When the bamboo sings...

Musical notes

When the bamboo sings...

Musical instruments, especially from foreign shores, have always fascinated music afficianados with the sheer variety of sounds produced, and their adaptability to Indian music. Angklung from Indonesia is no exception. This simple instrument, fashioned out of bamboo, is popularly used throughout Southeast Asia, but owes its origins to Indonesia.

I had the good fortune of getting introduced to this instrument in a friend’s house and that casual introduction triggered my interest in it so much so that I made it my mission to buy one when I visited Indonesia.

This instrument, of which I’m a proud owner now, has a fascinating history. It is believed to have been played by the Sudanese for many centuries now, and its name is also believed to have originated from the Sudanese words angkleung-angkleungan. However, there are enough theories to suggest that the name could also be from the Balinese words — angka and lung, meaning ‘tone’ and ‘broken’ respectively. Whatever the origin of the name, the fact that angklung is an interesting musical instrument cannot be doubted.

Played during all ceremonies in Indonesia, both happy and sad, angklung is an integral part of the archipelago’s culture. No wonder, Unesco designated this instrument as the ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ in 2010.

According to some popular stories, the angklung was first played to honour the Goddess of Fertility, Dewi Sri, and later played to signal the time for prayers. However, today, this impressive musical instrument lends itself to most genres of music. It is as ‘at home’ in a western orchestra as it is in Indian classical concerts. In fact, a friend of mine has got the angklung modified in such a way that it sounds like a veena!

Angklungs are fashioned out of a special black bamboo that’s harvested when the ‘cicadas sing’. According to natives, this bamboo is cut at least three segments above the ground to make sure the bamboo regrows from the same plant. In fact, bamboo occupies a very special place in the life of Indonesians. Most of their daily use items are designed out of bamboo, while a delicacy that’s authentically Indonesian is also made out of bamboo. Then there’s little surprise that a musical instrument designed out of bamboo holds so much significance in their lives. The other musical instruments fashioned out of bamboo include suling, calung, munsang, clempung and rengkong.

The journey of angklung to Thailand is also very interesting. It is said a musician belonging to the Thai royal entourage visiting Indoneisa brought it back home with him, introducing the Thais to the mesmerising sounds of angklung. In fact, in 2008, a grand celebration was organised in the Thai traditional music circles to mark the 100th anniversary of the introduction of angklung to Thailand!

Well, that’s angklung for you.

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