I fell in love with the mesmerizing music of Gamelan Tunas Mekar the first time I heard it. The Denver-based group was my introduction to the rich traditional music of Bali and Indonesia, with its intricate patterns and precise time signatures. It’s a music that’s propelled by an ensemble of percussion instruments and flutes: Bells, drums, gongs, xylophones and metallophones.
The music is groove-y to the max, and hypnotic with its percussive repetition and variations. Gamelan Tunas Mekar is really good at performing Gamelan music, and visually they’re dynamic on stage not only because of the orchestra of unique instruments that are arranged on stage, but also because they showcase sinewy, traditional Balinese dancing.
The group is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Most of the members of Tunas Mekar are not from Bali or Indonesia, but the group takes the authenticity of its music seriously. The members have learned from two Balinese masters who’ve passed along their knowledge. Its second master, I Made Lasmawan, moved to Colorado and has been Gamelan Tunas Mekar’s Artist-in-Residence since 1993.
If you’ve attended the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, you may have seen Gamelan Tunas Mekar — they’ve been one of the mainstays of the Main Performing Arts Stage since the festival’s debut, in 2001. They also perform major concerts in the area to showcase the music of Bali and Indonesia. They even have a spinoff small group, Catur Eka Santi, that performs traditional Balinese puppet theater.
Now, Tunas Mekar needs your help to chronicle its first 25 years with a documentary film, which will include a group trip to Bali to study at the source of the music. The group’s made the trek before, but with younger new members in the fold, a Balinese visit will help inspire the same spirit of cultural respect and authenticity that the older members have.
The group is crowdfunding the documentary project. It’s expensive to make a film, and it’s especially expensive to send a group to Bali as part of the film. Tunas Mekar is aiming to raise $92,000 to complete the production.
Here’s the IndieGoGo page to donate and below is the video pitching the project. If you’re not familiar with how crowdfunding works, the group has until April 4 (23 days from now) to reach their goal. Unlike other crowdfunding projects, if they don’t reach the goal, they can keep the money they’ve raised and can look for other sources to make up the difference.
This is one fundraising effort worth supporting. Gamelan Tunas Mekar has become a valued part of Colorado’s Asian cultural landscape, and 25 years is a fine time to capture the group’s history for posterity.
Dear Mr. Asakawa,
I have been reading the articles on cultural appropriation in the Pacific Citizen. I am of Irish-German ancestry, and I am a TC Life member of JACL. I am not married to anyone of Asian ancestry, but I do speak a little bit of Japanese, with a smattering of Chinese and Korean. I was the New Mexico Chapter President for five years, and was at the Seattle Convention when it closed early so that the JACL leaders could go to witness President Reagan sign the Redress Act.
In my dotage (I will be 79 in June), I have taken up studying the erhu (Chinese) or niko (Japanese). I take lessons twice a month, and travel almost 300 miles and five hours round trip for my lessons. My teacher is Japanese, but she received her credentials from the University of Singapore.
I can play a few songs, not real well, but at least recognizable by people who know these songs. I can play a few Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and American songs. I go to Kara-Oke when I can, and usually sing Japanese songs, but I have sung Korean songs. I know the words to a few Chinese songs, but there are no Kara-Oke bars with Asian songs in this part of Texas. In fact, I have not been to a Kara-Oke in years, perhaps ten.
Incidentally, I am beginning to study the haegeum (Korean), and the dan bau and dan tranh (Vietnamese). Eventually, I hope to learn the guqin (Chinese). I cannot seem to make any progress with the shakuhachi, or the xiao and sheng (Chinese). Perhaps it is because these are wind instruments, and I had severe asthma in my thirties. However, I did belong to a shigin group in New Mexico for ten years, and shigin is reputedly good for asthma sufferers.
Am I guilty of cultural appropriation?
Hi Harry, thanks for your comment. Wow, you are definitely not “appropriating” Asian cultures — you’re someone who truly respects and appreciates the culture and instruments you’ve studied. Shigin is an art that most Japanese, never mind Japanese Americans, have forgotten. Ditto traditional instruments like erhu (there is in fact a duo of two Caucasian musicians here in Denver who are excellent erhu players and perform traditional music). Thank you so much for your dedication and talent and curiosity for other cultures.