Kua Etnika play around with tradition
By Singgir Kartana
YOGYAKARTA (JP): The audience gave an extended ovation as Djaduk Feriyanto and his group Kua Etnika finished their last piece, Arigato.
The musicians, who performed seven other compositions, all taken from their album Ritus Swara (Rites of Voices), stunned the hundreds of spectators with their unique music during their recent performance at the Purna Budaya Building on the campus of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
The group is well-known, not only in their hometown of Yogyakarta, but also in other big cities across the country and overseas. They are scheduled to perform at Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center in Central Jakarta from March 27 to March 29.
Kua Etnika, which consists of about 25 people, is a phenomenal group. For many people, especially those who are used to listening to conventional music, the group's repertoire might sound strange. All of their compositions, with strong ethnic nuances and fast rhythm patterns, are dynamic and accommodate a lot of improvisation. The combination of diatonic and pentatonic rhythms adds another color of the music -- strange but beautiful.
With their percussions, including conga, bongo, drums, flutes, tambourine and traditional Javanese drums, they explore the esthetics of sound in compositions that are free from the usual patterns we hear. This is no wonder, given that the instruments produce comical, naughty and wild rhythms. Many see the work of Kua Etnica as a rebellion against musical traditions.
"In working on the compositions, we stress the spirit to communicate. Each sound or voice is not merely musical material, but a medium of communication. Be it communication among ourselves or between us and the audience," said Djaduk, the son of famous choreographer Bagong Kussudiardjo.
The group's compositions have references to various ethnical realms. There are nuances of Java, Bali, Sunda, China, Japan, etc. Therefore the name Kua Etnika -- Kua is short for kualitas, or quality.
For Djaduk, ethnical elements, both local and foreign, are an interesting reference for exploration. Arigato, for example, was written when Djaduk was in Japan a few months ago and was inspired by the rhythm of the Japanese musical instrument samizen. Even though he did not know the name of the music, the experience provided him aesthetic inspiration.
Kua Etnika was established in mid-1997 with five key people: Djaduk; his brother Butet Kertaredjasa (who is widely known as the king of monologue); Indra Tranggono; Purwanto; and Dwijo. Djaduk and Butet previously were involved in the Gandrik and Paku theater groups, and Kiai Kanjeng, a music group led by Emha Ainun Nadjib which blended traditional and religious elements.
Kua Etnika's is based in the Kersan hamlet of Tirtonirmolo, Bantul district, Yogyakarta. The group occupies a 600 square- meter building in the traditional Javanese joglo architectural style, which is equipped with a recording studio. Once every 35 days, the group organizes a discussion on arts.
The building also is home to Sinten Remen, a kroncong Javanese music group, the Gandrik theater group and Acapella Mataram.
"The Kua Etnika workshop is an umbrella for creativity," Butet said.
Djaduk and Kua Etnika have put out two albums, Nang Ning Nong Orkes Sumpeg (Dang Ding Dong of Stuffy Orchestra) and Ritus Swara. The first, a collaboration with Aminoto Kosin and Erwin Gutawa, was produced in 1977, while the second hit the market early this year with a limited run of 200.
"We only produced a limited number because we were not sure if people would accept this kind of music. Ours is marginal music," Djaduk said.
Whether it is marginal or not, the public's response has been encouraging, as evidenced by the recent performance in Yogyakarta. What is important is that Djaduk and Kua Etnika have the courage to express themselves and melt the rigid definition of ethnic music.