Location: Makassar, South Sulawesi
Sound: Tanjidor Makassar (also called musik terompet if featuring trumpets, musik seruling if using flutes)
The cities of Jakarta and Makassar are more than 1500 kilometers apart, but in some ways they seem like long lost twins. Both cities are capitals and cultural hubs: Jakarta, of course, is the largest city and capital of Indonesia, while Makassar (known for centuries as Ujung Pandang) is the capital of South Sulawesi and the largest city in East Indonesia. Both are famously cosmopolitan: Jakarta’s status as a major port and and capital since the Dutch colonial era (when it was called Batavia) has made it a nexus for streams of people and cultures from all around the archipelago and the world. Similarly, Makassar’s strategic position between Java and the famous Spice Islands means its port has been a confluence of cultures for centuries, with Dutch, Portuguese, Bugis, Chinese, Makassarese, and others all meeting in a diverse social fabric.
Beyond all that, there’s a musical thread that ties these far-flung cities together across the vast Java Sea: tanjidor. To get to the roots of this music, we have to go back to the days when Jakarta was still Batavia and the Dutch and other colonial raiders were still a major presence. As ethnomusicologist Philip Yampolsky explains in his liner notes to volume five in his epic Music of Indonesia album series, “the [tanjidor] ensemble probably developed out of the slave orchestras that wealthy landowners maintained at their estates in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Batavia.” These “orchestras” evolved into rag-tag brass bands played by the Betawi, the ethnic group that emerged out of the giant melting pot of colonial Batavia. To this day, Betawi tanjidor bands play European marches and national classics on old marching band instruments left over from the Dutch era, including, Yampolsky notes, now obscure instruments like the helicon.
Yampolsky gives a shout out to similar tanjidor ensembles which found their way as far as Palembang in South Sumatra and Pontianak in West Kalimantan, but one tradition has been left out: tanjidor Makassar. Its strange enough that tanjidor is found outside of Java: with the exception of Javanese transmigrants spreading gamelan across the archipelago, it's pretty unusual for regional specialties to jump islands. You’d never find Sumbanese jungga in Sumatra, just as you wouldn’t expect to run into Minang saluang music in Java. How did tanjidor (in another form) find its way all the way to Makassar?
While there are some very Sunda-fied varieties of tanjidor found in the countryside of West Java which buck the marches and oompah rhythms of the original, the Betawi style played on the outskirts of Jakarta is pretty much straight European brass band music (although played with an eccentric looseness!) Maybe it's these origins in “musik Barat” (Western music) which allow it to float so easily across the archipelago: it may be rooted in a very specific cultural and historical moment in Batavia and subsequently embraced by the locals, but in many ways it is as musically alien to Java as it is to Sulawesi.
Makassar-style tanjidor takes this European brass band style and pares it down to the bare minimum. From my research, the most popular style in the area seems to be based on a trio of bass drum (bas), snare (tambor), and transverse bamboo flute (seruling.) It's a thin sound, for sure, with shrill, distorted flute wailing over brutally beaten drums. The band I ran into, however, mixed it up by replacing the flute with dual, harmonizing trumpets. The songs played were old classics, Indonesian in origin but in a European idiom, like Ismael Marzuki’s “Aryati” (in Makassar called “Haryati” and referred to, strangely, as a Mandarin song) and the Makassar classic “Angin Mammiri.”
How tanjidor came to be played in Makassar is a mystery. When asked, this band’s leader, Pak Chandra, didn't have much to offer: "How it got here, I’m not really sure," he said, "All I know is I learned it from my father.” There’s an enticing clue, though, in Yampolsky’s liner notes: he mentions that those early bands were made up of “slaves from many parts of Indonesia (Bali and South Sulawesi in particular.)” It’s impossible to say if there’s a link there, but it's a fact that the Bugis and Makassar people of South Sulawesi have had a presence in (the area now called) Jakarta for centuries: natural sailors, these folks have set up roots all around the archipelago (Bugis and Makassarese trepangers even made it as far as Australia!) It’s not hard to imagine a Bugis or Makassarese immigrant heading back home to Sulawesi from the big city and taking tanjidor with him.
Here’s something else that draws my attention to the wonderful Jakarta-Makassar tanjidor connection: Yampolsky mentions that, in the past, Betawi-style tanjidor was often “played for rural ‘Chinese’ temple festivals,” but notes that “it is now rarely used” in such contexts. In Makassar, this is very much still a thing: the band I recorded was playing in a Chinese-Indonesian kelenteng (temple) to celebrate Cap Go Meh, the Chinese “lantern festival” marking the end of Chinese New Year celebrations.
This symbiosis between tanjidor music and the Chinese-Indonesian community seems to be a complex one in both Jakarta and Makassar. The Betawi culture of Jakarta is threaded with Chinese-Indonesian elements (callback to my cliché “melting pot” statement), with some tanjidor groups even featuring the Chinese fiddle or tehyan. Despite this Chinese-Indonesian element in their make-up, Betawi people were historically classified as “pribumi”, a now-rather-outdated term essentially glossing as “native” or, basically, “not Chinese.” This makes tanjidor an interesting (and sometimes uncomfortable) cultural interface between these very differently privileged and culturally situated groups. Yampolsky notes that by the beginning of the twentieth century, tanjidor groups “routinely toured well-to-do neighborhoods of Batavia during both the Chinese and European new year celebrations, playing in front of residences for tips. This practice was abandoned in 1955 after the mayor of Jakarta declared that it displeased him to see pribumi musicians treated like beggars by ‘Chinese.’”
Note Yampolsky’s scare-quotes around “Chinese”: it’s as appropriate to call Chinese-Indonesians “Chinese” as it is to call African-Americans simply “Africans.” Despite hundreds of years and many generations in the archipelago, Chinese-Indonesians have historically been outcast as foreign outsiders, “Chinese” rather than Indonesian (thus the contrast with “pribumi” or “natives”.) Probably in no small part due to this persecution, Chinese-Indonesians, like other Chinese diaspora around the globe, have been historically insular. This is one aspect that makes the tanjidor interface interesting: Muslim non-Chinese-Indonesian musicians playing traditional music (itself with faint Chinese-Indonesian elements) in very Chinese-Indonesian contexts (in a kelenteng for Chinese New Year celebrations) is something of an odd socio-cultural mixture, especially in a time when Chinese-Indonesians’ perceived otherness is becoming once again a subject of fierce national debate.
In Makassar, tanjidor also seems to exist as a musical interface between Bugis/Makassarese musicians and Chinese-Indonesian/Chinese-Makassarese communities. I don’t know much about the history of Chinese and Chinese-Indonesians in Makassar nor about their relationship with local ethnic groups, but the community is quite large, dating back centuries to the days of the spice trade when Chinese-Indonesians were key merchants in the supply chain. Makassar’s Chinatown is dotted with kelenteng where Bugis-Makassarese tanjidor bands are hired by Chinese-Indonesian patrons to play for temple ceremonies such as the one we stumbled upon. When asked about the relationship between tanjidor Makassar and the Chinese community, the group’s leader put it simply: “We’re like brothers, all the way back to our grandparents.” This proud statement of solidarity with a much-ostracized group was refreshing. Whether the relationship between these Makassar communities is actually that peachy would require further investigation, and the patron-artist relationship between upper class Chinese-Indonesians and poor Makassarese is an understandably complex one, too complex to give it justice in this music blog.
Tanjidor has been embraced as both Betawi and Makassarese art forms, but it takes only one listen to realize that it retains its distinctly foreign, European DNA. Just as I theorized that this may have allowed the music to float “homeless” across the archipelago, it also may be the key to its place in these unique ethno-cultural junctures. Somehow while it is unimaginable that the Makassarese would play their frenetic traditional ganrang drumming music in a klenteng, tanjidor’s essential otherness in relation to both traditional Makassarese and Chinese-Indonesian cultures allows it to occupy this unique space. On the other hand, despite tanjidor Makassar’s clear European idiom, its place in this rich, complex confluence of traditions and communities makes it very Makassar, indeed.
Makassar at night is remarkably alive: groups of kretek-smoking locals fill endless streetside cafes while mostly domestic tourists wander downtown after watching the sunset at the famous Losari “beach.” The thick, humid air was just beginning to cool as my friends Jo, Logan and I made our way to Sulawesi Street in the city’s sprawling Chinatown. We were lucky enough to have arrived in town just in time for Cap Go Meh, the last night of Chinese New Year celebrations, and the party was in full swing. A massive crowd had gathered for blocks and blocks to take in the festive atmosphere of red Chinese lanterns, inexplicable street-side karaoke, and cheap street food.
After grabbing some beers and mie titi, a Chinese-Makassarese crunchy noodle dish unique to the city, we pushed our way through the crowds and into some quieter alleys. This quiet was relative, however: not far down the first alley we passed, the sound of trumpets and snare drum blasted out of a kelenteng temple lit gorgeously with huge, flickering candles. Overcoming my initial disorientation, I soon realized what were were hearing: tanjidor!
I’d seen videos on YouTube before, but they were scrappy bands led by shrill flutes drowned out by over-eager drummers. Some were essentially dangdut bands with a bass and snare drum thrown in (for the prestige of “tradition”, I guess?). I had not been impressed. This band, though, was something different: twin trumpets harmonizing with gooey, Mariachi-like vibrato, the drums laying down rhythms that almost approached funkiness.
My excitement slightly faded when I realized I’d left my recording gear and camera at the hotel. I hadn’t expected to hear anything interesting on the streets of Makassar, but here we were watching a brass band play in a Chinese-Indonesian temple. As I’ve written before, most music I share here is commissioned, the music played especially for this project; what I love more than anything, though, is getting the chance to share music as it's played in its “natural habitat’, so to speak.
There was only one choice: I had to rush back to the hotel and get my stuff. It was already 11 PM, so between songs I asked the head trumpeter how long they’d be playing. “At least until one in the morning,” he said. Just enough time.
When Logan and I returned an hour later (Jo was too sleepy for trumpets), the scene had transformed. We had encountered the band just as the festival was peaking: the streets had been full of revelers, with Chinese-Indonesian families making their way down the street to a pork noodle place while a dozen beggars sat on the ground in front of the kelenteng with change-filled buckets, hoping to catch some excess holiday generosity. Now, just past midnight, the place was abandoned: the audience had been reduced to a few bored police officers tasked with securing the festival - even the beggars had gone home. The quiet of the dark alley gave the whole scene a melancholic air. Perfect, I guess, for shmaltzy trumpet ballads.
I’d told the bandleader we’d be back, and he seemed happy to have an audience. He asked if I had any requests, so I inquired about the repertoire. “Pop, Mandarin, Dangdut, Makassar songs…anything!” I asked to hear their favorite song to play, and as I began to record they burst into “Aryati,” a classic 50s era pop song by nationalist icon Ismail Marzuki. Like so many “traditional” groups playing in an urban setting, it was clear the product these guys were peddling was nostalgia: nostalgia for a time when these kinds of slow ballads were on every radio across Indonesia and foreign music was entering many folks’ ears for the first time. You can hear this early, exotic globalism at work in “Aryati”’s Latin-inspired rhythms and its simple, pleasant harmonies.
After three songs, a tall, thin Chinese-Indonesian man who seemed to be the head of this kelenteng was making subtle hints that the show was over: the epic Chinese New Year celebrations were officially done. As the band packed up their trumpets in the flickering light of hundreds of candles, I saw a lone 5000 rupiah (~30 cent) note sitting sadly on their “tip jar”, a plastic dinner plate sitting next to a glass of sweet tea. Before I left, I contributed as generously as i could to the plate, shaking hands with the band and the temple patrons in thanks. I hadn’t commissioned the performance myself, and thankfully so: who could have contrived such a perfect, surreal scene? I simply wandered in, watched trumpet blasts snuff out candles, and left with a smile on my face, happy to have stumbled upon one of Makassar’s musical oddities.
Huge thanks to the musicians: Chandra Rachmat on terompet (suara satu), Sultan on terompet (suara dua), Ahmad on Bas, Sinar on Tambor. And to Kelenteng Vihara Dharma Loka for being a patron of the Makassar arts!