Location: Susulaku A Village, Insana District, North Central Timor
Note: A more complete write-up on bidu is available in my previous post about the art form in the Miomafo area, White Bird Flew From Afar: Encounters With Bidu in Timor. This is some bonus bidu, plus some tidbits on local differences, from an epic recording day in a village called Boni. The title of this one, "Luar Biasa, Karena Kami Biasanya Di Luar", is a quip made by Pak Barnabas: "We're outside the usual (extraordinary) because we're usually outside!" Hope that translation doesn't kill the charming cleverness of that one.
As mentioned in the previous post, bidu is scattered all about this stretch of Timor, but it seems to be especially well-known in Insana, a central cultural region in North Central Timor. It was in Insana that we were able to film and record another bidu band, this time with quite a different sound from the Miomafo crowd.
The first thing that pops out about the Boni band is their bijol: both guitar-like instruments played in the session were as orange as a ripe mango, with a white, bull's eye-like accent around the sound hole. While they were very clearly homemade, their size and shape were not as delightfully wonky as the Miomafo bijols, hewing closer to a conventional Western guitar shape. Still, in function they were quite like those we'd seen earlier, four-stringed and resolutely fretless. The heo fiddle (also called viol here) was likewise rough-hewn but more standard in shape, even featuring classical f-holes on the front. Curiously, this group also stuck an "antenna" in one of the holes, except in Boni the antene was a simple metal screw - as pointed out helpfully by an AA reader Ian Summers, the antene likely functions as a soundpost.
Musically, the songs themselves in Boni had the same locked-tonic drone going on, riding one chord into the sunset. The tunes would start with a few minutes of loose, fairly rhythmless droney jangle with improvised vocals atop, only to solidify into a churning rhythm for the rest of the piece. The vocals, we were told, featured rhyming couplets locally called kleat, full of metaphors (inscrutable to the outsider) based on wordplay and images of nature and local lore. The melody within also proved to be higher and sweeter than those we'd recorded in Miomafo, the "chorus" a beautiful keen often rising into falsetto.
Every time he talked about music, Pak Barnabas would break out in an infectious, betel nut-stained smile, his eyes twinkling. Here I'd come to Boni for something else entirely (a musical wonder I'll be sharing here later!) and had chanced upon a treasure trove: Pak Barnabas was the proud gatekeeper of a handful of musical wonders, from bamboo flute bands to a full-fledged choir and gong ensemble. Oh yeah, he'd mentioned: we also have bidu.
We'd just had an unforgettable experience with bidu in Miomafo the day before, but were already keen to hear more, especially as I'd heard that Insana had its own particular style. Luckily Pak Barnabas, a retired schoolteacher and composer who we'd met through our fixer friend Denny, insisted on sharing Boni-style bidu with us as well. He was the leader of the band, after all.
Luckily for us, Timor seemed to have no shortage of quiet, picturesque spots to shoot and record. A quick, sweaty walk down the village's half-paved road led to a quiet Catholic church, outside of which was a deserted soccer field and a huge, shady tree. We set the musicians in tableau an a small, overturned tree trunk with the feko (ocarina) player humorously far away from his pals: I'd learned the day before that his instrument, used for calling dogs across from afar, was dangerously piercing, threatening to overwhelm the mix.
Ever the leader, Pak Barnabas conducted the performance with heo in hand, queueing the other musicians with helpful bows. Joining the band, surprisingly, was a full dance troupe of older women (plus two men twirling, as in Miomafo, with colorful scarves), this time with tidier, choreographed moves representing through pantomime the processes of producing tenun or ikat, the woven textiles that are the pride of Timor.
The presentation, I have to say, felt a bit stiff. Denny had told them, as the whole concept of Aural Archipelago as a platform can be a bit vague for non-internet users, that we had come to shoot for an international TV station, so a certain pressure must have been felt to present everything in a polite and tidy fashion. Nevertheless, the effort and sheer number of participants was heartwarming: the community had really come together to share with us something that they were fiercely proud of. One of the singers, Pak Paulus, even took the opportunity in the song's intro to rep their hood, like a rapper calling out their area code: "Kabupaten TTU" ("North Central Timor Regency!),he sang proudly, "Insana regency!" All the while, Pak Barnabas sat to the side, sawing at his heo and beaming that big betel-nut smile,.
Terima kasih banyak, a million thanks, to my fixer and friend Denny for setting this all up, and to Pak Barnabas for so generously sharing this music with us. And again huge thanks to my friend Greg Ruben, who shot the video shared here (from which the photos in this post, mere screenshots, were taken.) The folks involved that day deserve the greatest thanks of us - they are as follows:
Leader, Viol: Barnabas Funan Haumein
Bijol: Paulus Kafun, Donathus Kunses, Simon Haki
Feko solito: Yakobus Kobes Nobesi
Dancers/Penari Bidu Tenun: Yohana Wilfrida Tuames, Maria Goreti Sau, Wilhelmina Tubani, Frida Tanesib, Fransiska Tanmanu, Maria Alas, Alo Leu Laheku