Fifty-three-year-old Memet Chairul Slamet is founder and leader of the Yogyakarta music group known as Gangsadewa.
He composes most of their music, which could be described as alternative or experimental.
Memet’s grandfather was a musician at the kraton of Madura. His father played kroncong music, and he learned a lot about music and how to play the flute from his father.
When Memet came to Yogyakarta from the island of Madura at 20 years of age, he was still not good enough to enter the Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI) to study music, he said.
So, he enrolled in the Academy Seni, which at the time was located in Ngasem. There he studied film and theater for two years while practicing to improve his musical skills and studying classical music.
Now, these theatrical skills are coming in very handy for his solo music and dance presentations, which use spectacular lighting and sound and the talents of well-known dancers. However, his project with a group of other adventurous musicians who make up the nine members of Gangsadewa has been his most successful musical adventure so far.
They have toured Australia twice and performed in four major cities: Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Their moment of glory was a performance at the famed Sydney Opera House.
The shows were sold out in most locations, with Aussie audiences loving the new and unique sounds. A visit to Brisbane is being planned.
The music of Gangsadewa is not available in music stores. Their CDs are sold via a network of friends and music lovers in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Australia. Word-of-mouth and the sharing of
musical passion between friends leads to sales.
“The music industry in Indonesia is controlled by commercial considerations, and experimental music doesn’t seem to have a place except within local music enthusiast groups. The orientation of the music industry is profit, and the music of Gangsadewa is not well-known or understood except by people who understand music and are open to new ideas. This is music for connoisseurs,” Memet said.
Memet said his favorite Western classical music was Vivaldi and for the modern era, the music of Bela Bartok. It’s interesting that Bela Bartok was also strongly committed to the traditional music of his homeland, Hungary, and he traveled his country and neighboring countries in Europe collecting and
writing down musical notations of folk songs.
In 2003, Memet achieved his first degree from ISI, a bachelor’s of music from ISI, Yogyakarta. He then earned his master’s degree at ISI in Solo, during which time he learned a lot about traditional music.
Near the end of 2005, he got the idea to gather and mix different instruments and sometimes things that were not actually musical instruments at all but that made nice sounds.
He also liked to use instruments like the Australian Aboriginal wind instrument the didgeridoo, the kecapi of West Java, the suling (flute) of Flores, the kendang of West Java and the taganing (Toba Batak set of six drums). He also experimented in breaking traditions such as playing the gamelan with a stick instead of a metal hammer.
Experimentation was his passion — seeking new sounds and new feelings.
“I was lucky that at ISI I was surrounded by young and talented musicians and I found the ones with a sense of musical adventure. I opened their minds about musical possibilities and we formed a group to begin to play my compositions. Our practice location was Gang Sadewa, so that became our name. We like the play on words, which exists both in English and in Javanese. Gongso means music in Javanese, and Dewa refers to the music for the gods,” Memet said.
Gangsadewa has released two CDs: Milangkori and Mixture. All the group members live in Yogyakarta and meet once a week for practice sessions. Memet said he still has many compositions that have not yet been recorded.
The group is always hoping for a sponsor to help them record their next CD.
In the meantime, Memet is a busy man with his work as a teacher at ISI and his commitment to Gangsadewa and the future of the group.
He also does solo performances that include music, dance and theater, with multimedia support from lighting and sound to create magical and mystical atmospheres.
In April of this year, he presented an original composition intriguingly entitled “Waiting for Stones to
Sing” at Bentara Budaya in Jakarta. Stones quite often have a wonderful resonance.
In 2009, Memet performed an experimental music show entitled “Water’n I” at Taman Budaya in Yogyakarta, supported by dancers Agung Gunawan and Irawati.
This time, the beautiful sounds of water dripping, flowing and splashing were combined with his flute music.
Memet is married to classical pianist Ike Kusumawati and they have one son, Kidung, nicknamed Eki.
Memet’s dream for the future is to tour Europe with Gangsadewa or with his own solo presentations. But in the meantime, Gangsadewa is preparing for a concert in Jakarta at the end of this year.
Gangsadewa explores and combines the worlds of traditional and modern music and uses various elements from some of Indonesia’s rich ethnic musical traditions.
“I have trust in my own musical concepts and I don’t want to do anything that would diminish that trust. Also, I have a responsibility to my former music teachers to uphold their ideals. I only want to do work that is good for the art of music and not purely money oriented,” Memet said.