Life

Nano S. continues the music
of his ancestors


Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

At first glance, musician/composer Nano Suratno, alias Nano S., appears to have a few traits that fit the stereotype of Sundanese men: Talkative, outgoing and with a penchant for making jokes.

""Wow, I feel like a celebrity,"" he said in Sundanese last week when several photographers asked him to pose.

Nano, 60, may well have been surprised by having the spotlight shining on him, a longtime traditional Sundanese gamelan musician.

Or perhaps it was his wry way of telling people, ""Hello? Where were you when I was struggling to preserve traditional music? What's with this sudden attention?""

That night, along with the late choreographer Gusmiati Suid, Nano received the Hadiah Akademi Jakarta 2003 award, given to artists who have produced remarkable works and opened up possibilities for creative development.

Gusmiati, who died in 2002, was represented by her son, choreographer Boi G. Sakti.

However, the award is belated on either account, showing the typical Indonesian lack of appreciation for their countrymen.

Nano said it was sad that foreigners appreciated Indonesian traditional music more, as he had dozens of requests to perform abroad but very few opportunities to perform or record traditional music here.

""This award is an honor for Sundanese gamelan music. Hopefully, this kind of recognition will encourage fellow artists to continue working and be proud of their own tradition,"" said Nano, a graduate of the Indonesian Arts Institute (STSI) in Bandung, West Java.

Born in the small West Java town of Garut, it is safe to say that Nano is the most prolific Sundanese music songwriter.

Since 1963, he has composed a wide variety of Sundanese traditional music, including anggana sekar (solo), rampak sekar (choral), gending karesmen (Sundanese opera) as well as pop songs.

Nano has also vigorously developed artistic creativity based on traditional music, including a kawih and tembang crossover.

""Kawih is a song with constant rhythm, whereas tembang is more of free rhythm. Tembang is, like, an opera composition, which is more difficult to sing.""

Initially, there was a divide between the two forms as tembang has higher status, a condition applied to its artists as well. But Nano decided to combine them anyway since both are traditional gamelan compositions.

He ended up having traditionalists blast him for what they considered a discordant musical marriage.

""It was as if it's something really sacred. As far as I'm concerned, our ancestors were very open, they didn't consider tradition a dead end. So, why don't we develop it? If they can create something, why can't we? Tradition should not be limited. There has to be a new creation out of it, so it can be improved.""

Despite the purist sniping, the crossover creations made Sundanese gamelan more acceptable to a wider audience, including young people.

Nano has collaborated with many artists, such as musician Harry Roesli, poet/writer Rendra on his play Oedipus Rex (1987) as well as noted Japanese musicians like Yamamoto Hozan, who plays the traditional horn instrument sakuhaci, and Yabuki Makoto for his play The Story of Moonlight (1998).

""Not much, only 27 times,"" he joked about his number of visits abroad, touring and teaching. ""Africa is the only place that I haven't visited.""

He was a guest lecturer at the University of Santa Cruz, California, in 1990, and his composition Warna (Color) was performed by the university's lecturers and students.

Along with Harry Roesli and other Indonesian musicians, Nano released an album called Asmat Dreams, produced by New York's Lyrichord Discs Inc., in 1989.

Japan, however, seems to be the country most interested in Nano's works.

Nano is also the only Sundanese musician, and perhaps Indonesian musician, whose works are mentioned in the World Music Library produced by Seven Seas, Music of Asia and Koizumi Fumio Memorial Concert albums.

In 1999, Nano composed Hiroshima upon request by the city's mayor. With lyrics in Japanese, the music is an amalgamation of Japanese and Sundanese music scales.

The melancholic melody perfectly reflected the painful history of the people of a city scarred by the dropping of the A-bomb.

""The response after I performed the song was incredible. Everybody was crying,"" Nano said.

He said he was grateful for all the invitations abroad because they helped him finance the development of traditional music.

""Where else can I earn money?"" he said, adding that his previous job as a civil servant and nonpermanent lecturer at several universities did not pay much.

Like other ""sidestream"" musicians, Nano has had a foray into pop. One of his songs, Kalangkang (Shadow), sung by Nining Meida, became a huge hit and is considered archetypal Sundanese pop.

His reputation as a pop hitmaker enables him to bargain with music producers, requiring them to agree to produce traditional music if they want his pop songs.

""If I don't do that, traditional music will disappear,"" he said.

The generation gap should be bridged by information, he added, and he is also a regular speaker on a radio program in Bandung.

Now a resident of the West Java capital, Nano continues to preserve traditional music through his group and foundation Gentra Madya.

""I want members of my groups not just to play, but also create. So we work on things, experiment with different stuff and collaborate. The most important thing is educating young people through this foundation.""

Yet, Nano is not worried about regeneration despite very little media exposure of Sundanese arts amid the bombardment of Western music.

""It's disconcerting, regarding the pop idol phenomena where people can be a star in just three months. And also how young people only listen to Western songs. However, this condition also reminds some people to go back to their roots, and revive their interest in traditional music. So, I'm not worried about regeneration. There are always people who love traditional music.""

A ""free man"" again after taking early retirement two years ago from West Java's education and cultural office, Nano vowed to continue to use Sundanese traditional music as his creative starting point.

""When I die, I don't want people to say that my music was good or bad. But just that I did it, that I tried. And even if I'm lucky enough to create something new or different, I'm really just continuing the music of my ancestors.

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