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Pontianak composer makes some of Indonesia’s best music

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, February 7, 2019  /  03:42 pm
Pontianak composer makes some of Indonesia’s best music

Making his mark: With his unorthodox approach to traditional Kalimantan music, composer Nursalim Yadi Anugerah (left) makes some of Indonesia’s best music. (Courtesy of Nursalim Yadi Anugerah/-)

Composer Nursalim Yadi Anugerah had one of last year's best Indonesian albums.

The Pontianak-bred composer released Selected Pieces from HNNUNG on the burgeoning Bandung avant-garde cassette label Hasana Editions, and in it presented emotional compositions that took the spiritual elements of traditional Kalimantan music and added the eclectic flourishes of avant-garde music.

The album is captivating listening that is never easy without sounding alienating.

Throughout his career, the 26-year-old has researched and collaborated extensively with the indigenous people of West Kalimantan; working with traditional musicians on a variety of both original and interpretative pieces.

Selected Pieces finds him adapting oral literature of the Kayaan tribe from West Kalimantan called Takna’ Lawe’, which focuses heavily on their narrative of matriarchy.

Performed by the Balaan Tumaan Ensemble (for which he has served three years as music director) and the Kerubim Choir, Yadi presents nine separate pieces of differing complexity but consistent depth.

He utilizes a wealth of unique instruments, including traditional ones as well as tenor saxophone and contrabass.

All this isn't anything new for the talented composer. In the past, his chamber opera works led to him being awarded a grant for its “Innovative Work” by the Kelola Foundation Indonesia, and last year he was honored with a first prize commission from Orkest de Ereprijs at the International Young Composers Meeting in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.

This month, a performance of his work will be held in the Netherlands, and in March another piece worked on with director Garin Nugroho will premiere.

Nursalim Yadi AnugerahNursalim Yadi Anugerah (Courtesy of Nursalim Yadi Anugerah/-)

Yadi's work in the HNNUNG opera is a reflection of his self-processed closeness with the Kayān Mendalām from Kapuas Hulu regency in West Kalimantan.

“Since 2014, a few friends from Pontianak and myself established the Balaan Tumaan Ensemble, which aims to conduct research-based focus on traditions in West Kalimantan, one of them being [those of] the Kayaan tribe,” Yadi explains.

A chance meeting with American anthropologist Stephanie Morgan from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was also researching Kayān Mendalām culture, proved to be a turning point.

Morgan had an archival scan of the Takna’ Lawe' epic, which contains prose on the cosmology and traditions in Kayaan culture through its central hero figure Lawe'.

The story piqued Yadi's interest and he soon made it his goal to present it in operatic form. It was a personal quest for him.

“In HNNUNG, I was inspired by Lawe''s passion for a woman who had even more (supernatural) powers than he did. At a glance, this seemed like a regular love story, but for me it was form,” he explained.

“The HNNUNG text, which was built by this Takna' Lawe' who was too arrogant to admit his inabilities and desire, so much so that anything he did ended up failing. Only when he let go and admitted his weaknesses did he finally meet Nyalo, who was hiding in the sun's circumference.”

What also intrigued Yadi was how Kayaan culture place women on the highest spiritual pedestal as priestess in their rituals. These women were given names based on the phenomenon of the sun, stars and moon – symbolic as the sun is the source of life, says Yadi. “The light, as from the sun, is the source of life – like women.”

In his composition, he represented this light in the form of a soprano soloist singing in high registers.

Preparation for the opera took a short seven months and was financially supported by the Kelola Foundation. The Kerubim Choir took part and was open to Yadi's experimental exploration, which he appreciated, seeing that it had not previously engaged in anything so left-field.

Yadi knew the opera was an experiment, as nothing like it had been done before in Pontianak. "It really isn't our culture,” he says of such experimentation.

But he was confident in the power of the composition and direction.

“Though the audience in West Kalimantan was not completely foreign to experimental music, it was still a personal challenge for me to establish two things: to build the musicians' skills both technically and in terms of knowledge, and to heighten the audience's sense of appreciation of new art in West Kalimantan,” Yadi says.

A week after the performance, Yadi received an email from Hasana Editions, much to his surprise. His initial reaction was: “Does anyone else really want to listen to this?”

Yadi says he wants to continue learning and to take part in master classes with established composers. He also he hopes to continue developing new artistic platforms and contemporary ensembles as well as a “creation laboratory” in order to develop the artistry of the region.

“Collaboration with artists outside of Kalimantan, or even outside of Indonesia, is something I also want to keep on doing, and processing it together in Pontianak in order to increase our creative knowledge together.” (ste)