We don’t say Sayonara

Rather than say Sayonara to this season of songs from East and Southeast Asia, we acknowledge recent research finding that 70% of people in Japan rarely or never use the phrase to say goodbye. Instead of Sayonara, let’s say, “Otsukaresama desu,” which means, “You must be tired, thank you for your work!” Other new favorites, according to JapanToday, are:

— Ja ne. (See ya)
— Mata ne/kondo/ashita/raishuu. (See you later/next time/tomorrow/next week)
— Shitsurei shimasu. (I’m sorry for having been rude – on ending a phone call, leaving work, etc.)
— Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu. (I’m sorry for rudely leaving before you [at work])
— Gokigenyou. (Fare thee well – if you want to sound fancy)
— Bai bai. (If you want to sound cute)

Bai bai, music of East and Southeast Asia!

Mahori isn’t just for men

Traditional Thai mahori court music ensembles consist of gongs, xylophones and strings, though not oboes, which are central to piphat, another classical genre from Thailand. Centuries ago in the Kingdom of Siam, performing mahori on these gongs, xylophones and strings — but not oboes! — was exclusively the task of males, though bit by bit women from royal families trained as classical musicians and were welcomed into the ensembles. In the mid-19th century the Siamese King Rama IV decreed that women would be permitted to not only perform in the mahori ensemble but could act onstage as well. Initially many women left mahori ensembles and chose to act rather than make music…but why? Look at this video of a performance of a mahori ensemble from Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University. How could anyone ever choose to act instead?

Chak chak chak chak chak chak chak chak

The Ramayana Monkey Chant, also known as the Kecak (ketjak), originated as a “trance”/exorcism chant in Bali that only became internationally known after German artist Walter Spies, living in Bali, Indonesia, in the ’30s, helped develop it into a performance depicting a battle described the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic.
Today the Monkey Chant is a tourist-friendly Balinese spectacle during which over a hundred male performers wearing checked waist cloths, chanting “chak chak chak chak chak!,” gesturing boldly with their arms to act out the tale in which the monkey-like Vanara aids Prince Rama in his fight against evil King Ravana. Whatever the origins of the Ramayana Monkey Chant, it sure is spectacular.


Leaving East and Southeast Asia

All Around This World East and Southeast Asia "Everywhere Map"

Oh, so sad…this week we said goodbye (Sayonara! Selamat tinggal!) to East and Southeast Asia. For the last three months we’ve been traveling around the region in the virtual way we do, appreciating ancient court ensembles (Piphat!), celebrating our ancestors (Obon!), dancing like dragons (Happy Chinese New Year!) and rocking out (Dangdut!). Let’s take a few more days to enjoy some songs and musical bits we missed before we must sigh, bow to each other one last time, and move on.

We sing goodbye to East and Southeast Asia

Enjoy this week’s live class! If you want to join the fun, check out the livecast class schedule and contact me to be “in the room” on Zoom. If you can’t make it to Zoom, watch live classes, or watch anytime, on All Around This World’s facebook page. This week in class we sang “Gili Gio,” “We Are Happy,” “My Rickshaw,” “Kappa Boogie Woogie,” “Village Festival,”and “Ti Oh Oh” to wind down our season. Come to class Saturday for a new series of songs.

The King of Dangdut

Let’s meet Rhoma Irama, “the King of Dangdut.”
Dangdut music emerged in the mid 1970s from the poorer areas of Jakarta as a politically astute style that blended Islamic, Indian and Malaysian traditional musics with American rock. After developing a decent career performing light-hearted songs, in the mid ’70s Rhoma Irama began expressing his Islamic faith and conservative morals through his lyrics, even as his music veered more toward American rock. National Geographic describes Irama’s stage persona at the time: “the King of Dangdut, dressed in a tight black tanktop, headband, leather pants, gloves and boots, and playing a black flying-V guitar, sweatily glistening in heavy-metal dangdut glory–certainly a far cry from the bubblegum, coy flirtatiousness of the heavily made-up teen dangdut singers of the genre’s early years.” The government of Indonesia feared a politicized, primarily poverty-stricken dangdut audience would become a threat, so they banned Irama from appearing on state television.  Irama has continued to be famous, musical and moralistic, using his music to sway elections, even while being mired in controversy.

Bengawan Solo

Kroncong is a style of music that started in Indonesia when Portuguese settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries shared their Western instruments with local musicians.

The genre only really took off in the 1930s when the film industry in Indonesia transformed it from working-class urban music to music from the cinema. In the 1940s independence movement activists adopted Kroncong as a national form, Gesang Martohartono’s “Bengawan Solo,” written during the Japanese occupation during World War II, which we hear performed in this video, is the genre’s most famous song.

Indonesian music starter set

There are about 6,000 inhabited Indonesian islands and, as you can probably guess, there may be 6,000 different kinds of Indonesian music. Some Indonesian music is highly-pattered and meticulously structured, some is loose and sprawling. Some Indonesian music is firmly rooted in ancient tradition, some is ardently modern. Some Indonesian music is Islamic, some Christian, some secular, some all of the above. Look for almost anything in Indonesian music and you’ll find it. If you want to find an Indonesian music starter set, a good instinct would be to look for a compilation that provides a broad introduction to the most important Indonesian musical styles. Throughout the 1990s, Smithsonian Folkways collaborated with the Society for Indonesian Arts on exactly that kind of compilation.

It’s has 20 discs.

Sweetest Darling Who I Love

This week we learned about “Jocelynang Baliwag,” a famous “kundiman” (Spanish-era love song) popular in the late 19th century, during the Philippines’ independence movement. Just like the original, our version, “Sweetest Darling,” is a love song. Just like the original, the object of the song sounds like it’s a person, but in fact we’re all singing about how much we love the Philippines: “Sweetest darling who I love, purest flower of delight, You have been the only one to give me hope in the dark of night, In the morning I adore you, all day long my heart beats for you, Oh my darling who I love won’t you love me too?”