Music without Borders

Picture this: 3 fair-haired Norwegians wearing their colorful bunad, one wielding a sprightly fiddle, another a sonorant accordion and the third a powerful, singing voice. But they weren’t in any fjord nor log house — not even anywhere near their lush country of Norway! Instead they were sharing a stage with musicians dressed in richly patterned sarong and tubaw who were seated cross-legged in front of metal gongs that boomed and tinkled.

 

photo c/o Yani Isdiani

Norwegian trio with Indonesian and Philippine gamelan. (Photo c/o Yani Isdiani)

 

The eclectic assembly performed an exclusive concert that was received with thunderous applause on a balmy night in Bandung, Indonesia. This was a fitting finale for Førde Traditional and World Music Festival’s (Førdefestivalen) The Talent Project 2013. Almost one year in the making, the project finally wrapped-up neatly and explosively on 20–27 April 2014.

 

There were tears, undeniably. But greater felt was a sense of optimism for what has been accomplished by the participants and what the experience may lead to in the future.

 

Talent Project 2013 brought 10 musicians with diverse cultural backgrounds into one musical melting pot where raw talent was challenged to create harmony. From Norway came Elisabeth Ellingsen (vocals), Sivert Holmen (fiddle) and Ole Nilssen (accordion); from Indonesia Nendar Kusnadi (kendang), Reka Nopiyandi (suling) and Yani Isidiani (kacapi) and from the Philippines  Jaimar Palispis (kulintang), Shadin Kitma (hegalong), Bernadete Canay (dabakan) and Sabrina Tan (dance – Igal).

 

The members of Talent Project 2013 with Førdefestivalen organizers in front of Hotel Savoy Homann. Photo c/o Hilde Bjørkum.

The members of Talent Project 2013 with Førdefestivalen organizers in front of Hotel Savoy Homann. (Hilde Bjørkum)

 

The musicians first met in Førde, Norway back in July 2013 as part of Førdefestivalen’s collaborative project for Norway’s young, emerging talents. “The Talent Project” aims to encourage musical discourse between Norwegian musicians and their counterparts from other parts of the world as a way of fostering international camaraderie.

 

Part of the project’s activities is a return trip aimed to further expose the musicians to different cultures. For the members of Talent Project 2013, this meant reuniting in Indonesia for another engaging collaboration.

 

Steinar and Ole trying out the Indonesian suling with Reka. (Hilde)

Steinar and Ole trying out the Indonesian suling with Reka. (Hilde)

 

Sabrina performing the Filipino dance Igal to the music of the Indonesian gamelan. (Hilde)

Sabrina performing the Filipino dance Igal to the music of the Indonesian gamelan. (Hilde)

 

Sivert teaching a solo male dance to Indonesians

Sivert teaching a Norwegian male solo dance to Indonesians. (Hilde)

 

As one of those blessed with the opportunity to join the project, I realized after the return trip that the Talent Project has been more than just about experimenting with and making exotic music. It was about meeting people, learning their backgrounds and showing them who I am and where I come from in order to understand and bridge differences.

 

I consider myself and the 9 other participants a veteran in the music-making process: it is not easy to meld Norwegian, Indonesian and Philippine music together. Yet we made it possible in Førde and it was simply a matter of recreating them in Bandung.

 

There was one grand exemption to the return trip, however. The former 10-man concert has been tripled in number thanks to additional performers and dancers from Indonesia and Philippines. We were no longer being asked to simply create and perform collaborative pieces: we were expected to bring the house down with a 3-hour show!

 

By the leadership of multi-instrumentalist and composer Ismet Ruchimat of Indonesia and flutist, fiddler and composer Steinar Ofsdal of Norway, we set to recreate the music we made in Norway and to produce new pieces that fit with the concert’s theme: Music Beyond Borders. Creating the new musical piece took time and repetitive practice. But after two days we were ready for the concert at Indonesia’s premier school for traditional arts Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia (STSI) in Bandung.

 

Ismet and Steinar wearing Philippine tubaw before the group's last meal together. (Hilde)

Ismet and Steinar wearing Philippine tubaw before the group’s last meal together. (Hilde)

 

The delegates from Norway and the Philippines not only brought music to Indonesia. Hilde Bjørkum of Førdefestivalen, Anne Moberg of Concerts Norway, Steinar and Jaimar also led a lecture-demo on Norwegian and Philippine music tradition: a 2-hour program that showed Indonesian students the rudiments of the musical cultures of the two countries. There, the students of STSI were given an opportunity to ask questions about Norway and the Philippines and tackled a range of topics from religion to rock music.

 

The question-and-answer portion was symbolic of what the return trip of Talent Project 2013 was all about: the analyzing and sharing of knowledge from one person to another, from a renowned professor-artist of Oslo to a professional musician of Manila to a young Javanese student of Bandung. The knowledge crossed half the globe from teacher to student — that same knowledge could be passed from the student to his friends, colleagues and people who will cross his path in the future!

 

We were not simply there to entertain and have a good time. We were giving each other an opportunity to see and appreciate our music and culture. We were like ambassadors of our country, opening our hands to all who were interested in knowing more.

 

Indonesian kids, most of whom have never seen Caucasians before, strike a pose with the Norwegian delegates. (Sabrina)

Indonesian kids, most of whom have never seen a Caucasian before, strike a pose with the Norwegian delegates. (Sabrina Tan)

 

The theme of the return trip, Music Beyond Borders, was appropriate for Talent Project 2013. During our week’s stay in Bandung — which I was happy to see looked a bit like my own home city of Manila! — I got to experience the hospitality of Indonesians, taste delicious food, play the kendang and learn words like selamat pagi (good morning), siap (ready) and kenyang (stuffed). The week also reminded me that trolls lurked behind Norwegian songs and that I must try to avoid dancing with a Norwegian to the pols because I would end up dizzy and losing my lunch.

 

Our music brought us together from across borders; our music also led us to erase those borders. I am thankful to be part of Førdefestivalen and I would also like to thank Hilde and Anne who made it happen. I thank Steinar and Ismet not only for teaching Norwegian and Indonesian music but for showing that music can sustain and can still surprise me as the years go by. I thank Elisabeth, Sivert, Ole, Nendar, Reka and Yani for the crash course in popular culture. I also thank my fellow Filipino talents Jaimar, Shadin and Sabrina for exploring these foreign lands with me.

 

The author about to be hoisted 10 feet in the air for a lion dance. (Sabrina)

The author about to be hoisted 10 feet in the air for a lion dance. (Sabrina)

 

I will carry the experiences of Talent Project 2013 with me and keep Norway and Indonesia in my mind and heart.

 

Maraming salamat! Hatur nuhun! Tusen tusen takk!

 

*note: thanks to Yani Isdiani, Hilde Bjørkum and Sabrina Tan for the photos.

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