Sounds of the Archipelago Echo in Gamelan Melayu

loading The Koromong.

This gamelan group in Penang does its best to keep various Malay traditions alive.

When I arrived for my first gamelan Melayu rehearsal at the Wak Long Music Centre in Penang, Mohd Jufry Yusoff, affectionately known as Cikgu Jufry, was already seated behind the gendang (Malay drums), absorbed in the scores of music before him, written in numbers rather than musical notes, over Western music stylised bars.

Later and in the following rehearsals, Cikgu Jufry led the group to play Ayak-ayak, Demi Cinta, Wong Chuen Fan and a range of traditional and upbeat new compositions, the sounds of the bronze keys ringing in our ears as we hit them with our mallets.

There is something about gamelan that moved renowned composers like Claude Debussy to remark, “There used to be – indeed, despite the troubles that civilisation has brought, there still are – some wonderful peoples who learn music as easily as one learns to breathe.” The mesmerising sounds of the metallophonic instruments continue to invite foreign musicians, composers and scholars to visit the Malay archipelago to experience the music orchestra as it lives within the cultures – and to some extent religious beliefs – of the communities here.

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