Talago Buni Music: West Sumatra

The contemporary music of Talago Buni (The Lake of Sounds), which was founded in 1998 in Minangkabau, West Sumatra, is a creative departure from the Minang pop music that has today become mainstream. With its powerful spirit of innovation and creation, Talago Buni has successfully taken its inspiration from an oft-neglected source, traditional arts.

In a relatively short period of time, Talago Buni has performed at a number of local and foreign festivals like the Breminale Festival in Bremen, Orangeria in Koln, Expo Caf‚ Festival in Hannover, and Sacred Rhythm and the Millenium Percussion Festival in Bali, to name a few as Leon Agusta explains further.

This fact is an acknowledgment and affirmation of their artistic accomplishments, which are certainly above average.

After the nationally celebrated Gumarang Group under the leadership of Asbon in the 50s and 60s, there was no Minangkabau music group really worth mentioning throughout the following decades.

Names like Ibenzani Usman and Yusaf Rahman were probably the best among the generic musicians who came out later, yet still they did not come from a traditional music background. They were more skillful in playing western instruments, although they did use the Minang language for their lyrics.

The birth of Talago Buni was driven by concerns about the meager interest shown by people, particularly youngsters, in Minangkabau traditional music.

The group was initiated by a number of traditional artist and musicians from the Indonesian High School of Arts (STSI) in Padangpanjang, and found a vast new horizon under the captaincy of Edy Utama, a academic who used to be a dramatist. His dramatic sensitivity often appears in and gives a theatrical tone to their productions.

This is a group that has performed much more in prestigious festivals outside its home than in West Sumatra itself. Its worldwide reputation seems to have no trace in the cultural space where its members were born, nurtured and developed. Talago Buni is in fact an oasis in the middle of a barren land of performing arts talent and creativity in the last few decades, with choreographer Ery Mefry probably being the only exception.

The question now is why? It is possible the fading commitment and respect toward the performing arts as an institution within a culture has led artists, and the people, into thinking the emergence of theater, for example, only promises mediocrities.
Much like a leaking balloon, no matter how persistently you try to blow it up, it will never inflate.

Moreover, the local government does not seem to understand the significance of an art born out of tradition. They cannot see it in the context of the competitive, explorative and innovative world of art. Thus when a creative group with a high artistic quality does emerge, it is foreign countries that appreciate it seriously.

Not only does Talago Buni create various new compositions, it also invents new instruments out of wood and bamboo poles. A wooden tangkelek (sabot) becomes a non-rhythmical instrument that produces entertaining beats, a rather unusual element to find in Minang songs, which have a tendency to indulge in never-ending sadness and haplessness.

In their Nov. 28 performance at Teater Kecil, Taman Ismail
, Talago Buni presented three musical compositions: Pupuik Lambok, composed by Susandra Jaya; Piriang Banyanyi, a collaborative creation; and Dawai Bagaluik, composed by Ronaldi.

Another interesting thing about this group is its artistic ideas. The serunai, a high-pitched wind instrument usually played in a small ensemble, becomes the source of inspiration for Pupuik Lambok. The instrument is transformed into various whistles that produce melodies with unique sound variations. Without the group’s strong innovative spirit, the composition would have been generic.

Piriang Banyanyi (Singing Plates) finds it origin in the popular traditional Minang plate dance. With the accompaniment of the tangkelek, the composition created a dynamic and entertaining ambience. It might remind us of tap-dance from the U.S. or river-dance from Ireland. It did not, however, give a sense of perfection. But who knows, one day it might, because the group does not only entertain, but also arouses our curiosity. What new ideas will they realize next?

In Minangkabau’s art tradition, we find Shalawat Dulang, an Islamic art form usually presented in long chants glorifying the Prophet Muhammad. Talago Buni staged this art form in a new composition, combining it with percussion and woodwind instruments that came out as a perfect blend of sounds and vocals. The two vocalists, Della Rosa Panggabean and Wilda Avina, represent the younger generation who, with their confidence and pride in art, dare to be different and at the same time be themselves.

The 29 minutes spent enjoying the three compositions presented by Talago Buni of Minangkabau was indeed an experience to be cherished forever.