The Sambasunda Quintet create music of ethereal beauty centred on the kacapi, a traditional boat-shaped zither. Spacious and stripped down, deeply rooted in tradition, yet highly inventive - allow the sounds of Java to transport you to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond.
The Sambasunda collective of Bandung has gained international attention for its fresh, groundbreaking approach to the traditional music of West Java, releasing a series of albums boldly bringing together pan-Indonesian styles and instruments with added global percussion. This album is a specially commissioned project performed by a 'chamber ensemble' comprising Sambasunda founding members Ismet Ruchimat, Yadi Cahyadi, Asep Yana and Budi Sofyan with new singing discovery Neng Dini Andriati. It reflects an enduring classical tradition of Sundanese music while at the same time creating something fresh, modern and original. The music is centred on the kacapi, a boat-shaped zither whose mellifluous tones have been heard in Sunda (West Java) for centuries. It's a haunting and evocative sound which connects to the Sundanese soul and perfectly accompanies the sung poetry which often describes feelings of displacement, longing and melancholy. The kacapi has been described as the ancestral ship which transports its listener home to the mythical golden age of the ancient Javanese kingdom of Pajajaran. From the days of its use in the courts of the regional nobility, from where the still-popular classical style of Tembang Sunda developed, to its twentieth-century migration to the fast-growing capital city of Bandung, where new urbanized styles came into being, it has been a key instrument of Sundanese musical culture. Even in modern productions of pop-Sunda music, synthesizers often emulate the sound and style of traditional kacapi playing.
The instrumentation of the Sambasunda Quintet follows the Tembang Sunda tradition, using up to three kacapis, augmented by violin and suling (bamboo flute) accompanied by a female singer. The addition of the khendangdrums - a large barrel-shaped drum played at both ends with various tones elicited by pressure of the foot and three smaller high-pitched drums known as kulenter- is a contemporary touch, and, although some of the compositions are based on standards from the Tembang Sunda repertoire, they are performed with a distinctly urban rhythmic accent. The whole is suffused with a contemporary awareness of global sounds, from the local and international pop music prevalent in Bandung, to the influences of the group's interactions with international artists they have met and performed with at major music festivals around the world. This is most apparent in the instrumental piece 'Paddy Pergi Ke Bandung' ('Paddy Goes To Bandung'), which, as the title suggests, is a playful collision of Irish and Javanese themes. But, as those already familiar with Sundanese music will notice, an innovative spirit abounds throughout, and the spiritual leader at the Sambasunda centre is Ismet Ruchimat. He started his career in 1989 in Gugum Gumbira's famous Jugala Orchestra, becoming its musical director before taking up a post at Bandung's STSI arts college, from whose alumni the Sambasunda ensemble is formed.
This, then, is the roots sound of Bandung, the bustling capital city and cultural centre of West Java, university town and magnet for a young generation logged into the global cultural network. Here there is any number of contemporary pop bands to be found, from shoegazers to headbangers. Sambasunda lead the field in applying that urban energy to the multifarious traditional music of the Indonesian archipelago. With this special project, the Sambasunda Quintet further explores the unique musical heritage of their home region.
01 Bulan Sapasi (Crescent Moon)
(Gugum Gumbira, arr Ismet Ruchimat/Yadi Cahyadi)
A Sundanese standard which has been adapted to many different styles. It tells of a lover's tryst as witnessed by the moon.
02 Jemplang Naek Kukupu
(trad, arr Ismet Ruchimat)
This track is an amalgamation of two pieces in the style from Cianjuran. Kukupu, from the title, refers to a butterfly.
03 Kembang Tanjung
(trad, arr Ismet Ruchimat/Yadi Cahyadi)
Taken from the kliningan gamelan style, the words of this song are known as a sisindiran - four-line verses in which the first two lines use allegorical images to allude to the essence of the meaning in the last two lines.
04 Jaleuleu Ja
(trad, arr Ismet Ruchimat)
A traditional children's song, 'Jaleuleu Ja' is usually sung when children invite their friends to come and play together.
05 Serat Salira
(Gugum Gumbira, arr Ismet Ruchimat)
'Serat Salira' translates as 'Your Letters'.
I write to you,
Why do you not reply?
06 Paddy Pergi Ke Bandung (Paddy Goes To Bandung)
(Ismet Ruchimat/Asep Yana)
'Paddy Goes To Bandung' is a cheerful collision of Irish and Sundanese themes.
07 Teman Endah (Beautiful Garden)
A couple meet and fall in love with each other in a garden full of flowers.
08 Arang Arang Kaleon Prawa
(trad, arr Ismet Ruchimat/Asep Yana)
An instrumental composition in the old Cianjuran style.
09 Kapeje (Mun Pareng Patepung)
(Ismet Ruchimat/Colin Bass, arr Asep Yana/Yadi Cahyadi)
A contemporary composition about a couple impatiently waiting to meet each other. Based on the song 'Sailing Home' by Sabah Habas Mustapha.
10 Balagenjat Naek Bangbung Hideung
(trad, arr Ismet Ruchimat)
Another amalgamation of two pieces. 'Balagenjat'is taken from the Cianjuranstyle, while 'Bangbung Hideung'is a popular song from the repertoire of the klininganstyle.
The author is indebted to - and highly recommends - the book The Sound of the Ancestral Ship by Sean Williams, published by Oxford University Press.