Sunday, February 27, 2011

Surakarta/Solo: Enchanted by the Gamelan

Indonesia - Solo Cakra Gamelan Rehearsal
Our nightly entertainment -- gamelan rehearsals
On our first evening in Solo, the rainy evening tempted us to go home to Cakra early which turned out to be a good thing.  Even before entering the main door, we can hear the shrill voice of a woman singing in Javanese.  The voice is high-pitched, the notes soaring and filling the gamelan rehearsal room and piercing the humid evening air outside with an invisible formlessness.  The voice rises above the aural intensities and subtleties of the gamelan instruments in a hypnotic, otherworldly symphony -- the higher register rising with the ululation of the singer, the lower register enclosing the listener in a chamber of deep resonating sound. The next evening, there was another singer and a younger set of players but the otherworldly feeling was still there.

The word gamelan comes from the Javanese "gamels" which means "to strike with a hammer".  It predates the Hindu-Buddhist cultures, making it a truly native Indonesian art form.  The gamelan was created by the king Sang Hyang Guru in 230 A.D., inventing the gong out of his need to summon the gods.  From then till now, the art form accompanies Wayang performances, ceremonies and rituals.
Indonesia - Solo Cakra Gamelan Singer II
Gamelan singer
One of the finer pleasures of staying at the Cakra Homestay is the privilege of coming home to a gamelan rehearsal each evening.  Susie, a friendly American guest in her 60s, shared her enthusiasm for the magic of gamelan music.  "Incredibly beautiful!" she describes it.  For two evenings, we saw her spend time inside the gamelan room, eyes closed in rapture, wrapped in the embrace of a music so primal, so universal, so hypnotic, it transcends any language barrier.  I, like Susie, may never ever know the lyrics or the notes but deep inside, we somehow understood the feelings it meant to evoke.
Indonesia - Solo Cakra Room Dramatic Lighting
Simple yet charming room at Cakra
Indonesia - Solo Cakra SignageSide review:  I highly recommend the Cakra Homestay for visitors to Sukarta/Solo.  The evening gamelan rehearsals alone are worth the stay.  Besides, the house is charming and welcoming, the garden a refreshing sight, the rooms well-kept, the staff warm and helpful.   The room rates offer good value; we rented a room with a queen-sized bed, a/c, private toilet and bath for Rp175,000 (Php875/US$20) per night with free breakfast of Javanese coffee and toast with jam.  Additional bed costs Rp50,000 (Php250/US$5.50.  There are also fan rooms as well as rooms with a balcony.  For info or inquiries, email: hotelcakrahomestay@yahoo.co.id

5 comments:

thepinaysolobackpacker said...

should check out this place if I get to revisit Indonesia. Would love to listen to gamelan rehearsals. thnx for sharing Oggie! :)

Photo Cache said...

music is a universal language.

what an experience this was for you.

lagalog said...

Gael, I hope to revisit, too, in the future, God-willing.

PhotoCache, it was indeed an uplifting experience for me and my friends to have something like this during our trip. Music, like love, is truly a universal language. My only regret was that we weren't able to bring home some recordings that we can listen to. Maybe next time.

Jenn said...

That singer seemed to be so engrossed with her music. I always love homestays... you get to experience the place much. much more. :-)

lagalog said...

I agree with you Jenn. Homestays offer the opposite of homogeneous experiences offered by worldwide hotel chains -- the caring and warmth of the families who operate them. Cheaper, too :D

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