Denver Awakens Bali

Review of Gamelan Tunas Mekar USA in Gatra Magazine

[The following review appeared in the Balinese magazine ‘Gatra’ on July 7, 1996 after Tunas Mekar’s performance at the Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar, Bali.]

“A group of gamelan musicians from the U.S.A. played angklung bravely, surprising the Balinese audience.”

Gamelan seems to be spreading around the world. One group of gamelan musicians from the U.S.A. displayed their capabilities with confidence at a performance in Bali on June 23rd, 1996. The group, a Balinese gamelan from Denver, Colorado, appeared under the name “Tunas Mekar.” Taking place on the outdoor “Nretya Mandala” stage at S.T.S.I in Denpasar, Bali, their performance (part of the Bali Arts Festival held June 8th to July 6th) attracted an enthusiastic audience. Last year, at the same event, another Balinese gamelan from “the land of uncle sam” called “Sekar Jaya” (based in California) played to a similar group. Unlike “Sekar Jaya,” which entertained the audience with “Gong Kebyar” (a Balinese gamelan with a full-spectrum sound), “Tunas Mekar” bravely performed gamelan “angklung.” This type of orchestra has received little attention from the Balinese artists themselves. In Bali, “angklung” refers to a four-tone gamelan which is usually played for funerals. As opposed to kebyar, which is readily found throughout the island, angklung does not occur in every village. However, “We want to awaken the Balinese, especially composers, to examine angklung more closely,” said I Made Lasmawan, 38, ”Tunas Mekar’s” teacher and an alumnus of S.T.S.I. in Surakarta (Java).

In recent years, the Balinese have been caught up in a kebyar trend, so “Tunas Mekar’s” very deliberate performance of angklung surprised the audience. The admiring crowd enjoyed the show piece-by-piece. The group, which was founded in 1988, performed three concert pieces and three pieces featuring dance. In addition, they showed their talent for playing the ancient instruments, “Gender Wayang,” and played “Joged Bumbung,” the music of the joged dance of Bali. “This time we didn’t play kebyar,” said David Woodward, a “Tunas Mekar” member.

Lasmawan said “Tunas Mekar” (one of more than 100 American groups) is not only able to play different types of Balinese gamelan, but is interested in Javanese music as well. American people love gamelan. However, the majority of “Tunas Mekar’s” members are not professional musicians, but work in a variety of fields. They rehearse twice a week, traveling distances from separate locations to study gamelan. Because of the demands of their jobs, some of the members could not come to perform in Bali. Another interesting aspect: the players don’t stick to one instrument, but move around instead.

The sound can be odd due to the limited tones of angklung. “My feeling was not quite right when dancing with gamelan angklung,” said Ida Bagus Pujawatra, 24, a student at S.T.S.I. Denpasar who danced “Oleg Tambulilinggan.” I Ketut Partha, 39, a former teacher of Sekar Jaya who helped “Tunas Mekar’s” performance by playing “kendang” (drum), realized that he needed extra concentration, being unused to playing kebyar pieces with angklung tones. But the Americans of “Tunas Mekar” are able to play and enjoy angklung with their entire spirits. Congratulations!

– Kadek Suartaya
“GATRA” MAGAZINE, July 7th, 1996