Bamboo: The Melody Surrounding Jogja


This article describes the phenomenon of the presence of bamboo music around Jogja. Driving around Jogjakarta is not as pleasant as it was in the good old days. Traffic jam is inevitable in Jogja streets.The pleasant bamboo sound playing familiar songs gives a glimpse of calmness amongst the depressing traffic. To prolong its existence, we are expected to donate a little amount of money. The sound of bamboo is now an additional soundscape that sneaks into the noisy urban city soundscape of Jogja. Though originally came from another town, the bamboo sound is considered as a sound of the city after it mingles with the urban noise. It sounds beautiful, contrasting itself from the noisy urban sound. Using ethnography as its method, this research aims to test the process of production, dissemination, replication, and interpretation of angklung music that invades the city in a short time. It is important to investigated on how the process involves and relates the regional identities, musicians, and the listeners in the cultural reproduction in order to get an in depth description about the bamboo music phenomenon around Jogjakarta.

Keywords: Bamboo Music, Angklung, Urban, Phenomenon, Identities.


Phenomenon of the Presence of BambooMusic in Jogja

Shin Nakagawa (Japanese ethnomusicologist) did a research in Yogyakarta. As the research result, Shin elaborated what he called as soundscape. Shin Nakagawa found that different places produce different sounds. There is no such thing as identical sound; there are always different sounds in different places. Then Shin Nakagawa found that Jogja is actually a very noisy city, as there are many annoying sound at high decibel. Those sounds are the result of modernity as Jogja has shifted into urban city. The sound came from many modern products, for example the crowded streets full of motor vehicles, besides many other things. Shin Nakagawa was surprised that the Jogja people still can live peacefully surrounded by such a noisy soundscape (Nakagawa, 2000: 126).

Driving around Yogyakarta is not as pleasant as it was in the good old days. Traffic jam is inevitable in Jogja streets. Perhaps it is a sign of modernity that interrupts the city’s friendly nature. However, like an oasis in a dessert, now the crowded streets became more bearable with the presence of bamboo music around the street corners. The pleasant bamboo sound playing familiar songs gives a glimpse of calmness amongst the depressing traffic. To prolong its existence, we are expected to donate a little amount of money. The sound of bamboo is now an additional soundscape that sneaks into the noisy urban city soundscape of Jogja. Though originally came from another town, the bamboo sound is considered as a sound of the city after it mingles with the urban noise. It sounds beautiful, contrasting itself from the noisy urban sound.

The bamboo music started invading Jogja streets since 5 years ago. It took only a short time before it starts spreading massively throughout the city. Several groups of youngsters occupy spaces at the sidewalk to express themselves. Every day they put a set of angklung on the streets to play. They play to entertain the people who stop by the traffic light. Several seconds of red light is their moment to earn little money.

In addition to the city streets, the heart of the city, Malioboro, is also invaded by the bamboo music. The street that is crowded with various means of transportation becomes more cheerful with the presence of angklung music along the way. There are three angklung groups that play every night. Angklung becomes an entertainment for tourists, local citizens who pass by, as well as the food stall sellers and becak drivers who wait for customers. Often the audience stock at the right side of the streets that is actually the part of the street for becak and horse carts. Often some audience dance to the music which turns the attraction into a more interesting performance.

The Kraton Palace stands not far from Malioboro. Kraton as the cultural hegemony seems to stay silent. The bronze gamelan that symbolizes the Palace’s powerful image is rarely played. Bamboo, a cosmopolite plant, shows its agility. Bamboo music surrounds the city that is known to be enveloped by its adiluhung high culture.

The street ensemble that surrounds Jogja lately popularizes angklung music. If we browse the music using search engine, we will get the information that the traditional instrument is originally from West Java. There will be also the name Mang Udjo mentioned. Angklung is known as a traditional instrument made of bamboo. The instrument is played by shaking it. Playing this Sundanese traditional instrument requires many players because usually one player plays one or more melodies. However, the explanation in an internet page is different with the fact happens in Jogja. Street musicians call the ensemble they play as angklung music. Seen from the organology point of view, the sound they produce is indeed similar with angklung from West Java. However, seen from the visual point of view, this kind of angklung is played differently. The angklung is set into a frame that is bound with rubber. Pragmatically, this method eases the player to play the music on the streets.

The angklung that is played on the streets are a set of angklungs that are arranged side by side and are bound with rubber. That way, it no longer requires many players to produce the music. A musician can play the melody by shaking the angklungs that have been set according to the sequence of the melody. Besides angklung there is also calung that comes from Banyumas. Calung is bamboo blades that are arranged into a set that produces melody. Usually it is played using two to five sticks at the same time so that it produces harmonious accord. Other simple instruments used in the ensemble are drums that are covered with rubber tire. Simplicity is seen in the bamboo music ensemble that colors Jogja these passing years.

Researching the phenomena of angklung music amongst Jogja’s established culture is interesting, considering the fact that the angklung music groups in the city multiply themselves massively. In Jogja street corners now there are ten music groups and the number is still counting. This research will study the changes happen in the city’s public spaces as the response to the angklung music.

The big question is why angklung music survives in Jogja though the music originally comes from Sunda regions and develops in Banyumas regions. As the music that comes from marginalized regions that are far from the cultural centers such as the Kraton, the presence of angklung music in Jogja shows musical dichotomy of Kraton versus the people that manifests in the form of bronze music (gamelan, kraton) versus bamboo music (angklungcalung, the people). Music also speaks of the power. Kraton, the owner of power, keeps the bronze music for their own. The people who are forbidden from playing the bronze music have to make their own instrument. Bamboo is chosen as the main material because it is easier to find. Suddenly in this modern era, this bamboo music infiltrates Kraton’s region of power by being on Jogja streets around Kraton, the symbol of hegemony and traditional music.

Furthermore, the research sees the phenomena from the economy point of view, in which the ensemble players of angklung music in Jogja streets practically do this activity out of the motive of economy. They play their music for some rupiahs, to earn a living. From this phenomena, the research questions whether the angklung players in Jogja streets realize that beyond their economy motives there is a rebellion against a particular cultural repression. Also, whether the spectators who make the show more attractive realize that there is a discourse of rebellion and repression, or whether the spectators see the show only as something exotic, from the common people’s spectacle of orientalism.

Using ethnography as its method, this research aims to test the process of production, dissemination, replication, and interpretation of angklung music that invades the city in a short time. It is important toinvestigated on how the process involves and relates the regional identities, musicians, and the listeners in the cultural reproduction in order to get an in depth description about the bamboo music phenomenon around Jogjakarta.


The Merger of Identity

Angklung is indeed originally from West Java. However, geographically Banyumas is located in the border between Javanese and Sundanese regions that enables the spreading of angklung around the area. Still, angklung music in Banyumas is different from that in Sunda. These differences can be seen as the result of a casual cultural adaptation process. The intermingling with a kind of music that has existed previously makes angklung music from Banyumas different from Sundanese angklung music. The difference can be seen from the kinds of instruments in an angklung music ensemble. Every kampong in Banyumas, Cilacap, Purbalingga, and surrounding districts has an angklung group that they call “Kenthongan”. The birth of angklung music must have something to do with the journey of art in Banyumas and the effect it has through the continuing social changes. In the middle of this social change, angklung music presents as the entertainment of Banyumas people. Angklung music exists as an alternative form of art as the platform for Banyumas society to express themselves as well as to fulfill their aesthetic needs. Furthermore this music develops into two contradictory characters: traditional-modern. This only shows that the Banyumas society nowadays is walking on the rail of modernity though they do not completely abandon their traditional roots. The traditional color in the angklung performance is an extraction from ancient cultural product that is still preserved in the form of art. Therefore there are many aspects of the show that are imitations from the existing form of arts.

Banyumas is a region that produces bamboo extensively and consequently has produced various kinds of traditional music like calung, angklung, krumpyung, gondoliyo/bongkel. These kinds of music are played through bamboo instruments that are made of bambu wulung specifically. The abundance of bamboo materials supplies in the regions enables the people to develop their creativity. The bamboos are turned into pitch blades that are tuned in accordance to the music performance. One arrangement of these instruments is called calung. In this arrangement the blades are put into a string and stroke with a stick. Meanwhile, when the bamboo blades were hung and are shaken to play, it turns into angklung, krumpyung, and bongkel. 

Seen from the perspective of organology, physically the instruments in the angklung music ensemble are the metamorphosis of the previously mentioned instruments. Banyumas people’s romantic sense of the passing years can be seen through the people’s performances using calung, angklung, krumpyung, gondoliyo/bongkel –any kind of bamboo music instruments. This romantic sense of the past has blended with the modern sense and produces creative ideas through angklung music ensemble. As a metamorphosis, the creative process of angklung music involves the imitation process of the previously exist music instruments. The imitation process is not only in the form of exact ”photocopy”, but also innovation by putting in some “new” elements such as the kinds and shape (organology) of the instruments, as well as the performed songs. The imitation and innovation process slowly form the music performance into a more established and complete structure so that more people are attracted. This phenomenon then enforced the existence of angklung music groups.

According to popular myth, the music that is played through bamboo instruments are created from the Sunda people’s belief to Nyai Sri Pohaci, the goddess of paddy who gives the blessings of life. During the process of paddy farming, the society creates verses and songs for the goddess as a manifestation of respects. This also functions as the tolak bala (prevention of unfortunates) so that the rice in the field grows without any obstacles. The songs for Dewi Sri are played in a simple manner with bamboo blades instruments. The packages of bamboo blades instruments are then known as angklung and calung.

The documents written by Saung Mang Udjo, angklung spread to almost every part of West Java. The bamboo instrument is used as an element in rituals and ceremonies to celebrate the fertility of Dewi Sri. The ceremonies are done so that the goddess gives her blessing to smoothen the people’s farming activity.

The same phenomenon happens in Banyumas, a region that is the origin of some bamboo instruments. Now the instruments are often being played together in an ensemble. The bamboo music ensemble was first played by the farmers as a means of entertainment in the field. However, in its development, the function of the music shifted functions as the means of entertainment during ronda (village security system that are done overnight by the men of the village), as public sahur alarms, and finally become the music on the streets (ngamen).

As the time goes by, the bamboo music ensemble continuously get through the process of changing as the people’s attitude and trend also change. The change or time period influences the change of shape and creation process of the music. The change in the creative process of the music can be seen through the shift of Banyumasan gendhing to the mainstream music from the music market and industry. The phenomenon requires the musical and performance change. Since the early 1990, bamboo music ensemble is no longer dominated by Banyumasan gendhing, instead more on pop songs (dangdut).

A bamboo music researcher from Leiden University, Wim Van Zanten, stated that the existence of bamboo music with the diatonic scale cannot be separated from the role of the government. Angklung was an instrument from bamboo pipes with pentatonic scale, a scale that consists of five tunes like gamelan and other traditional music instruments. Since 1938, people started play angklung in diatonic scale just like a piano or other Western music instruments. Since November 2010, angklung was admitted by the UNESCO as a cultural heritage. The government started to actively promote angklung. One of the promotional activities is sending an angklung group who used diatonic scale abroad. Finally, angklung with diatonic scale dominated Indonesia. Franki Raden, an ethnomusicologist, stated that the government’s decision to cooperate only with one angklung group can reduce the understanding of angklungs essential point. In many international events, angklung performances usually play songs of the Western repertoire, so that it seems as if angklung exists only as a means of entertainment. In fact, until now Badui society still play pentatonic angklung when they held the paddy farming ritual ceremony (Kompas, December 9th, 2013).

To understand the symptoms of cultural reproduction that happens in this bamboo music ensemble, Appadurai’s opinion about human mobility that becomes an important factor for the shaping and changing of the culture should be considered. The boundaries of cultural regions are no longer important because a certain group is not always bounded to their own region. It has become part of other cultural regions that tend to change when an individual move places. This mobility then enforces the identity reconstruction process of a group of people. There are two processes that possibly could happen. First, a cultural adaptation between the migrants with the local culture in which they come to settle that relates to the value adaptation and daily life practice. Local culture, though not extremely strong, can be a new force in showing the values to the new-comers. Second, an individual’s identity can be shaped in accordance to the values of his or her place of origin (Appadurai, 1994). Even, someone can contribute to produce his or her culture of origin in the new place. Culture functions as the imagined values that present in everyone’s minds, and become the factors that support and preserve the culture though the individual is outside his or her domain of culture (Anderson, 1991).

The shift of profession from agriculture to non agriculture can be seen as the main reason of people’s mobility nowadays. Migration to the city cannot be avoided as the people choose to left behind their agricultural jobs and shift work into blue collar workers. The city is seen as the destination of a modern life. This condition also happens in Banyumas and surrounding towns. Lacking professional skill makes it hard to survive in the city. Finally, being street musician is an easy choice to earn a living.

Jogja as the city of culture becomes an interesting destination for the youngsters that come from Banyumas and nearby cities to try their fortune in playing bamboo music, the music that has grown with each of the individuals. One of the groups is New Banesa Angklung Group. This group can be considered lucky because they occupy a strategic place as their stage, which is in the heart of Jogja (Malioboro). A strategic place is a blessing. They occupy the a patch of sidewalk in the front of hotel Mutiara, and every night this group is surrounded by excited viewers. New Banesa Group starts its career in Jogja since August 7th, 2009. Before Jogja, they had tried other cities in Indonesia such as Surabaya, Jakarta, Semarang, Boyolali, Temanggung, Kulonprogo, and many others. However, none of these cities give them good income as Malioboro. Among the street lights and under the lights of the shops they play dangdut and campur sari songs that are familiar to the public. At least 20-30 songs every night are played in 2,5 hours (interview with Ryan, December 5th, 2013). Gambang (calung), angklung strings, maracas, small bedug, bass bedug, and a small cymbal are played by them every night at Malioboro. With different uniform every day, they play the angklung beautifully. A wooden box is placed in front of the instruments, ready to receive rupiahs. Money bills are thrown inside the box by listeners every night, ranging from a thousand to fifty thousand rupiahs. The musicians play their instruments and sing the songs one by one soulfully. Some cars and motorbike drivers who pass usually stop by for a moment to enjoy the music. Pedestrians cannot miss their attraction and stop by to enjoy the performance despite the crowded audience. In every performance, they usually watched as if in a concert. Often, a person from the audience cannot contain his or herself and starts dancing to the bamboo music.

New Banesa Angklung Group consists of nine members. Each of them has his own task. Seven persons act as the musicians, and two of the members act as the street supervisor. This is very important because they use the streets as their stage. From the seven musicians, two of them are Jogjanese who grew up in the streets of Malioboro. Aside from being street musicians, they also often take singing jobs at some events by the government, private institutions, big companies, or commoners. The instruments that they play are not only angklung. They have added other music instruments so that the bamboo music ensemble becomes more attractive. In an interview, they stated that tourists who come to Jogja must be they who understand and enjoy arts. Therefore, angklung will always be enjoyed and watched by the tourists in Malioboro.

The abundance of street vendors at the sidewalks has become Malioboro’s main attraction. The tourism industry has turned Malioboro into a business center with high money rotation. This place is the meeting point of many people with various affairs. Malioboro and its sidewalks have become the “land of hope”, a “new” place in which every person has the rights to earn a living. Among these people, there are angklung music groups who use Malioboro sidewalks as their stage. There are three groups that occupy this public space and turn it into their stage. Some experts call this phenomenon as frontierisme.

Frontierisme is a belief in which everyone may occupy any “empty space”. In Malioboro, the “empty space” is the public space that actually belongs to the public. The public space, sidewalks and street pavements, does not belong to a particular group of people who can freely occupy it. In this belief, sidewalks and pavements are seen as frontiers, just like a jungle that can be invaded and occupied. Just like an empty space, many people come to Malioboro and then occupy it. The street vendors and angklung music groups have won the space over the pedestrians in Malioboro. The desire to occupy the empty space has built the frontierisme ideology. Frontierisme then is seen as a construction about crossing the boundaries, and also about progressive and expansive occupation of a space. In the next development, when the idea about the frontier is actualized, the progressive expansion creates competitive attitude and strategy so that the group can win the “battle” in the frontier area. In this area, law and legal regulations are ignored, so that the following interactions show chaos and mess, as well as the compromise to accept any condition (Melbin, 1978:7).

Malioboro sidewalks and pavements that used to be public space that is “no-one’s space” have shifted into “private/someone’s space”. An individual claims a certain public space as his or her own private space. He or she positioned his or herself as the “master” of the lot of land. When many people see Malioboro sidewalks and streets as a space that can give space to individuals, more and more people come to occupy the sidewalks and streets of Malioboro. The number of people invading the space of Malioboro represents the number of affairs that they bring along. Consequently, competition to get the patch of sidewalks and streets happens. In the competition, people use the sidewalks and pavements as the space to actualize each individual’s personal affairs.

Whatever happens in Malioboro now, the noisy manner and the competition of affairs, are related with business. Business, tied with the economy motive, makes people try to get maximal profit by minimal capital. The business running in Malioboro is the tourism industry. Malioboro is turned into Jogja’s main tourism destination. It also becomes the center of money rotation so that everyone will be attracted to come there. People then penetrate Malioboro using their own unique ways, such as the street vendors that reduces the walking space in Malioboro’s narrow sidewalks, and the street musicians around the street corners who turn the space into their stage.

The presence of street vendors and street musicians is considered disturbing. However, their presence is needed for the existence of Malioboro. Street vendors contribute big funding to the City Government from their rents, tax, and retribution. Moreover, street vendors are the main attraction to the tourists in Malioboro because of their merchandise that are locally made. The tourist in Malioboro who walks in the pavements also needs the existence of the street vendors. People will not flood to Malioboro if there are no street vendors there. The existence of the street vendors has blended with the image of Malioboro, and this image has been build inside the mind of Malioboro visitors. The chaotic condition of Malioboro is also due to the role of the visitors or the pedestrians. The number of people who want to enjoy Malioboro is always increasing. They enjoy the streets while seeing through the merchandise. Of course the tourists and the buyers will walk slowly. Seeing this phenomenon, it can be said that Malioboro deliberately provides its sidewalks not only for pedestrians, but also for the street vendors to sell their merchandise. Malioboro is then known as the place with the street vendors. It is Malioboro’s identity. The identity differentiates Malioboro’s sidewalks with the others. When an individual or a group of people place themselves in Malioboro’s sidewalks, they will build the image (prepare themselves) to the condition of Malioboro’s sidewalk. They will adapt with the fact happening on the sidewalk. The attitude of the individuals then builds the identity of Malioboro. Proxemically, the identity that sticks to Malioboro is built by the way people look at Malioboro and the way they act in Malioboro. People are aware that when they walk on the sidewalks of Malioboro, they will encounter street vendors with their unique merchandise. At night, they will encounter the lesehan food stalls with the sounds of street musicians.

Now Malioboro becomes more attractive with the existence of angklung music groups that becomes new entertainment for dangdut music fans. The closure of Purawisata as Jogja’s dangdut icon at the end of 2012 made angklung music becomes an interesting choice for Purawisata’s visitors. Purawisata dangdut lovers admit that they have lost a space of entertainment with the closure of Purawisata, but the presence of this angklung music can fulfill their desire to dance. This is a nuance that becomes a magnet to attract people to come to Malioboro. A condition that makes Malioboro always crowded with visitors. In the other side, Malioboro is also known as a place that is crowded and not comfortable. The competition for room, land lot mafia, traffic jam and chaos are always there in Malioboro. In Malioboro, people are often feeling insecure to cross the street, being swindled by street vendors, and the enjoyment to walk in the sidewalks are ruined because of the crowdedness. The image of Malioboro that is built in the minds of the individuals is due to the result of the individuals’ adaptation to Malioboro. Many faces of Malioboro started to be seen, the romantic ones to the chaotic ones. The street vendors sell a lot of unique merchandise that are bought as souvenirs by the visitors. However, the crowded street vendors and visitors make Malioboro looks messed up and chaotic. It makes some people reluctant of going there. This means that Malioboro’s identity is shaped by how people look at Malioboro and how people act at Malioboro. Here, individual’s image has an important role in shaping the identity of Malioboro.

Malioboro’s condition as Jogja’s icon can describe Jogja’s condition. The presence of bamboo music in Jogja streets can be said due to frontierisme ideology that has started to grow in the urban society. The economy shift from agriculture to non agriculture creates a unique economy condition that prominences the city as the modernity symbol. The crowded city makes the people adapt with the surrounding socio-cultural environment. The sayings “Saiki jaman edan, sing ora edan ora keduman”(Now is the year of madness, those who are not mad will not get the share). The competition to occupy the public space can be seen as the manifestation of the saying. Jogja streets started to be crowded with food stalls. The area near Tugu station, for example, is crowded with angkringan food stalls in a nick of time. Street musicians also take this chance to earn some living. The competition is seen blatantly when the angkringan sellers and parking staffs try their best to get the visitors. The streets around the station have been turned into frontier area, unoccupied area that can be seized by any individual to fulfill their needs. Besides the streets around Tugu, almost every sidewalk in Jogja City has now become frontier area. Kraton no longer has the power as the single occupier of Jogja. The hegemony that they promote cannot win over the frontierisme ideology that occurs due to the economy problem. The bamboo music that was brought by Banyumas youths become an option for Jogja youths to earn some living. The growth of these music groups in some points in the town describes that Jogjakarta can adapt with the modernity effect that happen in many sectors.

It seems that the frontierism ideology to fight Kraton’s hegemony is in accordance with the concept of Public Sphere that is explained by Jurgen Habermas. The Public Sphere is a public sphere in which everyone can be together and use the public sphere for their personal needs. Although forced by the frontierism ideology that is based on economy as the main trait of urban society, actually there is something political beyond this phenomenon: the act to fight against hegemony. Like what has been said by Habermas, often there is political motive beyond each act in public sphere, although unrecognized by the individuals. (Habermas, 1989).

The spreading of angklung music ensemble in the public sphere (Malioboro) is one of the examples. The marginalized music comes from a place that is far away from the center of adiluhung culture (Kraton). Now the music sneaks into the center of the adiluhung culture. However, instead of playing the music in Kraton (must be hard to do), angklung and calung groups take advantage of the public sphere in Jogja streets. Seen from the economy point of view, they become stronger because they earn big money every night. Seen from the political point of view, they are also strong because they use the public sphere, a public room that belongs to the public. And maybe the angklung and calung ensemble challenge the Kraton hegemony, as well as challenging the social strata that manifests in the expensive music performances in theater buildings or fancy cafés. They exist in the public sphere, on the streets.

The street vendors and sellers in the public spheres also have the same political motive: to fight against hegemony. Frontierism is real and it exists in the way they earn their living through economy motive. However, there is a fight against hegemony in the big retail stores or malls in Jogja. The development plan to improve the tourism industry is a part of modernity. This is one of the things that make Jogja becomes more chaotic. There is a kind of exoticism that is offered by the public sphere. Something that makes Malioboro stays crowded although there are many malls and shopping centers in Jogja.

Making New Culture with Bamboo

Jogja is identical with the classic traditional culture that becomes the city’s identity from the past. Now the identity is going through a shift to modernity. Kraton is the Sultan’s Palace that is a cultural heritage from the past that still exists until now, although the hegemony is no longer strong. The shift of profession in Java from agricultural society to the non agricultural makes Jogja has to change. The migration to the city creates a new culture that is more dynamic. The existence of angklung music in Jogja streets indicates that Jogja becomes an open multicultural space. Many cultures that come along with the urban society adapt beautifully with the established local culture. The given public rooms can be appreciated freely by anyone with the needs. Kraton as the symbol of hegemony of the established culture is consistent in using bronze as the symbol of its power and adiluhung culture. In the other side, bamboo is known with its ability to be cosmopolite; it can adapt with any kinds of room and survive, although it has to fight against the strong and luxurious bronze.


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