|Search for the Gendang Belek in Lombok, Indonesia|
On my visit to Bali , there was no shortage of clues to find the traditional drums of the culture. Bali has done so well to preserve and revere their folk culture that nightly public performances of everything from Gamelan (with the Kendang dueling drums), shadow puppetry (with drum and gong accompaniment) or Rendik/Jegog bamboo xylophone playing can be found around every corner in Ubud, the cultural capital of the island. Of course it helps to have hungry gods who must be fed with festivals of art and copious offerings hundreds of times per year. And the gods get some of the richest percussive bedazzlement I've ever seen.
But during my visit to Bali I learned of the monster drum called the Gendang Belek of Lombok , a neighboring island, and of course I had to seek it out. Bali is predominantly Hindu island while Lombok is predominantly Islamic. So its culture is completely different in appearance and feel from Bali . (Which has become somewhat more favored as a tourist destination.) Of course some advised me against going to majority Muslim destinations in the post 9/11 world. But not wanting to fall prey to the predominant paranoia of the era and knowing that such cultural emissaries as myself would help save the world from the encroaching cultural divides and paranoia of the day, I set out to Lombok . And yes, there were uncomfortable moments on the trip when people sought to make me feel unwelcome. But the warm reception of the majority offset the unpleasant moments.
The Gendang Belek is a massive cylindrical drum approximately six feet in length and three feet wide worn horizontally suspended from the neck. It is often used in festivals of Lombok . But when I asked around the main capital where I might find the magnificent drum, everyone indicated it was a farmers tradition, not to be found in the towns. So I sought a scooter and headed out into the fields, each town I stopped in, I would ask Gendang Belek? with raised eyebrows and see where people would point me. Most people laughed, knowing what I was talking about but not knowing where I could find it. Then, at one junction somebody knew of a place and pointed me down a small road to a cluster of houses. Driving up, the kids gathered around me, likely never having seen a foreigner come to their small village and certainly getting a kick out the fact that the only word I seemed to say that made sense to them was a drums name.
A group of about ten boys stared at me while one of the group ran to get an old man. The old man heard what I was asking for and led me into the center of the village to a locked concrete shack. Opening it and peering inside I saw two of the behemoth drums standing upright as tall as I am. No light in the room, I gestured that I wanted to take a picture, which he accepted. After this, I was contented, Id seen the drums. As I made gestures of thanks to everyone and appeared ready to head off, the old man said something to the group all the boys rushed off and the man gestured for me to wait.
One by one they came back with various gongs and xylophones, they started playing a bobbing rhythm while various kids took turns showing me a traditional dance and gestures that somewhat resembled a crude version of the Bali nese dance style, with big eyes held wide open and darting side to side and accompanied with sharp gestures of the shoulders and arms while walking about in a slightly squatting position. Naturally, they did this to see me try to mimic the dance, which I did, to the huge delight of the audience.
Two boys came back in costume and carried out the big Gendang Beleks suspended around their neck. While the gong music played the boys whacked the Gendang Beleks with large sticks they held out at the side with extended arms. The sound of the Gendang Belek was enormous, a thunderous tone similar to Japanese taiko as the beats resonated between the two parallel drum heads made of a thin hide.
They then insisted that I try on the drum. As I struck the drum heads the enormous weight of the drum pressed into the top of my spine, making my body shake with the reverberations of the drum heads. The sensation was so strong that it felt like a combination of a massage chair with the penetration that almost felt like an electric shock.
I felt enormously honored that my arrival in the village had resulted in a small jubilee, a cause for the village to celebrate and share their art. After the performance wound down, I thanked the old man for sharing a real experience of the towns art and gave him a contribution toward more instruments as a gesture of thanks.
Naturally Ill try to obtain a Gendang Belek for the Rhythmuseum so that others outside of Lombok can have the experience as well.
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