Sun, 06 Aug 2000

No Batak wedding is complete without a band

JAKARTA (JP): The Batak people in Jakarta, especially the Toba Bataks, often highlight their wedding parties with traditional music commonly known as uning-uningan.

At least five people make up an uning-uningan group. All their instruments are made of wood: flutes, the marimba-like garantung, the taganing, a small drum covered with leather at each end, and kulintang, which is a percussion instrument.

In Jakarta there are at least 18 uning-uningan groups which regularly perform at Batak weddings and New Year's parties. Each group may perform as often as twice or three times a week.

Turman Sinaga, the music coordinator for the Martha Ulos Group, said his group sometimes performed as often as 20 times a month. The owner of the group, Martha Sirait, includes a traditional Batak music performance in the Batak wedding package he offers.

On average, a Batak music group can earn between Rp 500,000 and Rp 700,000 for one performance. So each member of the group may take home between Rp 100,000 and Rp 150,000 each time the group performs.

As the members of these Batak traditional music groups can make a handsome living, about 70 percent of them make playing this music their sole source of income. The other 30 percent of them may have side jobs such as working as bus conductors or selling cigarettes at bus stations.

"When we have to perform at a party, we will leave behind our other jobs and concentrate on playing traditional Batak music. Where there is a wedding party, there we can find our fortune," said Ramses Simbolon, a member of the Sabangunan group of Bekasi.

When these groups perform at a wedding party, these musicians don attractive costumes and leave behind their dirty and rumpled work clothes. Generally they wear black trousers and black long- sleeved shirts. They will also wear hats made of ulos, a uniquely Batak woven cloth. The will also wear a piece of ulos as a shawl, which is worn across their chests and flows to the ground.

Batak musicians who join uning-uningan groups, such as Arlen Naibaho, Jona Sinaga, Erwin Samosir, Ongir Nainggolan and Saut Gultom, generally say they inherited their passion for this music from previous generations.

Take Eslon Simarmata, 25. His grandfather and his father were members of an uning-uningan group, so he feels called upon to do likewise.

Usually, uning-uningan groups play more or less the same pieces. The most popular works are generally those written by the late Tilhang Gultom. Gultom, who died in the 1970s, wrote hundreds of Batak songs, the most popular of which include Butet, Sinanggal Tulo and Doge Doge.

A Batak feast is complete only if the melodious sounds of flutes and drums and the incessant beat of the percussion fill the air to accompany hundreds of guests merrily participating in the tortor, a Batak dance. (Tuti Gintini)