Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Sundanese Soul

The Sundanese Soul

A Singaporean colleague who was with me in Bandung the other day commented that Sundanese instrumental music is very "Zen". I understood what he meant.

The music, sometimes known as kecapi suling, is typically performed by a small ensemble with instruments such as the kecapi (a kind of zither), suling (bamboo flute) and the gamelan degung (Sundanese bronze gong, which differs somewhat from the Javanese gamelan) and together they make a very soothing combination of sounds. It is very traditional of course, perhaps even a bit repetitive and monotonous to the unaccustomed ear, but nevertheless it never fails to induce a very relaxed state of mind in the listener.

To me kecapi suling is the perfect background music for a nice Sundanese meal of nasi timbel with tahu, tempe and gurame. Many hotels in Bandung also have live Sundanese ensembles playing at the lobby, which helps to add an ethnic feel to the atmosphere besides soothing the weary traveller with the magic of their languorous music.

The slow undulation of a suling melody over the subtle twang of kecapi strings, urged on by the rhythmic pounding of the gamelan degung is an aural blend that seeps gently into one's soul, bringing a deep sense of inner peace; it is a pleasurable calm that arises naturally, not unlike being caressed by the cool breeze that rolls down from the hills of Parahyangan.

Sundanese instrumental music is often used in Indonesian spas and health clubs to lull you into a blissful stupor while mojang priangan masseues slowly spread ylang-ylang over your body and tease the strain out of your tired muscles.

Everytime my thoughts go to Indonesia, and especially Bandung, the center of Western Javanese culture, soft strains of Sundanese music would automatically fill my head. To me, the music represents the soul of the Sundanese people, full of grace and provincial simplicity--qualities increasingly lost in today's world.

Again, I'm writing like a hopeless romantic, longing for a pastoral paradise that does not exist anymore. But through Sundanese music, I can recapture at least a bit of that elusive dream: of misty mountains and fertile farmlands, of verdant vales filled with sun-glittered streams--those dying strains of the Sundanese soul!

No comments: