Indonesia is home to hundreds of forms of music, and music plays an important role in Indonesia’s art and culture. ‘Gamelan’ is the traditional music from central and east Java and Bali.‘Dangdut’ is very popular style of pop music is which is accompanied with by a dance style. This style first came into being in the 1970s and became a fixture of political campaigns. Other forms of music include the Keroncong with its roots in Portugal, the soft Sasando music from West Timor and Degung and Angklung from West Java, which is played with bamboo instruments. [Source: Embassy of Indonesia]

Indonesians like to sing. Political candidates are often required to sing at least one song during campaign rallies. Soldiers often finish their barrack dinners with a song. Buskers perform at some traffic intersections in Yogyakarta. High ranking generals and politicians and even the president have released CDs of their favorite songs, with a few original songs.

Indonesian music can be found in Javanese and Balinese gong-chime orchestras (gamelan) and shadow plays ( wayang ), Sundanese bamboo orchestras ( angklung ), Muslim orchestral music at family events or Muslim holiday celebrations, trance dances ( reog ) from east Java, the dramatic barong dance or the monkey dances for tourists on Bali, Batak puppet dances, horse puppet dances of south Sumatra, Rotinese singers with lontar leaf mandolins, and the dances for ritual and life-cycle events performed by Indonesia's many outer island ethnic groups. All such arts use indigenously produced costumes and musical instruments, of which the Balinese barong costumes and the metalworking of the gamelan orchestra are the most complex. [Source:]

Contemporary (and partly Western-influenced) theater, dance, and music are most lively in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, but less common elsewhere. Jakarta's Taman Ismail Marzuki, a national center for the arts, has four theaters, a dance studio, an exhibition hall, small studios, and residences for administrators. Contemporary theater (and sometimes traditional theater as well) has a history of political activism, carrying messages about political figures and events that might not circulate in public. [Source:]

See Separate Article on Pop Music

Kinds of Traditional Indonesian Music

Siteran groups are small street ensembles that play the same musical pieces played by gamelans. They usually include a zither, singers, drum and a large end-blown bamboo tube that is used like a gong. Tandak Gerok is a style of performance practiced in eastern Lombok that combines music, dance and theater. Musicians play flutes and bowed lutes and vocalists imitate the sounds of the instruments. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Mournful Sundanese "kecapi" music has origins which can be traced back to the early civilizations that lived in this part of Java. The music is named after a lute-like instrument called the kecap, which has a very unusual sound. The Sundanese are regarded as expert instrument makers who get a good sound out of almost anything. Other traditional Sundanese instruments include the “suling”, a soft-tines bamboo flute, and the “angklung”, a cross between a xylophone and made from bamboo.

Indonesia is also the home of “ning-nong” bamboo orchestras and rapid fire choruses known as monkey chants. Degung is a calm, atmospheric style of music that with songs about love and nature set to gamelan instruments and bamboo flute. It is often used as background music.

Music and Politicians in Indonesia

In his youth former President Yudhoyono was a member of a band called Gaya Teruna. In 2007, he released his first music album entitled “My Longing for You,” a collection of love ballads and religious songs. The 10-song tracklist features some of the country's popular singers performing the songs. In 2009, he joined forces with Yockie Suryoprayogo under the name "Yockie and Susilo" releasing the album Evolusi. In 2010, he released a new third album entitled I'm Certain I'll Make It.” [Source: Wikipedia +]

After the release of his first album, CBC reported: “Taking a break from affairs of state, the president of Indonesia has explored affairs of the heart in a new album of pop songs released at a Jakarta gala. Following in the musical footsteps of world leaders like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Indonesia's Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has released an album called Rinduku Padamu (My Longing for You). The 10-track album is filled with romantic ballads as well as songs about religion, friendship and patriotism. While some of the country's most popular singers take care of the vocals on the album, Yudhoyono penned the songs, which date back to his taking office in 2004. [Source: CBC, October 29, 2007]

“He described composing music as a way to relax from his presidential duties or something he does during long-haul flights around the world. One of the album's songs, for instance, was composed after leaving Sydney following the APEC formum there. "Music and culture could even be developed jointly as 'soft power' to be used in persuasive communication for the handling of problems, making it unnecessary to employ 'hard power,'" Yudhoyono said, according to Antara, Indonesia's national news agency. Chavez released an album of himself singing traditional Venezuelan folk music month earlier, while Berlusconi released two albums of love songs during his tenure.” [Ibid]

President Yudhoyono is a keen reader and has authored a number of books and articles including: “Transforming Indonesia: Selected International Speeches” (Special Staff of the President for International Affairs in co-operation with PT Buana Ilmu Populer, 2005); “Peace Deal with Aceh is Just a Beginning” (2005); “The Making of a Hero” (2005); “Revitalization of the Indonesian Economy: Business, Politics and Good Governance” (Brighten Press, 2004); and “Coping with the Crisis - Securing the Reform” (1999). Taman Kehidupan (Garden of Life) is his anthology published in 2004. [Source: Indonesian government, Wikipedia]

See Wiranto, Politicians


The Gamelan is the national instrument of Indonesia. A miniature orchestra, it is an ensemble of 50 to 80 instruments, including tuned percussion comprised of bells, gongs, drums and metallophones (xylophone-like instruments with bars made from metal instead of wood). The wood frames for the instrument are usually painted red and gold. The instruments fill up an entire room and are usually played by 12 to 25 people. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Gamelans are unique to Java, Bali and Lombok. They are associated with court music and often accompany Indonesia's favorite traditional form of entertainment: shadow puppet plays. They are also played at special ceremonies, weddings and other major events.

Highly stylized in movement and costume, dances and the “wayang” drama are accompanied by a full “gamelan” orchestra comprising xylophones, drums, gongs, and in some cases string instruments and flutes. Bamboo xylophones are used in North Sulawesi and the bamboo “angklung” instruments of West Java are well- known for their unique tinkling notes which can be adapted to any melody. [Source: Embassy of Indonesia]

History of Gamelan Music

According to legend gamelans were created in the 3rd century by the God-King Sang Hyand Guru. More likely they were created through a the process of combining local instruments— such as bronze “keetle drums” and bamboo flutes— with ones introduced from China and India. A number of musical instruments—hourglass-shaped drums, lutes, harps, flutes, reed pipes, cymbals— are depicted in reliefs at Borubudur and Pramabanan. When Sir Francis Drake visited Java in 1580 he described the music he heard there "as very strange, pleasant and delightful." Most likely what he heard was gamelan music.” [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music ^^]

Ingo Stoevesandt wrote in his blog on Southeast Asian music: “Karawitan” is the term for every kind of Gamelan music in Java. The history of Gamelan ensembles in Java is very old, starting as soon as from the Dongson bronze era in the second century BC. The term “Gamelan” can be understood as a collecting term for different kinds of metallophone ensembles (old Javanese “gamel” means something like “to handle”). Under the Dutch gamelan music was not abandoned but supported too. Following the contract of Gianti (1755) each division of the old Mataram state got its own Gamelan sekati ensemble.

Gamelan music reached its zenith in the 19th century in the courts of the sultans of Yogyakarta and Solo. Yogyakarta court players were known for their bold, vigorous style while gamelan players from Solo played a more understated, refined style. Since independence in 1949, the power of the sultanates was reduced and many gamelan musicians learned how to play in state academies. Even so the finest gamelan are still associated with royalty. The largest and most famous gamelan, the Gamelan Sekaten, was built in the 16th century as is played only once a year. ^^

The popularity of gamelan music is declining somewhat today as young people become more interested in pop music and recorded music replaces live music at weddings. Even so gamelan music remains very much alive, especially in Yogyakarta and Solo, where most neighborhoods have a local hall where gamelan music is played. Festivals and gamelan competitions still draw large, enthusiastic crowds. Many radio stations have their own gamelan ensembles. Musicians are also in high demand to accompany drama, puppet and dance shows. ^^

Traditional Music of Indonesia and Islam

Ingo Stoevesandt wrote in his blog on Southeast Asian music: Unlike some Muslim countries where music as a part of the liturgy is prohibited, in Java the Gamelan sekati had to play six days for the sekaten celebration, which is a holy week to the remembrance of prophet Muhammad. As the name already indicates this ensemble was inherited by Islamic function.

“Islam was was supportive for the further development of the Karawitan (gamelan music). This support started early: In 1518 the sultanate Demak was founded, and the local Wali, namely Kangjeng Tunggul, decided to add pitch number seven to the scale which already existed named Gamelan laras pelog. This additional pitch named “bem” (maybe coming from Arabian “bam”) later lead to the fixed new tone system “pelog” with seven pitches . This “pelog” tone system is also the tuning system requested by the sekati ensemble which is still one of the most favorite in Java until today.

If we keep in mind that the main part of missionaries for the Islam have not been Arabic but Indian traders than it seems obvious that the practiced Islam of Indonesia seems to be a syncretism of Buddhistic, Brahmanistic and Hindu elements. This also means that we find influences of Arabian music even outside of Karawitan. In West Sumatra, even outside the moschee, people like to sing pieces in Arabian style called kasidah (Arabic: “quasidah”), learn those pieces in school and try to play the five stringed lute gambus which is better known as the “Oud” of Persia.

We find the ceremonials zikir (Arabic:”dikr”) and the musical conventions sama which seem to mirror the Sufi trance ceremonies of Turkey and Persia. Here we find the ”indang”. Consisting of 12 to 15 members, one singer (tukang diki) repeats the religious calls while the others correspond with the originally Arabian drums rabana. The rabana is one of several instruments imported by the Islam. Another is the fiddle rebab which is a part of the Gamelan until today. In both, voicing and instrumentation, we find the typical ornamentations of what we call “Arabesque” but not the true Arabian microtonality.

Islam did not only bring instruments or musical norms to Indonesia, it also changed the musical situation with the daily Muezzin call, with the recitations of the Koran and its impact on the character of official ceremonies. It detected the power of local and regional traditions like the Gamelan and the shadow puppets and inspired and changed them with their own musical forms and traditions.

Gamelan Instruments

Large gamelans are usually made of bronze. Wood and brass are also used, especially in villages in Java. Gamelans are not uniform. Individual gamelans often have distinct sounds and some even have names like "The Venerable Invitation to Beauty" in Yogyakarta. Some ceremonial instruments are believed to posses magical powers. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

A complete gamelan is made of two sets of instruments that play in the two Javanese scales: the five-note “laras slendro” and the seven-note “laras pelog”. The instruments play three main elements: 1) the melody; 2) embroidery of the melody; and 3) punctuation of the melody

The metallophones in the middle of the gamelan play the "skeleton melody." There are two kinds of metallophones (metal xylophones): “saron” (with seven bronze keys and no resonators, played with hard mallets), and the “gendèr” (with bamboo resonators, played with soft mallets). The saron is the basic instrument of the gamelan. There are three kinds: low, medium, and high pitched. The saron carries the basic melody of the gamelan orchestra. The “slentem” is similar to the gender except it has less keys. It is used carry the embroidery of the melody.

The instruments at the front of the gamelan embroider the melody. They include “bonangs” (small bronze kettles mounted on the frame and struck by a pair of long sticks bound with a chords), and sometimes softened with instruments such as “gambang” (xylophone with hard wood bars struck with sticks made of buffalo horn), “suling” (bamboo flute), “rehab” (two-string fiddle of Arab origin), “gendèr”, “siter” or “celempung” (zithers). The “celempung” has 26 strings organized in 13 pairs that a stretch over a coffin-like soundboard supported on four legs. The strings are plucked with the thumbnails.

At the back of gamelan are the gongs and drums. The gongs hang from frames and punctuate the melody and are named after the sound they produce: “kenong”, “ketuk” and “kempul”. A stroke of a large gong usually marks he beginning a piece. They smaller gongs mentioned above mark off sections of the melody. "Gong" is a Javanese word. “Kendnag” are drums beaten by hand. The “bedug” is a drum struck with a stick. They are made from the hollowed out trunks of the jackfruit tree.

Sundanese gamelan from southwest Java highlights the “rehad”, “kendang” a large two-headed barrel drum), “kempul”, “bonang rincik” (a set of ten pot-shaped gongs) and “panerus” (a set of seven pot-shaped gongs), “saron”, and “sinden” (singer).

Gamelan Music

Gamelan music is extremely varied and is usually played as background music not as feature music in its own right. It usually accompanies traditional dance performances or wayang kukit (shadow puppet plays) or used as background music at weddings and other gatherings. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Not surprisingly gamelan music used for dance performances emphasize rhythm while music for wayang kulit is more dramatic and features music linked with different characters and parts of the play, with the musicians usually responded to cues by the puppeteer. Gamelan music also sometimes accompanies the reading of poetry and folk stories.

No traditional Javanese wedding is complete without gamelan music. There are usually set pieces that go with certain parts of the ceremony, such as the entrance. There are also ceremonial pieces associated with the coming and goings of sultans and guests and one that dispel evil spirits and attract good ones.

Ingo Stoevesandt wrote in his blog on Southeast Asian music: The earliest Gamelan sekati covered the whole range of three octaves with the saron metallophones. It was a very loud ensemble. Quiet instruments like the lute rebab and the long flute suling were missing. The playing tempo was slow and the resounding instruments quite deep for a Gamelan set. It is assumed that some ensembles only played in order to convince the Hindu by their love for music to convert to Islam, but this is still questionable to be the only reason. It seems to be more reliable that even the Wali could not resist the beauty of this music. One of them, famous Sunan Kalijaga, did not only considerate to let the Gamelan play for sekaten celebrations, he is also supposed to be the composer of several new gender (pieces) for this ensemble. There is even more evidence for the importance of generations of sekati ensembles if one sees the great effect on the manifestation of the heptatonic pelog system in the later centuries.

Peter Gelling wrote in the New York Times, “Gamelan, which is indigenous to Indonesia, has evolved over the centuries into a complex system of layered melodies and tuning, a system unfamiliar to the Western ear. (Fans of the television show “Battlestar Galactica” will recognize strains of gamelan from the show’s music.) Each orchestra is uniquely tuned and cannot use another’s instruments. With no conductor, gamelan is a communal, and often delicate, negotiation among a dozen or more musicians where age and social status factor into the music’s evolution through a single performance. Though gamelan music is still played throughout Indonesia — it can be heard at most traditional ceremonies and wafting out of Bali’s open-air meeting houses, where neighbors gather to discuss local issues or simply gossip — its popularity is dwindling among the younger generation of Indonesians, who are more easily lured by Western rock. [Source: Peter Gelling, New York Times, March 10, 2008]

Gamelan Musicians

Gamelan musicians learn to play all the instruments on a gamelan and often change position during the all night shadow puppet plays. During performances they the same direction. There is no conductor. The musicians respond to cues from a drummer playing a double-headed drum at the center of the ensemble. Some gamelans are accompanied by vocalists—often a male chorus and female solo singers.

Many of the gamelan instruments are relatively simple and easy to play. The soft-tone embroidering instrument such as the gender, gamban and rebab require the most skill. Musicians are required to remove their shoes when they play and not step over the instruments. They don’t always play set pieces but respond to cues of other musicians. Music made by Indonesian bamboo xylophones is known for its "feminine beauty.”

Well-known gamelan composers and musicians include Ki Nartosabdho and Bagong Kussudiardja. Many musicians today are trained at the ISI (Institut Seni Indonesia), the Institute of Performing Art in Yogyakarta and the STSI (Sekolah Tinggo Seni Indonesia), the Academy of Performing Arts in Solo

Gamelan Gong Factory

Reporting from Bogor in West Java, Peter Gelling wrote in the New York Times, “Every day, a dozen grizzled men — shirtless, shoeless and with clove cigarettes dangling from their lips — hover over a pit of fire here in a tin-roofed shack, taking turns pounding glowing metal into the shape of a gong with the crudest of hammers. The men are artisans, turning out the xylophones, gongs, drums and strings that make up this country’s traditional gamelan orchestras. All the workers are descendants of the laborers hired when this family-run business began making instruments in 1811. Theirs is a dying art form. The business, the Gong Factory, is one of Indonesia’s few remaining gamelan workshops. Fifty years ago there were dozens of such tiny workshops in Bogor here on the island of Java alone. [Source: Peter Gelling, New York Times, March 10, 2008 ]

“The workshop in this small city 30 miles south of Jakarta has been one of the main suppliers of gamelan instruments in Java since the 1970s, when three of its competitors shut their doors because of a lack of demand. For a time, the lack of competition increased the workshop’s orders. But over the past decade, orders have been steadily declining here, too, adding to worries over the rising cost of tin and copper and the decreasing supply of quality woods like teak and jackfruit, which are used to build the ornate stands that cradle the gongs, xylophones and drums. “I try to make sure there is always work for them so they can earn money,” Sukarna, the factory’s sixth-generation owner, said of his workers, who earn about $2 a day. “But sometimes it is difficult.”

“Sukarna, who like many Indonesians uses just one name, is 82 years old and worried for years that his two sons, who do not share his passion for gamelan, might abandon the family business. He was relieved when his younger son, Krisna Hidayat, who is 28 and has a business degree, reluctantly agreed to take over as manager. Still, Mr. Hidayat said his favorite band was the American hard-rock spectacle Guns N’ Roses. “My father still listens to gamelan at home,” he said. “I prefer rock ’n’ These days, it is orders from abroad that keep the Gong Factory, and other workshops like it, in business. “Most orders come from America, but we also get many from Australia, France, Germany and England,” said Mr. Hidayat, the manager.

“To fill those orders, he and his father wake up every weekday morning at 5 to begin the process of mixing the metals that is crucial to producing high-quality gongs. Only the two men know the exact mix of tin and copper the workshop uses.“It’s like making dough: it can’t be too soft or too hard, it has to be perfect,” Mr. Hidayat said. “A lot of this process is instinctual.” Once he and his father have found the right blend, workers take it to the shack, where the smoke from the fire mixes with the men’s cigarette smoke. The men begin their banging, sending sparks flying. Once they are satisfied with the shape, another laborer cradles the gong between his bare feet and carefully shaves it down, testing it often until he thinks the tone is right. It often takes days to make a single gong. “

As Interest in Gamelan Music in Indonesia Wanes It Rises in the West

Reporting from Bogor in West Java, Peter Gelling wrote in the New York Times, “Joan Suyenaga, an American who came to Java to indulge her fascination with its traditional performing arts and married a gamelan musician and instrument maker, said it had been dispiriting to witness decreasing local interest in an art form that had such a storied history. According to Javanese mythology, an ancient king invented the gong as a way to communicate with the gods. “Our children play in rock bands and are immersed in emo, ska, pop and Western classical music,” she said. “There definitely are a few desperate attempts to preserve the gamelan tradition here in Java, but not nearly as much as there could be.” But in a twist, as interest in gamelan has waned in its birthplace, foreign musicians have become enamored with its sound. [Source: Peter Gelling, New York Times, March 10, 2008 ]

Bjork, the Icelandic pop star, has used gamelan instruments in a number of her songs, most famously in her 1993 recording “One Day,” and has performed with Balinese gamelan orchestras. Several contemporary composers have incorporated gamelan into their works, including Philip Glass and Lou Harrison, as did art-rock bands of the 70s like King Crimson, which adopted gamelan for Western instruments. Perhaps more significantly, some schools in the United States and Europe now offer gamelan courses. Britain even includes it in its national music curriculum for primary and secondary schools, where children study and play gamelan. “It is interesting and very sad that gamelan is used to teach basic musical concepts in Great Britain, whereas in Indonesian schools our children are exposed only to Western music and scales,” Ms. Suyenaga said.

“Mr. Hidayat holds out at least some hope that Western interest in the music will jump start a resurgence of interest in gamelan music in Indonesia. But he acknowledges that he will not be uploading traditional songs to his iPod anytime soon. Ms. Suyenaga is less optimistic. “I cannot say the situation is improving or even healthy,” she said. “Probably the peak for us was 5 to 15 years ago.”

Balinese Gamelans

Gamelan refers to both the traditional music made with a gamelan ensemble and the musical instrument used to play the music. A Gamelan consists of percussion, metallophones, and traditional drums. It is mostly made from bronze, copper, and bamboo. The variations are due to the number of instruments used.

Gamelans played in Bali include the “gamelan aklung”, a four-tone instrument, and the “gamelan bebonangan”, a larger gamelan often played in processions. Most of the individual instrument are similar to those found in Javanese gamelans. Unique Balinese instrument include “gangas” (similar to Javanese gendèr except the are struck with bare wooden mallets) and “reogs” (knobbed gongs played by four men). [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music |^|]

The Balinese Kebyar-style of gamelan playing is faster, more dynamically and more expressively than traditional Javanese gamelan music. It often accompanies by Keybar dance. Sacred gamelans in Bali include the Bamboo Gambang, which is usually played at cremations, and the Gamelan Selunding, found in the ancient village of Tenganan in east Bali. Most villages have gamelans owned and played by local music clubs, often known for their unique styles. Most performers are amateurs who worked as farmers or craftsmen during the day. At festivals several gamelans are often played at the same time in different pavilions. |^|

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “After the Dutch take-over of Bali in 1908, the traditional central court of Klungkung in Eastern Bali lost its former importance, and the focus of cultural life partly moved to North Bali near the Dutch colonial centre of Singaraja. New gamelan and dance clubs were established, and their competition led to a cultural renaissance in the 1910s–1930s. The most sensational novelty was a style of gamelan and dance called kebyar, which came about through a competition between two villages in creating musical and dance compositions. With its wildly complex dynamics and its florid, embellished sound, the gamelan gong kebyar is probably the most expressive style of Balinese gamelan music. In 1914 it was used to accompany the first performance of kebyar dance, the kebyar legong, performed by two maidens dressed as men. The new style became popular in only a few years. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

Balinese Bamboo Gamelans

The “joged bumbung” is a bamboo gamelan in which even the gongs are made from bamboo. Played almost exclusively in western Bali, it originated in the 1950s. Most of the instruments look large xylophone made of bamboo. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music |^|]

“Jgog” (meaning "deep") is a colorfully-painted instrument that comes in various sizes. The largest have bamboo keys over three meters long. "It is usually played in an ensemble, with each musician playing a different apart, ranging from solemn, bass sounds like a pipe organ, to fast phrases using complex rhythms." |^|

One of the most famous Balinese gamelan groups is called Jepog. It comes from the Balinese town of Suar Agung, which is famous for its gamelans. Their bamboo instruments often become damaged while on tour, The group always carries extra bamboo with them to make repairs. |^|

Bamboo trees are plentiful in Balinese districts of Jembrana, Bangli or Karangasem. Here you can find a unique instrument called Rindik (or Jegog in Jembrana)— a percussion instrument made from sticks of bamboo. The different sizes of bamboo are organized in a row from the biggest to the smallest. It is bundled by root ropes on the center of a big bamboo frame. Rindik/ Jegog are played by using a couple of special bamboo sticks. Jegog is played in many small social events because it is more practical to be brought anywhere than the Gamelan which is mostly made from metal. Besides, the cost production of Rindik/ Jegog is cheaper than Gamelan. At this time Jegog/ Rindik is played in many hotels and restaurant in Bali as entertainment. [Source: Bali Tourism Board]

Balinese Gamelan Musical Instruments

A Gamelan consists of percussion, metallophones, and traditional drums. It is mostly made from bronze, copper, and bamboo. The variations are due to the number of instruments used. Instruments in a common Gamelan ensemble are as follows: 1) Ceng-ceng is a coupled instrument for producing high intonations. Ceng-ceng is made from thin copper plates. On the center of each Ceng-ceng, is a handle made from rope or yarn. Ceng-ceng is played by hitting and rubbing the two. There are usually six couples of Ceng-ceng in a common Gamelan. There can be more depending on how high intonations are needed. 2) Gambang is a metallophone made from bars of copper in different thicknesses and lengths. These copper bars are rowed above a wooden beam which has been carved in several motifs. Gambang players hit the bars one by one depending on the intended intonation. The difference of thickness and lengths produce various intonations. In a common Gamelan there must be at least two Gambang.[Source: Bali Tourism Board]

3) Gangse looks like a wheel without a hole in its center. It is made from bronze. Like Gambang, a Group of Gangse is rowed above a carved wooden beam and played by hitting it with a couple of wooden sticks. Every Gangse in a row has different sizes, producing different intonations. Gangse is used for producing low tones. This instrument is dominant for slow songs or dances which reflect tragedy. 4) Kempur/ Gong is affected by Chinese culture. Kempur looks like a big Gangse which is hanged between two wooden poles. It is made from bronze and also played by using a wooden stick. Kempur is the biggest instrument in the Gamelan. It’s size is about a truck wheel. Kempur is used for producing low tones but longer than the Gangse. In Bali, to symbolize an opening of a national or international event, hitting the Kempur three times is typical.

5) Kendang is a traditional Balinese drum. It is made from wood and buffalo skin in cylinder form. It is played by using a wooden stick or using the palm of the hand. Kendang is usually played as the opening intonation in many dances. 6) Suling is a Balinese flute. It is made from bamboo. Suling is usually shorter than a modern flute. This wind instrument dominates as the accompanier in scenes of tragedy and slow songs which describe sadness.

Unique music instruments which can only be found in the district of Tabanan are Tektekan and Okokan. These wooden music instruments were first found by farmers in Tabanan. Okokan is actually a wooden bell hung around the neck of the cows and Tektekan is a handheld instrument to make noises for scaring away birds from the ripening rice paddy fields. The rhythms of those instruments later became musical instruments for performances during many temple festivals or social events in Tabanan. At this time these have become strong characteristics of the traditional music art in Tabanan. Okokan and Tektekan festivals have become a member of the Bali Tourism Festivals regularly held each year.


Angklung is an Indonesian musical instrument consisting of two to four bamboo tubes suspended in a bamboo frame, bound with rattan cords. The tubes are carefully whittled and cut by a master craftsperson to produce certain notes when the bamboo frame is shaken or tapped. Each Angklung produces a single note or chord, so several players must collaborate in order to play melodies. Traditional Angklungs use the pentatonic scale, but in 1938 musician Daeng Soetigna introduced Angklungs using the diatonic scale; these are known as angklung padaeng.

The Angklung is closely related to traditional customs, arts and cultural identity in Indonesia, played during ceremonies such as rice planting, harvest and circumcision. The special black bamboo for the Angklung is harvested during the two weeks a year when the cicadas sing, and is cut at least three segments above the ground, to ensure the root continues to propagate. Angklung education is transmitted orally from generation to generation, and increasingly in educational institutions. Because of the collaborative nature of Angklung music, playing promotes cooperation and mutual respect among the players, along with discipline, responsibility, concentration, development of imagination and memory, as well as artistic and musical feelings.[Source: UNESCO]

Angklung was inscribed in 2010 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It and its music are central to the cultural identity of communities in West Java and Banten, where playing the Angklung promotes the values of teamwork, mutual respect and social harmony. Safeguarding measures are proposed that include cooperation between performers and authorities at various levels to stimulate transmission in formal and non-formal settings, to organize performances, and to encourage the craftsmanship of making Angklungs and sustainable cultivation of the bamboo needed for its manufacture.

Traditional Folk Music of Indonesia

Ingo Stoevesandt wrote in his blog on Southeast Asian music: Outside Karawitan (traditional gamelan music) we firstly meet another Arabian influence in the “orkes melayu”, an ensemble where the name already indicates the Malayan origin. This ensemble, consisting of every imaginable instrument ranging from Indian drums over electric guitars up to a small Jazz combo, happily mingles up traditional Arabic and Indian rhythms and melodies. It is quite as favourite as the actual Pop/Rock scene of Indonesia.

“The solo singing tradition tembang is rich and diverse allover Indonesia. The most usual are the male soli bawa, suluk and buka celuk, male unisono gerong, and the female unisono sinden. The repertoire knows more than ten poetical forms with different meters, numbers of syllables per verse and polyrhythmic elements.

“The folk music of Java and Sumatra still remains unresearched. It is so divers that most scientific approximations nearly scratched the surface. Here we find the rich treasure of the melodies lagu including the children songs lagu dolanan, the many theatralic and shamanic dukun dances, or the magic kotekan which finds its mirror in the Luong of the Thai in northern Vietnam. The folk music must be assumed as a cradle of the Gamelan ensemble and its music, as we find two singers, a zither and a drum here reproducing a gending, for which the Gamelan would need over 20 musicians to perform it.”

See Separate Article on Pop Music

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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