I Wayan Balawan and the Batuan Fusion Band

May 1st 2011
Melbourne Convention Centre
et cetera, Indonesian Music and Culture

A full house greeted Indonesian guitarist I Wayan Balawan and his Batuan Ethnic Fusion Band at the Melbourne Convention Centre on Sunday the 1st of May. The capacity audience of over 2000 mostly Indonesian students had been treated to various opening acts, including a nine-piece pop music group and a traditional Kecak dance performance and now they were ready for the main act.

The fusion was obvious even before a single note had sounded, Balwan who was dressed in traditional Balinese costume , stood centre stage with a double neck electric guitar flanked by his Batuan Band which featured electric bass guitar and drum kit .The trio was complemented by three more musicians who were seated at Balinese Gamelan instruments such as the ceng ceng(a small pair of cymbals), the kendang(barrel shaped double headed drum)and the Joged Bumbung
( wooden xylophone)

Balawan is famous for his eight-finger tapping technique. This technique allows for the simultaneous playing of melody, bass lines and chords on a single instrument. This electric guitar technique is an extension of the two-handed tapping originally showcased by Edward Van Halen on his 1978 debut album ‘Van Halen’. The two-handed tapping technique was further developed into eight-fingered tapping by American jazz and pop guitarist Stanley Jordan in the early 1980`s. Balawan has taken this advanced and unusual technique and applied it to his ‘Ethnic Fusion’ compositions.

The East-meets-West fusion is not a new phenomenon in Bali. After hearing Javanese gamelan at the 1889 Paris Exhibition, French composer Debussy “introduced profound changes into the way music was listened to after (his) brief experience with ‘Eastern music”…..” Although Debussy’s impressionistic compositions had little direct influence from Javanese gamelan, it was “representing instead a personal agenda and the needs for expression and development within a staid French middle-class” Other 20th Century musicians and composers including Benjamin Britten and Steve Reich were influenced Balinese music and culture and both were key contributors to the development of the then new ‘West-meets-East’ musical explorations.

Author Zachar Laskewicz uses the term campuran to describe the mix of traditional Balinese music with western pop influences . Balawan has taken campuran to the extreme by using sampled sounds of traditional gamelan instruments and triggering them from the MIDI pickups on his double neck guitar synthesizers .He also had a small single neck MIDI guitar mounted on a stand which allowed him to play this second instrument without having to un-strap the double neck guitar. One of the samples he used to wonderful effect was the sound of the anklung . Balawan complimented his instrumental excursions with his voice, at times singing in English and other times in a vocal ease and scat style, particularly striking was the group’s rendition of the Balinese song Jani Jana

I found it odd that other vocal songs were in a smooth-jazz style and he even included a version of ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ in which he imitated Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice .Balawan and his Batuan group have such a unique and genre-crossing show it seemed unnecessary to include classic cover songs and ‘lite-jazz’ sounds in an otherwise electrifying concert.

The Batuan ensemble concluded the concert with a traditional performance of a gamelan piece during which Balawan, after taking his ovations, humbly sat cross-legged behind his band mates and genuinely seemed to enjoy the traditional sounds of his home island.

Bibliography

Bodman, Maria and Cliff DeArmond .Bali and Beyond. http://www.balibeyond.com/gamelaninstruments.html (accessed 10 May 2011)

Boone,Graeme M.’The guitar in jazz’. In The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, ed. Victor Anand Coelho, 82. Cambridge: CUP , 2003.

I Waylan,Balawan. http://www.balawan.com/biography.php (accessed 10 May 2011)

Laskewicz, Zachar. ‘Pop music and interculturality.The dynamic presence of pop music in contemporary Balinese performance.’ In Refashioning Pop Music in Asia, ed.Allen
Chun, Ned Rossiter and Brian Shoesmith, 184-196.London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

Waksman, Steve. ‘Rock guitar since 1976’. In The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, ed. Victor Anand Coelho, 125. Cambridge: CUP, 2003.

http://www.merriam-webster.com (accessed 10 May 2011)

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