Sound: Suling Dendang Dendang
The traditional flute of the Duri people of the neighboring Enrekang regency, the suling dendang dendang is essentially identical in construction and sound to the suling lembang of Toraja (see my previous post here.) However, the suling tradition in Enrekang is different in a number of interesting ways - for one, I was told that suling dendang dendang is never played for funerals, only for weddings and other "upacara adat", or traditional ceremonies (which is unusual considering the wailing, creepy sound of the Enrekang suling seems quite fit for a funeral.)
The other main difference is that while Torajan suling is, as far as I know, always played as a solo instrument, suling dendang dendang requires a group of four men for performance. At the time of recording, however, only two men could be rounded up - the other two were in far-flung areas of South Sulawesi. I hope that the suling duo can give a sense of the difference this arrangement makes - playing in a pair, long drones are able to be sustained, with one player often maintaining the drone while the other adds ornaments and small melodic variations. At other times, the musicians play in unison, allowing for a fuller sound.
As with many other musics around Indonesia, information about suling dendang dendang is scarce. Actually, in this case, I seem to have found a first: there is literally no recorded information about this music that I am aware of, at least on the internet and searchable archives. As usual, I ask anyone with more information to please contact me.
Accompanied by my friends from Baraka, I arrived soon after sunset in the small coffee-growing village of Bentang Alla Utara, close to the border with Tana Toraja. We headed directly to the house of the kepala desa (village head), who was surprised and curious to see me there, telling me that the only other foreigner who he had seen in the village was an Australian researching coffee production (I was surprised to find this well-produced YouTube video about the village and its coffee production, starring Patola, the village head, and this mysterious Australian.)
Armed with headlamps, Patola led us through the quiet dark of the village to a nearby home, where we were eventually met, after a long awkward wait in the small sitting room, by two suling dendang dendang players, as well as another old man who had seem to come just to watch. One of the musicians was quite old, in his eighties, and seemed a bit grumpy - he had just been sleeping, he told us, when he got the call to come play for this foreigner. He hadn't played his suling in six years, he told us. I began to feel guilty and a bit ashamed - why was I bothering this poor old guy, just to get a recording and a photo or two? I tried not to let the thought distract me from the moment.
The men unpacked their suling, water buffalo horns and all, from a bamboo case and began to play, angling towards each other on the floral sitting room couch. After playing for a number of minutes, the old man who had come to watch motioned that he would like to dance. Rising from his couch, he performed a short, graceful dance, with emphasis on hand movements, as you often see in dances throughout Indonesia. It was a redeeming moment for me - while I still felt bad for waking the old suling player, at least our visit had allowed for a moment of inspiration.
Later, the previously grumpy suling player mentioned that if it wasn't for our visit, he wouldn't have played that night - his suling would have remained in its dusty case, unplayed for who knows how many years later. On that night, the slumbering tradition of suling dendang dendang was reawakened, if only for a short while.
Photo and video credits for this post go to my friend and incredibly helpful guide Salam Konzelink - I was too busy holding the recorder to do anything else! Special thanks also to Tamar Jaya and Unding Kaharuddin for being my friendly guides around Enrekang.