Free Indonesian music unlike anything heard in Europe


Many Indonesians arrived in the Czech Republic during the 1960s, and later political changes in their home country prevented them from ever returning. In the last few years more Indonesians have come to study or work here, but it's not a one-way street. Each year six or more Czechs travel to study in the Asian Islands on scholarships provided by Indonesia. Czechs here in Prague can also take free lessons in Gamelan, native Indonesian music, organized by the country's embassy.

The garage at the Indonesian Embassy in Smichov is like a warehouse of exotic percussion. Big bronze gongs hang from ornate wooden stands adorned with golden dragons. Bamboo chimes line the walls, while an assortment of bells and metallophones, which are similar to xylophones, lie on the floor. These are the instruments of Gamelan, a music rooted in Indonesia, especially the islands of Java and Bali.

Imelda Dharmawan often heard Gamelan as a child in Jakarta. Her marriage brought her to Prague almost a year ago, and this is her first time trying to play the music. She says the songs require a lot of coordination and thinking

"I guess first you have to have the feeling, the musical sense. First you try to listen. After you listen then you practice your hands. You have to use everything at the same time: Your ear, your hands and your eyes."

Imelda is one of several enthusiasts learning the basic rhythms of Gamelan, and for some this is only their second week. A few, like Marketa Tesarova, are students of ethnomusicology - the study of music made around the world throughout history. She says Gamelan is unlike anything native to Europe.

"The difference is mainly in the tuning because it is pentatonic or heptatonic. It is not like the octaves used in European music. The Indonesian music sounds strange for us, for European people. The sound has another mood for us, another feeling.

Gamelan is made mostly with percussive instruments, though a bamboo flute, a two string fiddle and singing are played in many songs. There's a formula to the music - compositions are cyclical and repeat themselves. The repetition isn't obvious, however, since many songs are intricate and very long - another way Gamelan differs from songs more familiar to Europeans, according to Vaclav Trojan, an ethnomusicologist who spent two years studying the music in Indonesia.

"But I think Western music is actually more difficult in the technique. And I think the nuances of Javanese music are exactly in the atmosphere. It's quite a long performance usually. I think that they live it, really. Whereas in Western music a performance may last, I don't know, two hours, this might be for the whole night."

Czechs performed Gamelan several times in the past few years, according to the Indonesian embassy's website. For Imelda Dharmawan, who's one of only a few hundred Indonesians in the Czech Republic, the music helps bridge the almost seven thousand miles that separate her from home.

"Definitely it heals my homesickness. I guess it give me a close feeling to my home country. Even though I'm in a different country quite far from my home country, I still feel like I'm close."

More information on Gamelan class is available at