Indonesian music is unique, not primitive. Traditional music can be interesting with the help of some tweaking. It is possible that the exploration of local sounds could some day help Indonesian culture go international. Those are the dreams of Smiet, the Palu mucisian who is the curator of the 2018 Palu Salonde Percussion in the Gaung Sintuvu Festivals.
Smiet bin Abdul Hamid is familiar with nusic since his elementary school days, and fell in love with the richness of sound in his homeland. When kids his age played after school, Smiet played percussion instruments. During junior high school, Smiet already competed in traditional music contests.
After graduating from high school, he wanted to be more serious in percussion. “Sa (I) even wandered the mountains to explore traditional music,” Smiet said. From village to village, with a resolve to learn Kaili culture, Smiet inadvertently did an ethnographic study. He mingled with locals, hung out with the tuaku (elders), chatted, collecting Kaili folklore from the elders, recording sounds, songs, and tunes all over Sulawesi.
Smiet wanted to continue studying percussion music in a university. Alas, no universities in Palu had an art or music major. There were not that many options in the city. Smiet resigned but he did not want to be disappointed with his own city. Besides, formal education is only a means. The best teacher for Smiet had been nature and the cultural environment around him.
Smiet’s first love is the lalove. It is the Kaili traditional sacred bamboo flute. The 80-cm flute is usually used only to accompany the sando (shaman) dancing in Balia or healing rituals. Its sounds are said to summon healer spirits.
The lalove reproduces sounds of nature, Smiet claimed. Later on, as he explored modern music abroad, Smiet was surprised to discover that the Kaili ancestral instrument can mix well with various musical instruments. “It’s as if our ancestors already had a unifying vision,” he said proudly.
Smiet wished to share his ancestor’s vision to develop local music into a global phenomenon. To do that he had to become a musician. He joined the Tadulako Palu Art Community. Since then, he no longer played just for himself. He honed his skills in performances. In a 2004 competition in Solo he became the Best Young Composer.
Smiet’s dreams and ambitions did not stop there. He wanted local sounds of Palu, as well as Nusantara traditional music, to echo in the international music scene. So when keyboardists, for instance, want to add local sounds such as gimba beats or lalove sounds, they can just put the sounds into the program. “To create such sounds one needs to know information technology and use the synthesizer.”
Synthesizers can produce sounds in the form of signals or soundwaves to be transmitted to loudspeakers. This technology allows composers to experiment with sounds. In Indonesia, Gilang Ramadhan and I Wayan Balawan are among the musicians that used the synthesizer to modify their musical instruments.
“If everything goes as planned, God willing, my synthesizer for local sound can be accepted by Yamaha, Japan’s largest musical instrument producer,” Smiet concluded.