In the long run, it is hoped that knowledge, especially from Japan, China and India, will be reintroduced to Indonesia where bamboo has been neglected.

Unlike wood, bamboo is easy to grow and has tremendous regenerative potential. Bamboo is useful in the building industry to make flooring and plybamboo, an environmentally sound substitute for plywood. Its long fibers are an excellent component to increase the tensile strength in paper and the tabashiir in its resin is a treatment for asthma.

"We have to create a demand for bamboo so that there is once again a reason for farmers to cultivate the crop. If bamboo is damaged, then wood will be even more threatened." Linda added. Therefore, she plans to invite designers to develop bamboo related fashion and is starting a project herself in Flores to incorporate bamboo into traditional textiles, creating a truly elegant combination.

This year's Music in Nature festival is certainly an encouraging sign for next year's International Bamboo congress. Another music festival is also planned in conjunction with the congress. In addition to famous local musicians and dancers, it is hoped that traditional performers from Africa, North and South America, and Asia, as well as hot bands such as Sting, Peter Gabriel and U2 will lend their support to the cause of the Environmental Bamboo Foundation.

With such internationally renowned performers, Linda Garland can not afford to fail and has already started to work on next year's festival.