Balinese All Stars
The sound of the Balinese gamelan is instantly recognizable: at once earthy and ethereal, it is a centuries-old music that is both deeply traditional and nearly avant-garde in its stylistic complexity and innovation. The Balinese All Stars are a multigenerational collective of exceptional musicians and dancers whose members live, teach, and dance all across the United States, and who gather together for special performances to present this rich tradition.
The gamelan, which is native to islands in the Indonesian archipelago, has been described as “one instrument played by many people.” While different styles of gamelan exist, the central elements of each are tuned gongs, metallophones (like xylophones with metal bars), and drums. In Bali, the gamelan tradition dates back to the late 15th century, when it was brought east from the island of Java. Most villages in Bali now have several gamelans, played in local music societies and at temple festivals, which remain a central element of Balinese culture. Gamelan music is the soundtrack to Balinese village life, and while only gamelan teachers would claim the title of musician, learning to play a role in the gamelan ensemble is part of every person’s education.
The Balinese All Stars represent Balinese musical artistry at its highest level. Its first-generation members grew up within gamelan-playing communities and went on to train at arts conservatories in Bali and Java, including the Indonesian National Conservatory (ISI). All continue to work as professional musicians and educators here in the States, teaching as university professors or in community-based music and dance programs, usually with predominantly Western students. The young adults of the second generation have grown up under very different circumstances: although many make regular trips to Bali to study and perform, their first introduction to the music and dance traditions came from their parents outside of the village context. For their performances in Montana, the All Stars bring together 12 musicians and dancers representing the Tangkas family based in Colorado; the Saptanyana family from metropolitan New York City; the Wenten family in Los Angeles; and the Asnawa family of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Coordinator Putu Hiranmayena helped organize the Balinese All Stars as a vehicle for these geographically dispersed families to join forces “in order to,” as he says, “access their own creativity… and impact the musical space in the United States.”
Their performance in Montana will focus on the gamelan gong kebyar repertoire, which is at the core of contemporary Balinese gamelan. Kebyar means “vibrant” or “fiery,” and this style is exactly that: loud, dynamic, and dramatic. While traditionally men played gamelan and women danced, these roles are expanding in contemporary Balinese culture, leading to the emergence of women’s gamelan groups and an increase in male dancers. The Balinese All Stars embrace this new direction, highlighting the versatility of each of these exceptional performers.