MCC Presents Balinese Group Gamelan Seka Jaya
by Jennifer Kimbell


The deep roars of gongs and the soothing stokes of chimes and flutes filled the musty air as eager music lovers packed the MultiCultural Center’s theater on Saturday, October 11. The small MCC stage was equally packed with the 30-member, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, an ensemble that specializes in the music and dance of Bali, Indonesia.

Upon asking what Gamelan meant, one of the musicians informed me that it was simple: the instrument and the people. But of course, Gamelan has many elements. 

The performance featured a family of three dancers: a mother, father, and their young daughter, Ayu, who received much deserved praise after her dance performance.  She couldn’t have been older than 12 years-old, but her concentration on the dance and her connection to the audience told a different story.  Before her performance, as her mother hurriedly fixed her elaborate gold headdress and thick makeup, Ayu told me without a trace of nervousness that her dance was called the “Cong Dong.” Awe filled the air as Ayu tiptoed gracefully between the purple clad musicians and their extravagantly decorated metallophones. 

The instruments were also impressive. My favorite was the Gamelan Jegog, which was long and looked like a xylophone made of bamboo. The way the instruments looked reflected the sounds that came out of them. It sounded like rain tapping against wood.  

Describing music is like describing taste; difficult. It seems that I can only use flimsy metaphors and similes to describe what I heard on Saturday, but I think that the best word to describe the sounds of Gamelan Sekar Jaya is natural. Nothing seemed forced, or contrived, even though the dance steps and the beats of the music were perfectly coordinated. To my musically ignorant ears, the music was describing weather. The abruptness of the music peppered with sharp pauses, perhaps narrated the temperamental weather that haunts the waters and skies of Indonesia. The harsh thunder of the gongs and the gentle pitter-patter drizzle of the flutes, perhaps told a story about the music’s native land of Bali.  

The music was beautiful and unique to my American ears. For those who missed the Gamelan Sekar Jay performance, UCSB’s own Gamelan Ensemble will play on Wednesday, November 12 at noon in the Music Bowl, outdoors in the Music Department as part of the Fall World Music Series. The UCSB Gamelan Group is a relatively new group on campus that meets weekly and performs with the Middle Eastern Ensemble throughout the year. It is quite an elusive group on campus and at the beginning of the year they are looking for more musicians. Because the group relatively young, everyone joining is just learning so now is the time to join and meet some curious fellow musicians.