Legendary American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) once said “Music is a universal language”. Tribes and nations may have different languages. Music, on the other hand, crosses language barriers. There is no doubt that music has the power to make bridges across differences.

Smiet Lalove, percussion musician from Palu, Central Sulawesi, agrees with the statement. He believes that music is not just for entertainment, but it can also bring enlightenment. That is the reason he established the Sangu Patuju percussion community. “In the Kaili Tara language, Sangu Patuju means uniting goals” Smiet explains in a phone interview.

The Sangu Patuju percussion community was established in 2014. Smiet said that the idea to gather Palu percussion artists began as a deep concern for the ongoing violence and conflicts that have happened in the region. As a well-meaning citizen he hoped to be able to do something to prevent conflict from escalating into a threat to the nation’s integrity.

Smiet thought that music can unite many groups. With Sangu Patuju, Smiet offers a chance for the various ethnic groups in Palu to perform their traditional music. That way he can preserve Palu and Indonesian culture, as well as nurture the Bhinneka Tunggal Ika spirit, Unity in Diversity.

At first, Sangu Patuju attracted only 30 members, most of them young men from the Kaili Tara tribe. The Kaili, natives of Palu valley, is a diverse ethnic group which consists of 30 tribes, including the Kaili Rai, Ledo, Ija, Moma, Unde, Inde, Tara, Doi, and Torai. Nevertheless, Smiet and his friends at Sangu Patuju did not stop. True to its original mission, Sangu Patuju continues to recruit percussion players from various tribes and ethnicities.

“I consider that Palu, as an urban city, provides a melting pot for our brothers from various ethnicities,” he said. As Sangu Patuju visits village after village, its pluralist spirit soon caught the attention of the local government. Hidayat, head of the Regional Training and Development Agency in 2014 (currently Mayor of Palu), offered opportunities to Sangu Patuju.

Hidayat asked Sangu Patuju to perform in a launching ceremony for a book about Palu customs. In line with the book’s theme, Hidayat asked for the music to showcase the original sounds of Palu. Smiet and colleagues agreed. They prepared for three months. “That was not just ordinary music, it’s serious,” he explained. Smiet acted as the composer. The informatics graduate created scenarios to combine various sounds as well as writing song lyrics.

“Percussion can also represent Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” Smiet said. There are various percussion instruments. The gimba, lalove, and kakula are native instruments of the Kaili people which inhabit Donggala, Parigi Moutong, Sigi, and Palu. The three instruments are usually used for the healing rite Balia. Later on, as Sangu Patuju increased its membership to 68 people from more ethnicities in Palu such as Indonesian Chinese and Balinese, its repertoire of instruments also expanded. Sangu Patuju now involves sounds from Balinese gamelan and gong, ceng-ceng (Balinese small cymbal), paigu (Chinese drums—usually used in lion dance), and dagu (Chinese bass drum). Each beat represents a different instrument, a different culture, combining into beautiful harmony.

In that ceremony back in 2014, Sangu Patuju performed with 50 players. It changed everything. The performance made them well-known by the people. “Everybody talked about us in Palu,” Smiet proudly remembered. Since then, Sangu Patuju is considered as a new force in Central Sulawesi music. They were also known as the first multiethnic music group in Palu.

In 10 August 2018, 19.30 WITA, Sangu Patuju will perform in the opening act of Palu Salonde Percussion, an event in the Gaung Sintuvu Festivals. Their members are now experienced performers who had played in many stages. Smiet said they have rehearsed intensively for a month. They have rehearsed in many places, including the grounds of Balinese and Chinese temples.

“This is why I mentioned that Sangu Patuju plays music to enlighten, not just to entertain. We collaborate in various beats, natives and newcomers, in the hope of spreading the pluralist spirit to everyone, including our own elders,” Smiet said.

Sangu Patuju players are youthful, from 12 to 46 years old. Smiet hoped that their music can touch the hearts of the elders and the traditional society, making them remember more peaceful times in Palu, a city where more than 50 ethnicities reside in peace and harmony, with united goals, as one nation, Indonesia.