While in Bali, I stayed with a lovely Balinese family in a village just outside of the touristy streets of Ubud. I was the only non-Balinese in the entire village. My host, Wayan, was a wood carver, which has been the family profession for generations. I stayed in a very traditional Balinese compound with Wayan and his entire extended family. They were incredibly welcoming and invited me to religious ceremonies, taught me about Balinese Hinduism and how make offerings, and introduced me to an entirely new perspective on the relationship between music and spirituality.
Wayan and his wife would knock on my door promptly at 8 am everyday and serve me a traditional Balinese breakfast with Balinese coffee everyday. I usually had no idea what I was eating, but it would usually consisted of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, a fried egg, and my favorite, dadar gulung (pictured below).
Dadar gulung is an Indonesian snack that directly translates to “pancake” or “omelette”. It’s a green-colored rolled pancake made of rice flour and stuffed with shaved coconut and palm sugar. The green color naturally comes from paste of the pandan leaves which is added to the rice flour. In modern times, a lot of the time, they use food coloring and make crazy bright orange and pink dadar gulung, but the traditional and natural color is green.
It was always easy to eat well when in the presence of Wayan’s family. While Wayan would carve wood and work on his new villas across the street, his wife would run the village “warung”, or restaurant. Each village would have a local warung and they would serve the exact same thing. I never minded because typical Balinese food consists of chicken satay, rice, and a fried egg on top with freshly squeezed juice of your choice for around 3USD.
The layout of a traditional Balinese compound, including the one where I lived, is focused on a strict ancient architectural guide with the goal of a house that is “in harmony” with the law of the cosmos of Balinese Hinduism. Spacial orientation is crucially considered in Balinese architecture. In Hinduism, each object in the universe has an ideal location; this must be correctly aligned at all times to achieve harmony in the universe and a perfect state of being. The two main cardinal directions in the Balinese Universe are Mount Agung, the mountain of the Gods, and the sea, the abode of the demons and spirits.
The compound is made up of multiple small buildings and are structured in terms of the human body. The family temple is the head, the guest pavilion (where I lived) are the arms, the central courtyard is the navel, the hearth is the sexual organs, and the kitchen is the feet. Traditionally, none of the small buildings in the compound have walls, except for the room where the head of the house slept, but more and more Balinese people have modernized their compounds to include walled bedrooms and bathrooms.
Below you can see an example of the compound layout and pictures of where I stayed.
I was able to be apart of Narwastu’s Gong Kebyar Gamelan Ensemble. Narwastu is an arts organization that serves as a community for artists who are interested in learning Balinese music, dance, and visual art. Founded by Jonathan and Tina Bailey in 2005, Narwastu began as a small group of people wanting to learn to play Balinese gamelan. 12 years later, it has grown into a large community of Balinese and expats alike and acts as a platform to express their art and passion. From spirituality, to advocacy for women’s rights, all the way to an art program administered at the Kerobokan Prison in Bali, the goal of Narwastu is to bring people together from all walks of life in order to create art. “Artists are empowered in the process to follow their artistic path and to, in turn, support their community as the interpreters and visionaries of the future” (taken from the Narwastu website at narwastu.org).
Three days a week, I would go to gamelan rehearsal with the other members of Narwastu. I Nyoman Darsane, a local Balinese painter, would let us use his art studio for gamelan practice and small concerts. While we would practice, he would peacefully sit outside and paint traditional Balinese scenes and periodically come in on rehearsal and play with us.The entire 25 piece gamelan ensemble would always be set up outside on the main outdoor pavilion. When it would rain (which it rains a lot in Bali), you would have to pull down bamboo shades to protect the instruments from the rain. It was always surreal to play spiritual Balinese music with locals while it would rain.
Gamelan is an incredibly sacred instrument used for many religious and cultural purposes. Just like the different styles of songs you sing in church, there are multiple styles of gamelan ensembles depending on the function. There are specific ensembles for weddings, funerals, and other religious ceremonies. Gong Kebyar (the type of ensemble I played in) is made up of 25 instruments and is played in secular and sacred settings, typically accompanying the traditional dances of Bali. The musical scale is made up of a 5-tone system (I will go into more detail about this in a later post). Kebyar means “the process of flowering”, which refers to the explosive changes in tempo and dynamics, characteristic of this style.
I’ll go more into detail about my classes and how you are even supposed to make music with these little hammers and metal bars, so tune in next time and learn more about the amazing world of GAMELAN
Terima Kasih! (Thank you in Bahasa)