Rembang, The Master of Bungbang, UNESCO Acknowledges Him
Simple, friendly and not talk too much are the first impression of Mr. I Nyoman Rembang. He is the traditional musician’s maestro in Bali and is the maestro of Balinese gamelan (Bali’s traditional musicals) and the master of Javanese traditional musical instruments.
In his retirement at his home in Banjar Tengah, Sesetan Village, southern part of Denpasar, he enjoys his life happily with his family. “People never used to think in terms of age,” he always says to the young generations. Playing traditional Balinese instruments and often blowing his suling (bamboo flute), are the ways he loves to spend his time, beside receiving guests (his term to people who visit him to learn or discuss about Balinese arts). Sometimes, he writes books about traditional music, too.
Always supporting younger generations to learn and develop Balinese Instruments, he is busy giving advice or teaching Balinese traditional musical groups, not only in his Banjar but also around Denpasar and Bandung. It is this determination that keeps him busy. “Getting old is one thing, but doing nothing is another thing entirely”. Rembang was quoted by Bali Echo as saying. “I do not just play wherever I’m asked to. As an artist, we refuse to be considered cheap or easy. It’s part of our responsibility to educate people to have respect for artists everywhere, and to pay the accordingly.”
I Nyoman Rembang, The Maestro, never had a formal education, simply five years in primary school. But since his earliest memory he had a desire to learn to play the gamelan. For his first lesson, he joined the local Gambuh group in his village. At seven he was already playing gender (melancholy music to follow leather puppet show and tooth filing ceremony). At eight he began to learn to play the gamelan legong from many teachers around Badung.
In his teenage, Rembang was the most accomplished musician in Bali. It made the Bali Government offer him a job to teach the Balinese Gamelan at the Surakarta Conservatorium in Central Java. His talent and hearts desire made it easy to also master the Javanese gamelan under RM Yudoprawiro, a nobleman from Surakarta Palace.
In 1960, with the former Bali’s second governor, Ida Bagus Mantra, he pioneered the establishment of the Balinese Conservatorium. Because of his lack of formal education, he refused the position of Head Lecturer at the Conservatorium, and Mantra took the place for a year. In 1963, Rembang resigned from the Surakarta Conservatorium and concentrated in Bali.
After finishing as a teacher at Denpasar’s School of Arts, he created The Bungbang gamelan, a traditional instrument made from lengths of bamboo which can produce a certain tone based on it length. To play this gamelan at least 32 musicians are required and harmonises with suling (bambo’s flutes).
As Nyoman Rembang explains, “Bungbang can be interpreted as bungbung nembang (singing bungbung), but some friends interpret it as bungbungnya Rembang (Rembang’s bungbung).” Rembang explains the meaning of his creation.
“Nowdays, Bungbang is not only played locally, but some countries have already imported it. Recently, I sent one over to the States.” Rembang said proudly.
And with this instrument, Rembang has received national awards. Earlier this year he was awarded by UNESCO for his invention of the Bungbang, a kind of bamboo xylophone. And the Bungbang itself, has been played with other percussion instruments from around the world to commemorate the last New Year’s Eve in Samuan Tiga, Ubud.