Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Bali's Jegog ensemble on concert tour to Japan

Kadek Suartaya, Contributor, Denpasar, Bali

The intoxicating rhythms of traditional Balinese bamboo music, Jegog, will sound throughout Japan when 23 Balinese musicians perform concerts in Tokyo, Hyogo, Shiga and Fukuoka during a 22- day cultural mission.

The Suar Agung troupe, arguably the best Jegog company in Bali, will showcase several Jegog compositions and accompanying traditional dances.

Group leader, I Ketut Suwentra, 55, is a versatile artist who almost single-handedly brought Jegog to its present level of popularity. It was Suwentra who choreographed the popular Makepung (bull-race) dance, which has became the official dance for every Jegog troupe on the island.

"We will leave Bali for Japan on July 20," Suwentra said.

This ensemble has gained popularity among the Japanese musicians, as shown with the establishment of several Jegog troupes in Japan like the famous Yamashirogumi troupe and Sekar Sakura of the Nagoya College of Music.

Suwentra, who tutored Sekar Sakura, praised his students' determination and perseverance in learning Jegog.

"They are not easily discouraged. There were times when they sobbed in despair over their inability to master certain compositions, but you could rest assured they would not quit. They would keep trying until they got them right."

The result was promising. Sekar Sakura achieved so much it had the courage to perform together with Jembrana-based Suar Agung and Ubud-based Tirta Sari in a concert in Japan. During 1998's Bali Arts Festival, Sekar Sakura even gave a powerful performance during a Jegog duel against a Bali-based Jegog troupe.

Jegog was a distinct musical feature of Jembrana, a region in the western part of Bali. Due to it's geographical proximity to East Java, demographical diversity and it's long history of political as well as, to some extent, cultural alienation from the feudalism and power struggle between kingdoms in the south and east of Bali, Jembrana produced cultural treasures, which differed distinctively from the rest of Bali. And Jegog was one of the distinctive cultural products.

The locals attributed the invention of Jegog to Ki Yang Gelinduh of Sebual hamlet. In his book on Jegog, Suwentra stated that the people of Western Bali had known Jegog since 1912.

An important Jegog instrument consists of eight huge bamboo tubes arrayed on a tilted four-legged wooden frame. The frame is elaborately engraved and painted with striking colors. The biggest tube is 15.8 centimeters in diameter and 308 centimeters long.

It takes two musicians, each carrying two wooden mallets called panggul, to play it.

The present-day Jegog ensemble also incorporate several instruments from gong ensembles,such as traditional kendang drums and percussion instruments, including cengceng and tawa-tawa.

Currently, the music is popular among Western Bali's youth, due to it's joyful tones that fit nicely with the popular dance of joged, in which several young female dancers tempt males to join the dance with seductive, sometimes erotic, gestures and movements.

Initially used as a medium to invite people to attend a community gathering, Jegog gradually evolved into three different versions. Those three versions, named after their own respective distinguished composers, were I Gejor, I Suprig, both used to accompany dance and traditional martial art Pencak Silat performances, and I Nyoman Jayus, which was used as a musical score for dance drama performances.

While most of the traditional Balinese gong ensembles are played by musicians sitting cross-legged, Jegog musicians use a quite different style. They play their instruments standing, exuding a musical power and passion. They move and swing their bodies energetically in accordance with the music's signature fast-paced and dynamic compositions.