Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More Good Nostalgia

For me, "spring cleaning" means, for the most part, moving boxes of books and CDs back and forth. The weather here hasn't been very spring like, but I didn't let that stop me. While moving boxes back and forth, I came across my copy of Kirstin Pauka's "Theater and Martial Arts in West Sumatra". To tell traditional Minangkabau tales, randai weaves together songs, dance, acting, martial arts and, of course, music and song. In her book, Dr. Pauka discusses types of music used in randai, the martial arts- based popular folk theatre tradition the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra、Indonesia. Good nostalgia.

I once promised Dr. Pauka coffee for life. In 2000 I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Pauka on an English-language production of randai. The experience was such a great one that I dutifully and happily bought her coffee whenever possible from 2000 until we left Hawaii in 2003. In preparation for the production a large ensemble of dancers and musicians from the University of Hawaii studied with two master teachers of randai, Musra Dahrizal and Hasanawi. Randai, which grew out of the circular martial arts training, is performed in a circle which frames the acting area. Between scenes, the dancers move in unison through the circular dance sequences while two singers and a flute player accompany them with songs based on Minangkabau folk-singing tradition. Between the verses of each song the dancers perform circular dances that feature martial arts movements, exciting rhythmic clapping and some amazing and rather unique pants-slapping percussion called 'tapuak'. All dancers wear special pants during performances, kind of like skirts that have been sewn together. By slapping these special pants while they dance, they produce great drumlike sounds in percussive patterns.

During the seven-month preparations for the 2000 randai production I became enthralled by the music of randai. I studied intensively the instrumental music, which included gongs, drums, recorders, singing, 'pants percussion', the rabab (a two- and four-stringed spike fiddle), and (my favorite) the flute that accompanies the singers, a large bamboo flute called the saluang. I approached the visiting performers and asked them if, one evening after rehearsals, we could have an impromptu recording session. I was at first concerned about imposing on them, but found that the Minangkabau enjoy nothing better than staying up drinking black coffee with a ton of sugar, chain-smoking clove cigarettes and singing until the wee hours of the morning.

I now live several thousand miles away from Hawaii and Dr. Pauka. This is fortunate in that fulfilling my promise of buying her 'coffee for life' may well have bankrupted me. Still, I miss the performance opportunuities offered at the UH. I will remain forever grateful to her for that experience.

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