Cultural ties between Makassar seafarers and the Aborigines in Australia will be re-enacted in a new music composition by Ananda Sukarlan, The Voyage to Marege, which will be staged at Teater Jakarta Taman Ismail Marzuki on August 31 as an Independence Day souvenir from Australia to the people of Indonesia.
The Voyage to Marege tells the story of 18th century Makassar sailors who landed and stayed in Marege, an area near Arhhem Land in Darwin, Australia, to barter their spices with sea cucumber. In its own style, the concert replenishes the good relationship between Indonesia and Australia that has been ongoing since the 18th century.
Involving 44 orchestra players from the Ananda Sukarlan Orchestra and featuring Aboriginal musician Djakapurra Munyarryun, The Voyage to Marege unites cultural elements from Australia and Indonesia. The Indonesian elements are motifs and melodies from the Makassar folk song “Amma Ciang” and the vintage “Gending Srivijaya” melody from the 9th century Buddhist kingdom Srivijaya, while the Australian elements are taken from the textures of the didgeridoo and the melodic shapes of Aboriginal song lines.
Ananda has his own reason for picking “Amma Chiang” rather than much older tunes that are still chanted by bissu priests. “I picked ‘Amma Ciang’ for a mischievous reason: the lyrics are about a lover who chanted ‘even if I have to sail across the sea, I would do it to find your beauty’,” explains Ananda in an amiable chat with Indonesia Tatler.
The folk song is the added element of a fictional love story in the composition, which adds to the contrasting elements: the rough sea, the brave spirits of the Makassar sailors, the traditions of the Aborigines, the dance, the conflicts—and it ends with a melancholic farewell. “Yes, Voyage doesn't end with a glorious bang since the history itself ended with the ceasing of the visits by the Makassar sailors.”
“Originally this was musical research,” admits Ananda. “But then I learned so much about other aspects of life that have enriched me.” The music of the Aborigines could not be disconnected with their beliefs and way of life and thinking, for it’s their way of telling their history, life and beliefs through song lines.
“Their song lines connect to the metaphysical world of their ’dreamtime’—legends of creation and the natural elements around them, such as the moon or the ocean—to their real world,” Ananda goes on. “The song lines also record the significant experiences of their lives. In the latter case, we could even compare the song lines to our modern ‘selfies’ every time we meet new people or visit new places.”
The specific approach taken by Ananda in the creation of his new piece exudes through a completely different kind of music from that written by Australian composers Peter Sculthorpe or Betty Beath, whose works will be performed alongside Ananda’s Voyage to Marege in its world premiere next week at Teater Jakarta, Taman Ismail Marzuki. Sculthorpe’s Small Town and Beath’s Merindu Bali will certainly tune in with the eclectic nuances of Ananda’s Voyage.
Topping it all off is the young and talented pianist Janice Wijaya performing songs by Ismail Marzuki and arranged by Ananda Sukarlan in a masterpiece for solo piano and orchestra, “Fantasia Pianistica Marzukiana”. The soloist at the concert will be Stephanie Onggowinoto, a brilliant young pianist who earned received her Master’s Degree at the Royal College of Music, London. She won the third prize at the Ananda Sukarlan Award Piano Competition in 2008, when she was 13, competing with others who were mostly over 20.