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Hasnizam Abdul Wahid1, Sinin Hamdan1, and Iran A. Musoddiq2

Institute of Creative Arts & Technology1, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.


Earlier research and report by Jani (2006) and Jalal (2008), have acknowledge the existence of ‘Gamelan
Sarawak’. It is unique in such a way that they have been known to exist as early as in the 1920s (Jalal, 2008).
Known as the most active performing gamelan group in Sarawak particularly in Kuching-Serian area, recent
research has shown the ensemble have gone through significant changes ranging from their repertoire as well as
their musical instruments. This paper discussed their evolution, some of the changes and challenges in sustaining the


Gamelan Sarawak is one of the forms of offerings that are also used initially for da'wah purposes
to the local community. This approach is the same approach used by early Javanese preachers.
This approach is a special way of preaching to the people who used to enjoy entertainment
during the old days. This approach is an approach used by preachers in the Java archipelago by
Wali Songo, particularly Sunan Bonang. Sunan Bonang is the name given to Raden Makdum
Ibrahim, one of Songo's Wali who is interested in art and uses bonang musical instrument as a
medium for da'wah.
Gamelan instruments of Kampung Jawa, Sarawak would probably something not
publicly known to most of the community elsewhere Kuching. Jani (2006), gives a brief
introduction on what can be regarded as the most unfamiliar performing arts in Sarawak. Jalal
(2008), gives a brief introduction to Gamelan in Sarawak in his book entitle Joget Pahang -
Gamelan Melayu, The Classical Ensemble of the Pahang Royal Court. He described the
ensemble as “less conventional” and sound “more contemporary” (Jalal,2008). The ‘Gamelan
Sarawak’ according to Jani (2006) and Jalal (2008) was established by Wak Dirim Amat who
inherited the skills and knowledge from his father, Amat Noh, who himself an active performer
and practitioner as explained by Jani (2006) cited from Mardzuki and Rambli (2003).
However, according to Jani (2006), it was in the early 90s where the group known as
Gamelan Gemar Bakti gained its popularity in Sarawak particularly in Kuching and Serian area.
According to Jani (2006), before the Gamelan Gemar Bakti was established, there are several
other group established earlier, among those groups are the Orkes Kesenian Jawa Asli,
established in 1953 by Dolah Wongsu with mainly performing the Gamelan music, Orkes
Keroncong Irama Gambang, led by Abdul Rahman Ojer, and Orkes Melayu Mekar Dahlia,
based at Kampung Jawa Batu 12, led by Osman Bitul (Jani, 2006). Table 1, illustrate timeline
of the Gamelan groups in Sarawak as outlined by Jani (2006).
The Gamelan Gemar Bakti, mentioned by Wak Dirim, according to Jani (2006), was
established in 1990. During its early establishment, the group repertoire was mainly on
keroncong and malay traditional music but later includes popular music. The group gained its
popularity in Kuching-Serian area, and among the factor that make it popular is due to its

repertoire which include current musical genre, as well as traditional javenese, keroncong and
even malay traditional music. The group also formed a fusion between traditional and modern
electronic instruments.
After joining Orkes Kesenian Jawa Asli, pioneered by Dollah Wongsu, Wak Dirim is
said to have set up an ensemble playing the keroncong music called Keroncong Orchestra Irama
Gambang based in kampung Tanah Putih, (Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism Malaysia,
2002), followed by the setting up of the Orkes Melayu Mekar Dahlia based in Kampung Jawa
Batu 12. Unlike the Keroncong Orchestra Irama Gambang, this group plays a more vibrant music
such as dangdut.
Gemar Bakti Group, is also one of the groups that was founded by Wak Dirim. The
group that was founded in the 90s often received invitations to perform in the vicinity of
Kuching-Serian area. In line with the current scenario of music at that time, this group is often
said to be playing current popular music. This in turn leads to the use of bonang with 32 blades
tuned in diatonic as can be seen in Plate.5, created specifically for performing popular music.
The use of 32 blades bonang is one of the significant innovations that Wak Dirim has made
through this group which also distinguishes them from gamelan groups found in peninsular
Malaysia or in Indonesia.

Timeline Events

1953 Orkes Kesenian Jawa Asli was established by Dolah Wongsu

Orkes Keroncong Irama Gambang. The group was established and
1962 led earlier by Wak Dirim before it was pass through to Abdul
Rahman Ojer as the leader
Orkes Melayu Mekar Dahlia, where Wak Dirim was regarded
1962 as founder and member of the group and led by Osman Bitul.

Table 1: Timeline of the Gamelan groups in Sarawak as outlined by Jani (2006)

Jalal (2008), gives a brief introduction on the existence of Gemar Bakti Gamelan troupe in
Sarawak as well as another group known as Wak Sudarjo Gamelan Ensemble, which according
to Jalal (2008), established in Kampung Sungai Kolong 2, Kuching. The group as described by
Jalal (2008) are known to perform the Gamelan, retaining and maintained the original form of
the Javanese Gamelan scale, the Pelog.


Earlier research by Jani (2006) on what she interpreted as ‘Gamelan Sarawak’ outlined
several instruments which include Bonang, Saron, Gambang, Demung, Cempong Kayu,
Gendang Jawa Asli and Gong Lungguh. However, as a comparison to the Malay Gamelan as
outlined by Jalal (2008), the names of the instruments do have some similarities. According to
Jalal (2008), a typical Malay Gamelan ensemble would include Bonang, Gendang, Gong,
Kenong, Saron and Gambang. There are also some additional to the Malay ensemble such as
Slentem, as well as Kesi. The differences between these two Gamelan instruments can be seen
clearly on its physical appearances. It was noted by Jani (2006), and several visit conducted by

the researcher, the Bonang physical appearance of the Gamelan Sarawak, are completely
different from a typical or common Malay Gamelan, in fact it is also different from the standard
Javanese Gamelan physical appearances. The Gamelan Sarawak’s Bonang consists of
rectangular shaped whilst a typical Bonang as what we are usually familiar with are spherical in

Plate 1. A typical Bonang from the Malay Gamelan ensemble,

Plate 2. A Bonang of Gamelan Sarawak collected during a fieldtrip at Kampung Sri Arjuna.

Initially the rectangular Bonang shaped, was used by the Gamelan Sarawak group or
popularly known as Gamelan Jawa Batu 12, currently led by Arisman Parman. However, further
investigation during the research, it was found that, not far from the existing group, there is
another gamelan group reside at Kampung Sri Arjuna. Unfortunately, the group are no longer
active however they still retain some of their instruments in its original condition as claimed by
the caretaker. The gamelan sets from the Kampung Sri Arjuna, are in pelog scale, with
modification on its physical appearance. It is not known if the idea of having a Bonang designed
in a rectangular shape derived or inspired from any Gamelan makers in Indonesian region. Most
of the informant interviewed concerning the rectangular physical design, assumed perhaps it is
the creative ideas of its pioneers who came with the idea of customization in its rectangular
design. Another interesting feature of the gamelan sets found in Kampung Sri Arjuna was, the
tiny dome on top of the rectangular shape of the Bonang and Saron as can be seen in Plate 2,
Plate 3 and Plate 4.

Plate 3. A Saron collected during a fieldtrip at Kampung Sri Arjuna

Plate 4. A slight dome can be observed from the Saron

The Gemar Bakti group, or the Gamelan Batu 12, is the most known active Gamelan group
in Kuching area. Their repertoire ranges from popular Malaysian music to Indonesian genre such
as dangdut, keroncong as well as traditional. During its early years of public performances, the
group maintains their instruments as well as their repertoire as what they have subscribed from
their predecessors, with mostly in pelog. However as there is the need to entertain wider
audience, the group introduced more standard approach such as the use of diatonic tuning on
most of their instruments.
Recent visit has shown that there has been a significant change in term of instruments use
for their performance. The Gamelan Gemar Bakti, have significantly modified and change their
tuning and scaling system into diatonic instead of pelog as what they are used to before. Most of
the instrument are custom made instruments, however they still retain the physical appearance of
the instruments, such as the use of resonators as well as the rectangular slab type design, with
some of them are in octave a part. This can be seen in Plate 5, where the Bonang are in diatonic
with two octaves in standard tuning, as well as the use of electric bass guitar. According to the
leader, these significant modifications are necessary in widening their repertoire of pieces, and to
add more varieties to the range of the scales.

Plate 5. The Diatonic Bonang (with sharp and flat keys).

Plate 6. The Diatonic Gambang also known as Demung Kayu made of wood.
(without sharp and flat keys).

The Gambang or Demung Kayu as can be seen in Plate 6, according to Jani (2006), consist
of eight pieces of wood, known as Plaie wood. The design is similar as what was presented
earlier by Jani (2006) in her research. Another Gambang, also known as Demung as in Plate 7
with twelve pieces of steel plates, and Demung with eight metal plates as in Plate 8 are usually
paired together in a performance.

Plate 7. The Diatonic Gambang (without sharp and flat keys), also known as Demung made from
steel plates.

Plate 8. The Diatonic Gambang (without sharp and flat keys) also known as Demung made of
steel with slight dome on the middle of the steel plates.

Recent update as mentioned earlier includes the four strings electric bass guitar as in Plate
9, as to support the bass-line during a performance. The group has recently included the electric
bass guitar to supplement the bass sound during their performance. Another important instrument
described briefly by Jani (2006) was the Gong Lungguh or Gong Duduk as in Plate 10. A gong
was suspended on a wooden frame, the uniqueness of the instrument is the use of the crock
placed inside the black box, and a steel slab hanging on top of the resonator.

Plate 9. Electric bass guitar the latest edition in the instrumentation.

Plate 10. Gong Lungguh or Gong Duduk to replace the gong sound during their performances.

The Gong Lungguh or Gong Duduk, function as a colotomic instruments that marked either
the end of a piece of music or the end of a phrase. The used of a large size crock made of clay,
filled with water where the pitch changes as the volume or level of the water inside the crock are
The Malay Gamelan are physically in circular shape while the Gamelan Sarawak are
rectangular. Both instruments are also different in their material composition. The Malay
Gamelan are predominantly made of perunggu with Copper (Cu) and Strontium (Sn) as their
main materials while the Gamelan Sarawak, assume as kuningan with Copper (Cu) and Zinc


The data collected in this paper have shown significant changes in term of the
instrumentation as well as the modification of the Sarawak Gamelan, in particular reference to a
group known as Gamelan Gemar Bakti, an active gamelan group in Kuching-Serian area. Earlier
literature suggested that the Sarawak Gamelan have established as early as in 1920s as
mentioned by Jalal (2008). Recent research has shown that the group is active with some
modification on their original traditional musical instruments to suits its current need.


Ahmad Farid Abd Jalal (2008), Joget Pahang ~ Gamelan Melayu, The Classical Ensemble of the
Pahang Royal Court, RP Printers.

R A Khalik (Ed.) (2002), Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Pelancongan Malaysia

(2002), , Siri Tokoh Budaya – Wak Dirim, Pelopor Gamelan Sarawak, Pejabat
Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Sarawak, Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Pelancongan
Malaysia, Kuching, Sarawak, Massa Kasturi Management.

Jani, E. (2006), Gamelan: Satu Kajian Perbandingan Antara Gamelan Sarawak Dengan Gamelan
Jawa, Thesis Submitted to Fakulti Bahasa, Jabatan Kesusasteraan Melayu, Universiti
Pendidikan Sultan Idris.

MB. Rahimsyah AR (ed). (2000), Perjuangan Wali Songo dalam Dakwah Islam, Penerbit Indah,
Surabaya, Indonesia


This research is funded under Fundamental Research Grant (FRGS), with reference no.
(FRGS/1/2013/SG02/UNIMAS/02/1) Investigating the Vibration of Damped and Free Vibrating
Plates Material of Gamelan Instruments, awarded by the Ministry of Education.