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Bali 1928: Gamelan Gong Kebyar – Emergence of Kebyar – Part 2  

by on Saturday, 5 September 2009No Comment | 2,877 views


As twelve réyong are now omnipresent and taken for granted, the most common association with gamelan sekati is through the oncangan melodic figurations played by the gangsa section. Gamelan sekati is still performed in Bungkulan, Bubunan, and many other villages for odalan temple festivals and a variety of ceremonies. Noted scholar I Gusti Bagus Sugriwa of Bungkulan credited musician I Gusti Nyoman Pandji Beloh as a major creative force in that village. And the new dance kebyar légong was witnessed as early as 1914 in Jagaraga. Therefore, one may assume that such innovations had been brewing for some time in many northern villages previous to the event described by the Regent of Buléléng.

For instance, another account offered by Wayan Simpen is strikingly detailed:

In 1913 approximately, geria Banjar Tegeha in Kecamatan Banjar, Kabupaten Buleleng, held a religious ceremony to ordain a brahmana as a priest. Because this was to be a large affair, followers (sisia) of the geria who owned a gamelan offered them to enliven the ceremony. Those who offered them were the gamelan club of desa Banjar Tegeha and the gamelan club of desa Bubunan in Kecamatan Seririt. The ceremony was enlivened with these two gamelan. As a result a gamelan competition (gong mapadu) took place, that is, the Banjar Tegeha gamelan against the Bubunan gamelan. Because this was the first occurrence of a gamelan competition, the spectators were, accordingly, very numerous. The competition lasted for three days, day and night. It seems that it was not the gamelan melodies that were the focus of the competition at this time but, rather, the skill of the people at reading and interpreting kakawin (mabebasan/makekawin). Whoever sang kekawin making use of various meters (wirama) and provided correct translations [and performed] parwa, tutur and kidung (other types of traditional literature) was considered the victor. The Bubunan gamelan executed all sorts of tricks (permainan) including sleight of hand. The Banjar Tegeha gamelan performed a seated dance. The dance commenced in the midst of the gamelan and initially resembled the movements of a person displaying expertise in performing with the trompong mallets…with arms extended in front, accompanied by kekawin or kidung, while at the same time striking the trompong slowly, following the kakawin melody. Upon completion of one stanza of the kekawin, it was rejoined for one stanza with a melodic interlude performed by the gamelan, that is, a classic melody (tabuh lelawasan). When each side had completed ten rounds, they switched. Thus the gamelan took turns to compete. (…) From that time on there were gamelan–pepaosan (mabebasan) competitions and they exerted a very great influence on the people of Buleleng in the literary sphere


Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete describe a kebyar légong dance in Menyali, North Bali in the 1930s, “interspersed with recitations of kakawin (Old Javanese texts), which as far south as Tabanan are the regular accompaniment of kebyar.”

McPhee also evokes a Buléléng event in detail:

But the kebyar can also be extended into a long entertainment that includes not only dance and instrumental interludes but the chanting and recitation of classical literature as well. The following synopsis was noted in 1938, during a gamelan performance at a popular night fair (pasar malam) at Singaradja, in north Bali. Admission was charged to enter the grounds, crowded with food stalls, naive freak shows, novelty booths, and little gambling tables. Around the large gamelan a silent audience sat enthralled for nearly two hours. Here the performance did not open with the ususal crashing kebyar. Instead, a quiet prelude by the gamelan was followed by unaccompanied chanting by a finely trained male singer of a passage from the Mahabharata. A brief interlude by the gamelan introduced a recited passage, and only after this did the customary kebyar outburst take place.

As the new compositional style was bursting upon the scene, creating heated competition between gamelan clubs in different villages and regions, a new form of gamelan instrumentation developed to accommodate the nascient ideas. The gangsa began to be suspended over their bamboo resonators following in the style of gendér palégongan ‘melodic metallophone used for légong dance repertoire’ and gangsa angklung, rather than jongkok33 (‘resting’ directly on the wood frame, cushioned by rubber pads now and jerami ‘woven straw’ then)—allowing for more sustained tones and new techniques of rhythmic phrasing. Some kebyar ensembles, especially in Buléléng, North Bali, have continued to play on the old–style gangsa jongkok (pacek) differentiating their more percussive performance style from other regions (ex. tracks 16–20). Whether pacek or gantung ‘hanging’, the increased number of keys on the principle melodic gangsa pemadé ‘mid–range’ and kantilan ‘upper–octave’ brought a greater melodic range to kebyar. The trompong row of bronze kettles played by one musician was eliminated as an integral member of the gamelan, the réyong section was expanded from four to twelve, played by a row of four musicians, the number and size of ceng–ceng cymbals was reduced and the number of melodic gangsa metallophones was eventually increased. It should be noted that on these recordings of the Belaluan and Pangkung gamelan, they seem to be playing on only two gangsa pemadé and two kantilan. Either a decision was made to scale down the ensemble size for the sake of audio clarity or an expansion of the gangsa section (which includes four pemadé and four kantilan) did not occur until after 1928. The new kebyar genre derived much from two traditional styles, gamelan gong gdé and palégongan, with additional rhythmic and melodic influence coming from gendér wayang, gambang and angklung.

According to I Wayan Begeg (1919–), the term kebyar was first being used in Pangkung in 1920, with its meaning as krébék which refers, in Balinese, to both the sound of a ‘thunderclap’ and the light in a ‘flash of lightning’. From our discussions it seems that krébék and kilat (Indonesian for ‘lightning’) remain the most common interpretations of the onomatopoetic word byar.34 It has also been interpreted as “a flash of light from a match or an electrical light switch.”35 McPhee wrote, “It has been explained to me as meaning a sudden outburst, ‘like the bursting open of a flower’,”36 but this does not make sense to anyone today: flowers do not open suddenly—even in Bali. To differentiate kebyar from previous musical styles, Begeg defines it as playing keras dan bersama ‘loud and together’. In the South, before the term kebyar, it was often called babantiran, generally taken to mean “in the style of Bantiran,” a prolific village in the Northwest. Bandem suggests that the verb mabantir refers rather to bantir ‘youthful’ implying the music is played with a youthful spirit.37 Jaap Kunst, who conducted research in Bali in 1921 and 1924 (publishing his De Toonkunst von Bali in 1925), never mentions the word kebyar but does report on music performances called mabantir. Bandem asserts that until the 1950s in the districts of Gianyar and Tabanan the word kebyar was less commonly used than was kebyang. He remembers that in 1958 when he was studying the dance Kebyar Duduk in Peliatan, Marya and A.A. Gedé Mandera each referred to it as pangeléban gong kebyang, pangléban being an introductory dance preceding a performance of légong.

According to I Nyoman Rembang39 it was in 1919 at a plebon ‘cremation’ ceremony that a gamelan gong kebyar was performed for the first time at Puri Subamia, Tabanan by musicians from the village of Ringdikit, North Bali. Some confusion has often arisen over the years in such narratives because any gamelan playing in the new kebyar or kebyang style might be referred to as “gong Bantiran,” really meaning “in the style of Bantiran,” or from the region of Bantiran,40 but interpreted as the actual musicians from Bantiran. Rembang’s chronology suggests that soon after this plebon Marya began to develop his improvisational dances with kebyar music while teaching dance in Busungbiu and Pangkung. As various accounts (including that of Wayan Begeg) tell it, Marya was walking past a group of musicians rehearsing the bamboo gamelan jogéd in which the female jogéd dancer is joined one by one by individual male members of the audience. The musicians called out to Marya to join their rehearsal and he began to dance spontaneously, combining the female and male roles of the flirtatious ngibing sequence. It was these informal, playful encounters that led to such interactions with the gamelan kebyar.

According to an interview that Marya gave with Dr. A.A. Madé Djelantik in 1962 it was during a performance tour of North Bali with his gandrung club that Marya attended a rehearsal of the gamelan gong kebyar in either Busungbiu or Ringdikit.41 They invited him to dance to the kebyar music they were rehearsing and as he had long desired to dance to such ‘lagu Bantiran’, he spontaneously accepted their invitation. Without a chance to change from the female sarong he had been wearing for gandrung, he began to improvise to the music. He began dancing in a gandrung style but playing off of the complex and syncopated rhythms and melodies of the kebyar. Ordinarily the gandrung dancer would do a flirtatious ngibing dance, noses almost touching, with male audience members, but Marya was confused since he was surrounded by the gamelan instruments and could not interact with the audience. So he decided to do the ngibing sequence with the person closest at hand, and that was the drummer, who was seated cross–legged on the floor. Marya instinctively squatted down to his level and improvised a new kind of ngibing, and this was followed by a visit around the gamelan to ngibing with other musicians in his half–seated position. It was this improvisation and adaptation to the moment that gave rise to the “sitting dance.” Another time Marya was trying to ngibing the trompong player who was unable or unwilling to join the dance. Marya was impatient waiting so he grabbed the two panggul ‘mallets’ from the hands of the musician and began to dance while playing the instrument before him. That was the birth of a new creation—Kebyar Trompong.

Competing chronologies and historical narratives abound, and it should be noted that Wayan Simpen (b. 1907) proposed numerous alternative attributions in the manuscript quoted above, which was an unpublished article submitted to the Bali Post newspaper in 1979. The fact that renowned musician–dancer Gdé Manik (b. 1906) confirmed at least some of Simpen’s claims to Raechelle Rubinstein in 1980 gives them some credibility since Manik was from Jagaraga and would be expected to support an origin theory based there. Gdé Manik actually performed in many kakawin competitions as primary dancer and credited Bubunan as having the first kebyar légong. Rubinstein paraphrases: “At first he mentioned that it had originated in Busungbiu but reflected on this and then changed his mind to Bubunan. He was certain that it had begun in Bubunan.”43 Simpen wrote that Bubunan was the first village to create or mencetuskan ‘ignite’ a kebyar composition.

To Be Continued……………

Notes by Edward Herbst for the CD of Bali 1928: Gamelan Gong Kebyar of Belaluan, Pangkung and Belaluan (

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