Kiai Kanjeng @ Birmingham
A few of their video clips can now be downloaded [ from here ]
Yesterday (Wednesday, 24 November 2004), we enjoyed the opportunity to watch Kiai Kanjeng’s live show at the BMI (Birmingham and Midlands Institute). I must admit that I never heard their performance before. My knowledge about Emha Ainun Nadjib (the leader of the group) was strictly limited to his writings and interviews in the various mass media.
Some people criticised him, saying that music is not permitted in Islam, and said he’s doing the wrong thing. I honestly admit that I don’t feel capable to judge whether they’re right or wrong; I can only relay things that I’ve read and hear – but I reserve the final judgement to Allah swt.
Anyway, most of the time I’m not hugely interested in music, and therefore didn’t really looking forward to this event.
It all turned out to be a lot of pleasant surprises and experience.
I was most impressed by the composers (I believe Emha is not the only composer in the group) skill and talent. We’re talking about many type of instruments and kinds of music: saron, rebana, keyboard, violin, electric guitar, bass, drum, percussion, demung, kendang, bamboo flute, (and of course) gamelans; dangdut, jazz (there were even jam sessions!), pop, rock, arabian, javanese, blues, chinese, etc.
I’m still amazed and very impressed that the composers managed to bring them together in various of their songs and adaptations, tastefully and beautifully. Sometime, a single song will be performed in several style – jazz and Arabic, pop & blues, and so on; and they’re performed cohesively and smoothly. I know creative works when I see one, and I enjoyed plenty of them in the event. It was a rare experience of sensory overload.
Kiai Kanjeng based their works on Islam. Therefore, many of their songs have chants / prayers in arabic / indonesian / english. The music serves as mood setters, and I must confess that it works. I got goosebumps many times during their 4 hours of performance.
Sometimes it also makes it fun – I’ll be interested to see if anyone else can make “Everything I do, I do it for you” (Brian Adams) into a religious song, and perform it in such a tasteful way 🙂
Do prepare to be surprised over and over again – for example, at one moment the melody of “Silent Night” started. A friend of us who is a Christian evangelist stood up in joy and anticipation. No luck though, Cak Nun is not crossing that line – shalawat (praises for prophet Muhammad) was heard instead, with the melody of Silent Night. It seems that he’s being cheeky and creative at the same time 🙂
The musicians skills are also quite impressive. Most of them handle more than one music instruments, with some handling as many as four. They bring life to the performance, slow and mesmerising at some times; fast, clean, and powerful at other times, and clearly enjoying it the whole time.
It’s even more impressive when I read the booklet that was given at the show.
Apparently, many of them are not musicians by trade. They’re teacher, civil servant, self-employed businessman, housewife, medic, etc. And not a single one in the group consider themselves as a musician. They see music as a tool to connect with other people. In their own words, music meant to be a way, not a destination.
I think it’s quite a brilliant idea, when executed properly (which seems to be the case here).
Music is the human’s universal language. I can even use it to communicate with my babies.
Upon more reading, I found out that they’ve travelled all over Indonesia. They played their music, soothing the restless masses, and then talk with them regarding their problems, and enlighten them. Their music becomes a powerful tool, connecting them too all sorts of people; from the poor to the rich, from the grass root to the elites.
Cak Nun (Emha Ainun Nadjib) himself is a well-known humanist figure. He was among the ones who stand in front at the time of “Reformasi” – people’s movement to replace the bloody dictatorship who has ruled Indonesia for decades. “Cak” is a loving calling to a brother, and Cak Nun actually does not like to be called “kiai” (a guru / a master in religious matters).
He seems to be an intelligent and unique person, and it definitely shows in his music.
“Kiai Kanjeng” is actually the name of the gamelan being used in their performance. Basically, it’s a Javanese custom that once a gamelan crafter has finished crafting a gamelan, then the creation is named. Gamelan Kiai Kanjeng is a special breed of gamelan. It’s based on their diatonic scale, but with only a limited number of notes chose. Even so, it’s been used successfully in their various music style.
At the moment, they should have left London and now should be heading towards Manchester for their next show. I wish them the best.