Balot and Insitu Recordings

I met many new friends through the Narwastu Gamelan Ensemble. Many were Westerners who were studying gamelan for a year at the local university, the Indonesian Institute of the Arts. One night, they invited me out to an album release of record that was a compilation of new music by Balinese composers on traditional gamelan instruments.

I arrived to the record release party right on time as per the Facebook event, still used to the precision of Korean time. I forgot that the Balinese are on island time, which means the event wouldn’t start for another hour. The venue was also a coffee bar, so I got a coffee and sat there by myself watching everyone set up for the release party. Trying to not look as awkward as I felt, I began to talk to one of the local musicians there who was helping set up. Little did I know, he was the co-founder of the record label that was responsible for this album release, Insitu Recordings.

Insitu Recordings is not only a record label, but also an arts collective made up of composers and musicians from all around the world who share a passion for Balinese music. Co founded by I Putu Gede Sukaryana (Balot) and Jonathan Adams, Insitu Recordings uses traditional Balinese gamelan in new and innovate ways to create an entirely new sub-group of music. From playing Bach inventions on one of the various metallaphones, to adding an American style rock band to a traditional gamelan gong kebyar ensemble, Insitu is giving traditional Balinese gamelan music a fresh coat of paint and creating something new and exciting anyone around the world would enjoy. Every couple of months, Insitu Recordings releases an installment of music by various composers from all around Bali, and even some composers from the West. It is a platform for young and talented musicians and composers to showcase their music to the public and get their music out there in the international music world.

Balot and I ended up talking all night about what he wants to see happen in the Balinese music scene and how he want to change the way people view music here.
The Balinese are incredibly competitive when it comes to gamelan ensembles. Balot compared gamelan competitions to a war. He wants to change this idea of music being more than just a competition where someone is better than the other, he wants it to be more of a positive activity. “People aren’t playing for themselves anymore” Balot says. He wants to remind people that music is almost like therapy because it is a reflection of one’s self. Because of Balot and Insitu Recordings, more and more contemporary composers are allowed to showcase and celebrate their talent on a broader spectrum while still respecting the Balinese music tradition.

Balot’s over all mission for Insitu Recordings opened my mind. What if I don’t completely focus on just women in percussion? What if I go even farther? I realized that although it is good to focus on women in traditional percussion ensembles and see how they have essentially “stuck it to the man” in regards of playing instruments that are traditionally only for men. But if I focused solely on women-only projects, I felt like I was doing the same thing to men that they have been doing to women all of these years. They are 50% of the population. If they have a musical mission that interests me that is made for the common good of the community, I should research, study, and learn from them as much as any other woman I have studied thus far.

This got me thinking. Women are choosing now to drum; not just for the sake of drumming, although I know that is quite an important factor, but they’re doing it to foster change for the better in their community. When Nidhi, Michelle, Leontine, etc. taught children how to play drums, they didn’t just teach girls, they taught any and everyone for the greater good of their community. They aren’t there to find the next Mozart, however, it doesn’t hurt if you find one, they’re using music to spark change and hope to anyone who wants to play along. Whether you’re a victim of domestic abuse, have HIV/AIDS, trying to find your next meal, or just want to play on a drum for the fun of it, they are there for you, using MUSIC FOR CHANGE.

I had my aha-moment. I know it might sound like a simple concept, and that I’ve even done outreach for children during my time at Rice, how did I not think of this before? During those music outreach days back in Texas, I didn’t feel like I was actually making a difference with an hour presentation. Maybe I did for some of the kids, but the feeling I experienced during my first half of my fellowship was incomparable. It was more than a music class for for kids I studied, it was therapy. This changed the attitudes of many people and was then directly poured into that community. Music fosters confidence and hope in people who originally think that things aren’t possible, that things aren’t going to get better. By seeing and learning first hand from the amazing women in Africa, I’ve learned that Balot is doing the same thing, but in Bali. By using gamelan as a starting point, Balot has allowed many new composers see that there is more to see out there. “We need to gain perspective and see what is out there while still respecting the Balinese tradition”. Because of Balot, there is now a community of young composers and musicians in Bali who can collaborate and make music that which they can share with the world.

I was so excited that night that I had a break through. I had a new burst of energy and inspiration for my project. I thought to myself, “This. This is what I want to bring back home and do with my life”. I left the release party with a CD of the new album and plans to meet with Balot again, and got a celebratory Cuban sandwich and ginger ale from my sandwich guy down by the beach.

You can check out the amazing new compositions of Bali’s talented young composers HERE. Support the arts and buy some of the music! Be the cool hipster that has worldly music on your iPhone when you backseat DJ and everyone automatically thinks you’re deep or something!

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I have a “food guy” in each place I live for a go-to meal. Just insert a different food before “guy” in each country:
-South African coffee guy: His place was really close my hostel and we got to talking after he noticed me stretching in my really weird contortionist-ways with my arms while writing and yelled out loud “good god what?!” Then his dog peed on my white shoes. Whatever. His place had great coffee.
-Rwandan banana muffin guy: Another coffee shop where that monkey (pictured in one of my previous blogs) would just chill and stare at me…maybe he was just staring at my muffin. My ultimate go-to snack while working on my blog
-Korea fried chicken guy: There’s a little known fact that Korea is famous for their chicken and beer. Well, I thought it would be too lame to go to an actual restaurant by myself for dinner still at this point (I eventually got over that fear in India), so there was a guy with a GIANT wok in the main shopping district in Seoul with fried chicken made by the gods. Perfect lonely people snack
-Balinese Cuban sandwich guy: The sanitation was questionable, but I had an iron stomach after Rwanda. Plus nothing beat having an ice cold ginger ale outside the 7/11 with my favorite stray cat I befriended and would feed her the scraps. I swear I had human friends, too.

 

Real life Eat, Pray, Love

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.

Eat

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).

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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.

Pray

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.

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Love (Music)

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)

 

Motos, Music, and the Monkey

October 2016

After the first couple of weeks in Rwanda, I stayed in the capital, Kigali, with Adam, a friend of a friend. By the end of my stay, we became the best of friends. I cooked a lot of Mexican and Italian food for us; Adam supplied quality olive oil, wine, and coffee!
There were a lot of younger expats who lived and worked in Kigali, in development or for non-profit organizations. I quickly found a group of great people to hang out with. The expat population was so small, I could meet just about everyone within a night out, whether Monday trivia night, Wednesday karaoke at Car Wash, or happy hour at Inema.

Motos

These friends introduced me to the world of motos, the practical way to navigate my way around Rwanda. Having a car was quite a luxury, beyond the means of most people. All the cars were imported with high costs, not to mention difficulties finding expensive imported parts for repairs. Because of this, even taxis were pricy in Kigali and they were practically nonexistent outside the capital.

The most common (and affordable) alternative was to hire a motorcycle, or “moto”. Just like catching a cab, I stood on the side of a road to hail a passing moto driver by waving or whistling. The driver stopped to hand me a flimsy, and sometimes broken, helmet while I explained where I wanted to go. Most of the drivers were pleasant, yet everyone was expected to bargain.

I learned that the key was to know how much it cost to get to each destination, to name my price before the driver announced a fee. If the driver’s fare seemed excessive, I gave a confused look and said, “Urahenda!” (pronounced Oo-Rah-Hen-Dah), which meant, “Too expensive!”. If a moto driver didn’t like what I was willing to pay, I was coached by my friends to walk away. It usually worked, the moto driver would follow me and agree that my offered price was fine.

After bargaining yet before hopping on a moto, I recommend saying a little prayer that you don’t die on the way. During my entire time in Rwanda, I saw about half a dozen moto accidents. One of my friends even had to take an injured moto driver to the hospital. But hey, it’s all for the real local Rwandan experience, right?

Music

The Kigali Music School focused not only on musical technique, but also on song composition. During each session, Yves and Chris split the music leaders into groups of four people, based on their instrument: voice, drums, piano, and guitar. The groups were given thirty minutes to collaborate cohesively on a task: Compose a song. Melody, harmonies and chord structures, rhythms, lyrics. Everything!

But that wasn’t all they had to do. Yves gave each group a prompt to write about, perhaps about children, the future of Rwanda, or anything uplifting and inspirational. The community music leaders typically taught impoverished children, children battling HIV/AIDS, and young adults coping with having survived childhoods during the 1994 genocide. These students struggled with overwhelming adversity in their daily existence. The music programs were intentionally structured to offer hope and vision beyond misery.

Chris, Yves, and I stepped outside while the groups went to work, to build confidence in their creative energies and to have greater autonomy. After half an hour, we reconvened into the main room of the school, huddled together tightly to watch group members perform their songs. After each group performed, Chris and Yves led everyone in open discussion. This offered additional experiential learning activities, how to provide and accept constructive criticism, how to learn and adapt from ideas generated through the acts of composition, performance, and observation.

Students quickly learned ways to make their songs more interesting, sometimes adding vocal harmony, changing introductory measures, spicing up percussive rhythms, or altering chord patterns. The music school was a safe space where everyone was encouraged to grow comfortable having and sharing one’s opinions. You could risk putting yourself and your ideas out in the open, rewarded when others celebrated your creation.

This was not the case at first when the Kigali Music School was founded. The initial groups of music leaders were reluctant to share their internal feelings and musical creations. They were quiet and reserved. Horrors of the genocide savagely pitted neighbor against neighbor. Rwandans had, and still have, difficulty trusting others, whether locals or those from outside. Yet paradoxically, after having gained their trust, Rwandans were among the most friendly, compassionate people I have ever met.

So understandably, Rwandans have become reserved, cautious as people. It hasn’t been normal for children and young adults to experience encouragement expressing themselves openly, to be in nurturing environments in which creative ideas and opinions are respected, tolerated, celebrated. Through the work of the music school, I observed students and teachers enjoying classes filled with laughter, storytelling, and genuine friendship. They were passionate, energetic, and bursting with creative expression. Yves and Chris were integral to this transformation.

Yves is the lead singer and composer of a quite well known band in Rwanda called Group Trezzor. Check out Group Trezzor and its music videos on here. Yves has been a regular at recording studios, dedicated to pumping out song after song. He motivated the entire group of youth leaders compose a song together and record it. I was there when they were still coming up with ideas for the next song, but here is one of their previous songs they recorded!

(Sorry, it’s all in Kinyarwandan, but you don’t need to know the language to be deeply inspired by this amazing group of young musicians!)

The Monkey

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the monkey. I did most of my work at a cafe near my house. It was a peaceful place full of lush greenery, with a resident monkey. Kigali didn’t have much wildlife in the city, although there were giant hawks that gathered to eat fruit from an enormous avocado tree in the garden, and feral street cats that ate our pet rabbits. So the single monkey was my one reliable, good animal friend. He chilled out in the trees nearby, watching me while I sipped my coffee.

 

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The Kigali Music School and me…teaching!

October 2016

My first day going to the Kigali Music School was a little challenging. I had no idea where it was, so I let Yves take the reign and talk to my driver on the phone. Rwanda is the first place Ive been where I couldn’t understand even a little bit of the language. Yes, not many speak English in other countries I’ve been to, but most people spoke enough English or I understood enough of my Latin bases to understand what was generally happening. Because Rwanda was colonized by Belgium, most people’s second or third language is French. So many Rwandan assumed I spoke French because I was white, but I told them I only knew English. It was kind of disappointing to say because many Rwandans speak three or four languages: Kinyarwandan, Swahili, English, and French. Continue reading The Kigali Music School and me…teaching!