Kecak

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Kecak (pronounced [ˈketʃaʔ], alternate spellings: Ketjak and Ketjack) is a form of Balinese dance and music drama that developed in the 1930s in Bali. It is performed primarily by men, although as of 2006, a few women's kecak groups exist.[1]

Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece, performed by a circle of 150 or more performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak" and throwing up their arms, depicts a battle from the Ramayana. The monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Kecak has roots in sanghyang, a trance-inducing exorcism dance.[2]

History[edit]

Kecak was originally a trance ritual accompanied by male chorus. In the 1930s, Walter Spies, a German painter and musician, became deeply interested in the ritual while living in Bali. He adapted it as a drama, based on the Hindu Ramayana and including dance, intended for performance before Western tourist audiences.

This is an example of what James Clifford describes as part of the "modern art-culture system"[3] in which, "the West or the central power adopts, transforms, and consumes non-Western or peripheral cultural elements, while making 'art,' which was once embedded in the culture as a whole, into a separate entity."[4] Spies worked with Wayan Limbak, who popularized the dance by arranging for performances by Balinese groups touring internationally. These tours have helped make the Kecak internationally known.

A Kecak dance being performed at Uluwatu, in Bali
Music of Indonesia
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Kempul gongs from Java
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Specific forms
Regional music
A Kecak dance being performed at Kolese Kanisius, Jakarta

I Wayan Dibia, a performer, choreographer, and scholar, suggests, by contrast, that the Balinese were already developing this form when Spies arrived on the island.[5] For example, during the 1920s, the well-known dancer I Limbak had incorporated Baris movements into the cak leader role. "Spies liked this innovation," and he suggested that Limbak "devise a spectacle based on the Ramayana," accompanied by cak chorus rather than gamelan, as would have been usual.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • A kecak chant can be heard in Federico Fellini's film Satyricon (1969).
  • The 1971 version of Kenneth Anger's Rabbit's Moon incorporates Kecak into the soundtrack.
  • The soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' 1984 debut film Blood Simple includes a track entitled "Monkey Chant" which is based on kecak.
  • Dagger of Kamui (Kamui no Ken) (1985), an anime film, incorporates kecak in its score, often in action scenes involving shinobi.
  • Kecak chanting is incorporated into the soundtrack for the Japanese animated film Akira (1988), which also features the Indonesian gamelan.
  • Kecak is heard in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, during fantasy sequences taking place in the heroine's paracosm.
  • Footage of a kecak performance is featured in Ron Fricke's film Baraka (1992).
  • A Kecak-style dance and chant can be seen in the fantasy portion of Tarsem Singh's film The Fall (2006).
  • John Adams' opera, A Flowering Tree (2006), features Kumudha and the beggar minstrels in Act II, which are based on the Kecak. (per Cincinnati Opera pre-performance interview with the composer, 30 June 2011.)
  • A sample of Kecak chanting is in "The Wind Chimes," from Mike Oldfield's 1987 album Islands.
  • The San Francisco art rock band Oxbow's songs "Daughter" and "Daughter Bent & Floating" from their 1991 album King of the Jews, incorporates Kecak-inspired polyrhythmic chanting and clapping.
  • Mike Patton performs a Kecak-like chant in the song "Goodbye Sober Day" on the 1999 Mr. Bungle album California.
  • A sample of Kecak chanting can be heard in the song "Soldier of Fortune" from Manhattan Transfer's album Bodies and Souls.
  • A sample of Kecak chanting can be heard in the Devo song "Jocko Homo".
  • A sample of Kecak chanting can be heard in the Nurse With Wound track "I Am Blind" from the album Homotopy to Marie.
  • David Attenborough's 1969 BBC documentary, The Miracle of Bali, on the arts in Bali, featured the kecak in the 1st and 3rd episodes.
  • Ketjak is a book-length poem by Ron Silliman published in 1978 and reprinted in The Age of Huts (2007), in which the author gives the title "Ketjak" to a vast ongoing cycle of works which includes Tjanting (1980) and The Alphabet (2008).

Bibliography[edit]

  • Kecak from Bali. Produced by David Lewiston, 1990. One compact disc (duration 44:53) with notes and libretto by Fred B. Eiseman and David Lewiston.[6]
  • I Wayan Dibia, Kecak: the vocal chant of Bali. Denpasar: Hartanto Art Books, 1996. vi + 83pp. ISBN 979-95045-4-6.

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ "Cultural Liberty Under Spotlight at Women Playwrights", Jakarta Post, 3 December 2006, accessed 13 August 2010
  2. ^ a b Michel Picard. "'Cultural Tourism' in Bali: Cultural Performances as Tourist Attraction", Indonesia, Vol. 49, (Apr., 1990), pp. 37–74. Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University
  3. ^ James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 223. Cited in Yamashita (1999), p.178.
  4. ^ Shinji Yamashita. "Review: Michel Picard, Bali: Cultural Tourism and Touristic Culture", Indonesia, Vol. 67, (Apr., 1999), pp. 177–182. Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University.
  5. ^ David W. Hughes, "Review: Kecak: The Vocal Chant of Bali, by I Wayan Dibia", British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 6, (1997), pp. 195–195. British Forum for Ethnomusicology.
  6. ^ Review: [untitled]. Author(s): David Harnish. Reviewed work(s): Kecak from Bali by David Lewiston.Ethnomusicology, Vol. 35, No. 2, (Spring – Summer, 1991), pp. 302–304. Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology

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