Last week, Mekar Bhuana co-founder, Vaughan Hatch, explained to a group of guests at a dinner reception in Ubud a bit about the history of bamboo music in Bali. Part of his explanation included a demonstration performed by one of the conservatory’s quartets of gamelan musicians. Two of these bamboo instruments are called rindik, 11-13 keyed xylophones tuned to a fairly even-tempered scale. The delicate humming sound produced by these instruments conjures up images of breezy rice fields and sunny days; appropriate, really, considering that both the instruments and musical repertoire were the creation of early 20th century rice farmers. With the onset of mass tourism, rindik also reminds us of hotel lobbies (and, for many of us, undervalued and underpaid traditional musicians).
Like most other Balinese gamelan instruments, rindik are tuned in pairs, one being tuned slightly higher than the other. This is what produces the characteristic humming sound. A rindik is played with either two or three beaters, one held in the left hand and one or two in the right. Normally, the left hand carries the melody and the right plays a pattern that creates interlocking configuration between the two right-hand parts. Although it may look effortless, playing rindik is a masterful skill that takes many years to learn.
Hundreds of compositions have been composed for rindik, and each region—even each village—in Bali reveals different styles and repertoire. Most of the compositions were inspired by nature and have been named after flowers and animals. I love some of the more humorous ones, like Caplok Bangkung (Snapping Pig) or Dongkang Menek Biu (Tree Frog Climbing a Banana). It never ceases to amaze me how many compositions some of these “lobby musicians” know, and they’re all committed to memory!
Since the onset of tourism in Bali, traditional musicians such as rindik players have been undervalued and terribly underpaid compared with say rock/jazz/fusion or pop musicians. This is a real tragedy because it is yet again another example of cultural imperialism and the lack of value place on indigenous art-forms. Generally, this is a worldwide phenomenon.
However, Mekar Bhuana Conservatory is trying to fight against the trend by training musicians who are professional, reliable and an adept to the challenges of the tourism industry. Over the past 12 years, the conservatory has been providing professionally managed rindik groups as well as other gamelan orchestras, such as pelegongan, semar pegulingan, Gambuh, gender wayang, selonding, baleganjur and genggong for quality performances. You can support their efforts and these musicians by hiring their troupes.
If you are interested in purchasing rindik instruments or recordings of bamboo rindik music, you can visit www.mekarbhuana.com – an online store that specialises in professional Balinese gamelan music and dance products.
© 2012 Mekar Bhuana