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Reviving Age-Old Melodies
Polewali Mandar Internasional Folk Art Festival (PIFAF) at the Sport Canter area, Polewali Mandar, West Sulawesi, August 1, 2017. This festival features traditional dances and cultural performance from various countries include Slovakia, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand. TEMPO/Sakti Karuru
Friday, 01 September, 2017 | 09:26 WIB
Reviving Age-Old Melodies

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A group of young people in Polewali Mandar revived old songs through traditional music. Their music is promoted through social media.

Five years ago Mansur was not aware of Mandar’s traditional percussive instruments. Mansur was born in Polewali Mandar, West Sulawesi, where he grew up and currently lives. Though the regency’s population is mostly made up of the Mandar ethnic group, Mansur and most of his friends had little knowledge of the local vernacular as well as traditional musical instruments.

Now, Mansur, or known as Nunu, can play Mandar’s percussive instrument like an expert. The instrument seems alive in Mansur’s hands when he performs on stage, both in Polewali and in other regions. Mansur performs with a community of young people from the Mandatte Arts Nusantara Culture House (RBN). Ten of the community’s 60-or-so members sing folksongs such as Parri-Parriqdiq and Tekenga Di Gulingmu that may sound foreign to Mandar’s under-20 youths.

The Madatte Arts does not focus on traditional music alone. The art studio, located in the urban subdistrict of Madatte, is also developing and preserving local culture through theater and dance. In March, the community released a new album entitled Mandar Mind and Soul, containing nine folksongs with contemporary arrangements. "We want folksongs to sound light and to be accepted by young people," Mansur said.

It was Mustari Mula, 48, who initiated RBN Madatte Arts’ dive into the recording industry. Mustari, who is secretary to Polewali Mandar’s Office of Culture and Tourism, also sits on the community’s advisory board. He believes that Mansur and friends’ ‘recycled’ products must be promoted so that more youths will become familiar with Mandar’s old melodies.

Mustari feels that the RBN Madatte Arts has successfully injected a breath of fresh air to folksongs that may sound old-fashioned. He was surprised when he heard Tekenga Di Gulingmu and Parri-Parriqdiq’s contemporary arrangement. Plus, the group’s vocalist, Dewi Herlina, 24, has a pleasant jazzy voice. "They deserve support from the government because they are reviving old songs that have been buried by time," he said.

In the first stage, Polewali Mandar’s regional government recorded RBN Madatte Arts’ music in 500 compact discs and distributed them throughout the regency, to all government offices and schools, as well as to the public. The recordings were also distributed to all the drivers of public transport in town. "Now many public transport vehicles in town play our songs," Mansur said, laughing.

RBN Madatte Arts’ music is also promoted through YouTube and Instagram to reach more young listeners. Tekenga Di Gulingmu has become one of the most popular songs since the beginning of this year, viewed by hundreds of thousands.

The Young and The Creative (YMYK) was the community embryo that would later parent the RBN Madatte Arts. The YMYK grew and flourished in 1989-1997 and also held activities at the Culture House, now home to Mansur and friends. Mustari once chaired the YMYK and was active in theater. But the art community only performed theater and traditional dances, while Mandar folksongs only served as stage accompaniment.

After several YMYK members began working full-time and got married, the community went into hibernation. In October 2011, a number of young people under the RBN Madatte Arts-among them Ifdal Trisdianto, Nurfadila, Hikmawati, Ibnu, and Mansur-revived YMYK’s activities. They still perform dances and plays, but their themes have evolved. Before, they would perform plays on day-to-day life. "Now we perform folktales more frequently," Ibnu said.

Among RBN Madatte Art members, Ibnu is the most enthusiastic when it comes to introducing Mandar folktales through theater. Ibnu was also among those who pioneered new arrangements for Mandar folksongs. He led the team to conduct research on composition, lyrics, and the meaning of folksongs. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what the lyrics mean, although many ethnic Mandar people are involved in the group, said Ibnu-especially because songs often include obsolete Mandar vocabulary.

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