By David Harnish


When the issue of music sustainability arises—a notion that has emerged from viewing music culture as an ecological system or ecosystem—the immediate concerns are that “traditional” musics in developing nations are endangered, that the processes of globalization have decreased local musical diversity, that local cultures are overwhelmed or enveloped by hegemonic forces, and that local musics then change or homogenize in the drive for modernity via education, the mediascape, and so forth. As an endeavor, music sustainability also raises questions about whether the initiative arises from local culture members or from external agents; the latter may suggest neocolonialism. Since the middle of the twentieth century, it has been a challenge for developing nations to maintain traditional arts as global capitalism, often parallel with political pressures, open new markets and as foreign goods and influences spread worldwide. Music hybridization—either globalizing the local or localizing the global—is a frequent result. Sometimes hybridity is forced upon cultures, whose music is then regulated by multinational corporations; other times hybridizing the local with the global is a strategy of resistance or a postmodern endeavor of personal aesthetics and worldview. Hybridization has helped preserve traditions throughout the world, though some “traditional” elements are necessarily discarded for new, “global” ones, and perhaps not all art forms meet the essential aesthetic criteria to survive or be modernized and sustained. This essay examines a range of issues and the agents (musicians, educators, government officials) in one location: Lombok, Indonesia.

Music Sustainability in Lombok

Music sustainability is a complicated initiative on the island of Lombok, which makes up part of the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB). Like many Indonesian islands, Lombok had a premodern, traditional society that underwent momentous shifts over centuries. Following Javanese hegemony off and on during the Middle Ages and incursions from Sulawesi, East Balinese royals and forces occupied and settled primarily western Lombok over hundreds of years. They were violently dethroned by the Dutch in 1894, who were in turn violently turned out in 1942 by the Japanese, who departed immediately following their defeat at the end of World War II.1 After 1945, the island began modernizing, even though it was still joined politically (and some would argue, culturally) with Bali. Following the national anti-leftist upheaval in 1965 and 1966 (in response to a purported attempted communist coup), the island—now divorced from Bali, conjoined with Sumbawa (the island immediately to the east of Lombok, in NTB), and in full process of being incorporated into the nation-state2—began to globalize and in the process underwent changes in political and religious ideation and behavior. In Lombok, as elsewhere in Indonesia and throughout much of the developing world, the “traditional” arts were often held to no longer fit with the increasingly urbanizing and cosmopolitan population.

Globalization and increasing religiosity are the immediate forces jeopardizing the musics of Lombok. Primarily inhabited by the “indigenous” Sasak,3 Lombok has often been overlooked in national government projects for cultural development,4 and local leaders were unprepared for the rate of sociopolitical and religious change that sprung forth following independence and again following the attempted coup. Further, arts education and funding in Lombok schools progressively decreased in the twenty-first century, and now educators and performers have a difficult time maintaining their arts and finding performance opportunities and students willing to learn. Many arts are associated with a pre-Islamic historic era and thus are disavowed by religious and political leaders, while some musical traditions are secularized and inspire erotic dance forms, which further problematize the positions of “traditional arts.” Consequently, many earlier arts have had a difficult time transitioning to the modern world and have been dubbed kampungan (backward, literally “village-esque”). Several music forms I witnessed in the 1980s, such as the once-thriving kamput ensemble (featuring double-reed, gongs, and drums), have disappeared.

Huib Schippers, developer and supervisor of the project Sustainable Futures for Music Cultures: Towards an Ecology of Musical Diversity,5 cites ailments that afflict local traditional musics as a result of processes of globalization.

  • Loss of prestige
  • Loss of instruments
  • Poor music education
  • Socioeconomic change
  • Infrastructure challenges

These ailments are all in effect on Lombok, where arts officials, educators, and artists are struggling to maintain the traditional arts. To Schippers’ list I would add “socioreligious change” and “government neglect” as other causes of music decline or change. “Government intervention or neglect of the arts” resonates throughout Indonesia, where over decades the government has sought to shape and unify the new country through the arts and particularly music, and a plethora of national arts policies was carried out at academies and at offices representing provincial and local levels (see Harnish 2007). Thus, the government had an unusually strong hand in developing, sustaining, or changing the arts. Some educators and musicians feel the hand has now largely turned against the arts. This has made the arts vulnerable not only to neglect but also to scrutiny from religious authorities.

I have been conducting research on Lombok for more than thirty-two years, and I have seen musics modify, disappear, suddenly flourish, and so forth. The twenty-first century presents the most serious challenges to local culture that I have seen. From my perspective, the entrapments of globalization (international integration and process of change), modernization (national and provincial responses to that change) and political and religious changes have directly impacted the current situation. Drawing on ethnographic research with local artists and educators and extant research, this paper explores the tensions surrounding music in Lombok, the efforts and agendas of the government and arts bodies, and the strategies of the players in the struggle for sustainable music futures and musicians’ livelihoods. The concern among many local educators is that, if only global and Islamic forms are available, the Sasak people will lose their cultural identity and values.

Issues of Loss and Sustainability

Though sustainability frequents public discourse in regard to economic development, the environment, or energy conservation, publications reporting on the challenges of sustaining traditions with the loss of music, instruments, and associated languages now abound in ethnomusicology as well, demonstrating that widespread changes in music cultures globally have long been underway. Interests in sustainability, generally falling within applied ethnomusicology, can be positioned “within the wider trope of intangible cultural heritage” (Grant 2013:32).6 Several authors, in particular Jeff Titon, who have developed an applied ethnomusicology approach toward music sustainability, consider music as a biocultural resource and/or theorize a music culture ecology (Titon 2009b). Alan Maret goes further and suggests that music “extinctions” threaten the planet (Maret 2010).7 Both Titon and Anthony Seeger create an analogy between the decreasing numbers of people who speak languages to the point of extinction and musical “language” disappearance (Titon 2009bSeeger 2014). Seeger explains how national governments “express concern about the rapid loss of local traditions” and address the problem with arts policies or legislation (Seeger 2014:vi). The same media that allow people throughout the world to access music as never before can also contribute to the marginalization and even termination of local arts. People can also hybridize and modernize those arts. Indonesian musicians have long been engaged in hybridization projects, from campur sari to dangdut to Sambasunda and Krakatau (see Harnish and Wallach 2013). Some have even reconfigured Quranic recitation within langgam Jawa (a Solonese form of kroncong folk music), demonstrating a localization of global religious expression.8 The roles of community scholars and practitioners are crucial to employing such strategies and retaining local characteristics within contemporary music. From the designation of “intangible cultural heritage” by external bodies to a national, regional, or local focus on sustainability, some musics and some languages thrive while others discontinue.

“Music sustainability” here refers not to my activities as a scholar but rather to efforts and programs put into motion by local artists, officials, and educators to sustain traditional forms and musician livelihoods. I have observed their actions to sustain a music culture that reflects a Sasak profile and connects contemporary citizens with their history. Many officials and intellectuals, however, question whether or not such a profile or unique Sasak character exists within the arts. One influential figure, Haji Saigun (husband of anthropologist Erni Budiwanti), outlined his ideas on regional musical identity in 2013. “When you hear music from Sunda (West Java), you know it’s from Sunda after the first note; with Javanese and Balinese music, the same. But you don’t know Sasak music. It doesn’t stand out.” (My translations from Indonesian.) I countered that I could play for him music that evidences distinctive Sasak music aesthetic and elements, and I cited styles. He responded, “Well, maybe.” Since those in power (all urbanites) have a hard time identifying what is Sasak music (mostly rural), they have little reason to devote resources to sustaining it. As former arts patrons (landed aristocracy) dwindled and villages became further impoverished, modernist Sasak have rarely encountered traditional forms.

To identify and measure music endangerment, Catherine Grant presents the Music Vitality and Endangerment Framework (MVEF), which consists of such factors as intergenerational transmission, changing numbers of proficient musicians, change in performance contexts and functions, infrastructure and resources, responses to media, governmental policies, community assessments, and the amount and quality of documentation, among others (Grant 2014). To these factors I would add “status of material culture,” meaning musical instruments, as a measurement of music “health.” Few instruments used in traditional ensembles in Lombok are being produced. Wide-ranging deforestation has resulted in less material for instruments,9 and extant instruments are rarely repaired or replaced. This attrition factor triggers decline, particularly within gamelan-type ensembles due to the complexity and expense of forging bronze keys and gongs. With diminishing traditions comes diminishing demand. Economic hardship has often compelled families or villages to sell their instruments or sets of wayang kulit (shadow puppets) to buy foodstuffs. While Grant proposes that language preservation leads to music sustainability (Grant 2014), in Lombok the Sasak language is not threatened but certain traditional musics are declining.10

Philip Yampolsky problematizes the notion of “traditional music” decline (and “traditional” music itself) in Indonesia (Yampolsky 2001a:176), particularly as his team from 1990 to 1999 managed to fill twenty compact discs, nearly four hundred hours, with traditional musics outside of Indonesia’s mainstream gamelan traditions. Though Yampolsky admits that younger generations are turning away from those musics, he exudes optimism for sustainability. Similarly, on Lombok one interlocutor disagreed that Sasak music is declining. Komang Kantun, a former provincial Culture Center technical (music) director and musician, declared that families holding weddings or circumcisions have more options for live music now than ever in Lombok’s history. Amaq Ramiun, head of a sanggar (small-scale arts education organization or troupe) and former educator in Mataram city schools, echoed this assertion and added that traditional music and dance forms are more generally known now than in the 1980s. When informed of these statements, another interlocutor, Mochammad Yamin, director of the Lembaga Pendidikan Seni Nusantara (LPSN, Institute for Arts Education of the Archipelago), responded that only those forms selected for preservation via arts policies are popular, that those arts are now disconnected from their roots, and that non-selected traditions have declined or disappeared. In a vein similar to Maret’s fear (Maret 2010), Pak Yamin believes that without a persistent sustainability initiative, the cultural heritage of the Sasak is at stake.

Yampolsky and other scholars hold that there are natural or organic reasons why some traditions fade and disappear and others do not.11 They assert changing musical landscapes are inevitable and buoying decaying traditions can be fruitless and unproductive. Titon and others counter that sustainability involves not only preserving music traditions but also maintaining the livelihoods of musicians (Titon 2009),12 and that all musics form a part of the fabric of a culture. The majority of educators and artists with whom I have interacted over the past decades are very concerned about the rate of change and how certain traditions, part of a rich cultural heritage, are neglected, underappreciated, and disappearing.

Sociocultural and Socioreligious Tensions

While the Sasak are the majority group, many minority groups are found in Lombok: Balinese (Bali is a neighbor island to the west), Javanese, Makassarese, Arabs, Chinese, and Sumbawanese (Sumbawa is a neighbor island to the east). Several of these minorities have had significant influence on the island’s music developments. Hindu Balinese, for example, colonized Lombok for two hundred years and introduced musical concepts and larger gamelan ensembles that were sometimes emulated by Sasak musicians. Other influences, often localized into new forms, originate from Java and the greater Islamic world. The majority of what is designated “traditional arts” was developed locally, though often it was originally stimulated by Balinese, Javanese, or pan-Islamic influences deriving from (largely coastal) Makassar, Sunda, and Malaysia and sometimes originating in India or the Arab world (particularly Yemen).

The origins of some Sasak music and dance forms have proven to be an impediment in securing support for sustainability. Some authorities, in fact, discriminate between arts with divergent sources. As one Sasak interlocutor told me years ago, “We need to rid the Balinese elements from Sasak arts. Balinese dances feature arm movements stretched over the head. Sasak dances don’t. These movements should be discouraged.” (My translation from Indonesian.) Not all local authorities and few musicians agree with this assessment, and most would prefer not to discourage any existing artistic activity among Sasak practitioners. The search for origins and cultural identity, however, has problematized sustainability. Specialists in arts offices have often sought to discover khas Sasak (original/authentic Sasak) in music. Progress in articulating a Sasak musical identity, particularly in gamelan-type traditions, has been problematic with the lack of codified music and dance theories like those found in Java and Bali.13 Further complicating the situation, many Sasak leaders, including the current governor, feel that Islamic values should supplant any and all Sasak cultural values, prioritizing the global over the local/regional. Some leaders have forbidden public performances of traditional music due to its earlier identifications in pre-Islamic ritual. Music educators have expressed a fear of an “Arabisasi” (Arabization) to me. Another problem is reaching youth who often feel that traditional music is kampungan and unsuitable for contemporary Lombok. Like youth in much of Indonesia, they prefer global pop, Indonesian pop, or globalized Islamic-styles. The officials, artists, and educators who value traditional arts constantly negotiate with forces in the communities and at the highest levels of government for assistance in strategizing to support and maintain the arts.

Khas Sasak and Arts Policies

Arts policies are intervention strategies intended to maintain, transmit, or innovate art forms. Indonesian governments following independence from the Dutch in 1949 were quick to develop policies and use the arts, via academies, as agents of nationalism and unity under the national policy of Pembinaan Kesenian (Nurturing of the Arts) (Harnish 2007:61). National cultural leaders sought to instrumentalize some performing arts to promote cultural preservation within the context of changing society. Simultaneously, they worked to innovate or adapt other performing arts in order to achieve a national quality of arts throughout provinces and to create new forms in line with a globalizing country. The Arts Section of the Department of Education and Culture within the provincial government, centered in the capital of Mataram, emerged in the late 1960s and initiated projects for music development and preservation from the 1970s to the 1990s. Dra Sri Yaningsih (Bu Sri), a Javanese woman and former singer who headed the Arts Section for more than fifteen years, spearheaded most of these programs, which were initiated and funded via national arts policies. Together they contextualized national policies for the province. After the onset of regional autonomy (otonomi daerah), initiated nationally in the late 1990s, the arts unit was downsized and moved into the Department of Culture and Tourism, and few projects have since developed.

I worked directly with the Arts Section for years and interviewed Bu Sri and staff multiple times over the decades. The office endeavored to find arts that “stuck out” and exuded “khas Sasak” (original/authentic Sasak). It tried to “cultivate” those arts, maintain/transmit them in villages, represent the island provincially and nationally, and place them on stage for state events and for tourism in the hopes that these arts would be self-sustaining and would continue to attract artists and audiences. Most of those arts originated within premodern Wetu Telu villages. Wetu Telu were Sasak communities of nominal Muslims who used performing arts for pre-orthodox rites and communal events, and many of their arts declined as modernization (nationalism, globalization, state education) and reformist Islam grew or were imposed. In line with creating an “aesthetic of respectability” (Yampolsky 1995:712), the process of “cultivation” entailed first secularizing and decontextualizing the selected music and dance forms and, second, aestheticizing—accelerating, adding dynamism, new costumes, new choreography, retuning instruments; in general, making spectacular—those arts via grants, consultations, and training (by office specialists) and then via public performances, festivals, and competitions.

Figure 1. Traditional form of gendang beleq, 1983, by sanggar Seni Budaya Sakti Rembitan, Central Lombok. Photo by David Harnish.

While three performing arts were particularly targeted for development (see Harnish 2007), the main form that exploded during Bu Sri’s directorship was gendang beleq(big drum). In the 1980s gendang beleq consisted of two drummers (who enacted slight, dramatic movements) and perhaps five other musicians on gongs, kettle-gongs, and cymbals (fig. 1), and the Arts Section knew of only twelve groups. Thirty years later the office counted around five thousand groups. With assistance from the Arts Section and other government offices, the standard ensemble grew from seven musicians to more than twenty. More and more cymbals players were added, along with an amplified flute (suling), up to four drummers, new costumes, and expansive choreography and dynamism (fig. 2 and video 1). Gendang beleq, with Wetu Telu roots and modernist aesthetic additions (including Balinese elements adapted from modern gamelan beleganjur), is now the iconic performing art of Lombok. Mochammad Yamin and other scholar-officials feel that the contemporary gendang beleq has lost khas Sasak elements. Gendang beleq reveals how this tradition was transformed into Lauren Meeker’s notion of “multiple modernities” in contemporizing and constructing local and national identities. Her idea of “amplification,” meaning not only sound reinforcement but also “the transmission of sound that enables [people] to hear themselves as participants in and representatives of a cultural form” (Meeker 2013:127), resonates within gendang beleq.

Video 1. A smaller gendang beleq group performs for an arts festival at Taman Budaya in Mataram, part of the welcome for the PASEA conference members, 2014. Recorded by David Harnish.

Gendang beleq performers outside, beating on huge, colorful drums.
Figure 2. Modern form of gendang beleq, 2014, Lingsar, West Lombok. Photo by David Harnish.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, provincial autonomy allowed governors and officials to make decisions on policies and budgeting. Districts within NTB were empowered to set priorities, but funding was insufficient, budgets had to be cut, and former interethnic relationships were renegotiated.14 Arts education budgets were soon slashed, and the new Arts Section could no longer fund projects. The support within other government offices, e.g., Culture Center and Tourism, similarly decreased. While some formerly supported arts began to decline, the elements of others, for instance, the folk ensemble cilokaq, were reconfigured at the grassroots level by young male and female artists into new forms featuring erotic female dancing (e.g., the form aleh aleh; see video 2). Some educators call this trend the “dangdutization” of Lombok’s arts as the staged package now fits new ideas of leisure, recreation, and sexualized women, parallel to (their perspectives on) the national popular music, dangdut (see Harnish 2007Weintraub 2010).

Video 2. A dancer and musicians perform aleh aleh at a wedding party in West Lombok, 2014. Though often criticized, the form retains the music elements (albeit amplified) of the disappearing cilokaq ensemble. Like many such social dances throughout Indonesia, she picks partners in turn. Recorded by David Harnish.

Globalization and Reformation

Consumptive/consumerist practices and industrialization deriving from globalization and unchecked tourism can result in a culture in chaos and an acceleration of poverty (see Mowforth and Munt 2009). Officials, such as Bu Sri, foresaw that without arts policies, the Sasak might lose their cultural identity via influences of tourism and globalization, which introduce new ideas of lifestyle, leisure, and recreation, and be subject to new inequalities and develop a Western orientation out of step with Indonesian society. Tourism in Lombok, developed by corporate and government interests, doubled every few years from the 1980s into the 1990s. (Tourism is currently again expanding rapidly.) New hotels and tourist destinations provide opportunities to perform revised, sanitized, ahistorical, and somewhat folkorized traditional arts. With gradual migration to cities, rural citizens urbanize and give up their local adat (customary socioreligious practices). Although they tend to remain impoverished, their relationship to the land (underpinning adat) changes forever, and they gradually become more orthodox and homogeneous in practice and more cosmopolitan in outlook. In the twenty-first century, religious affiliation is perhaps a more important identity marker than nationalism, and reformism compels a renegotiation of citizenship, belonging, and pluralism (see Hauser-Schäublin and Harnish 2014).

Though parallel to religious reform movements throughout Indonesia and the world, reformist Islam has deeper roots in Lombok and was initially stimulated during anti-Balinese movements in the late nineteenth century, when Islam became the rallying point to oppose Hindu Balinese occupation. Being ruled over by a non-Muslim people gave rise to Islam as a bulwark of Sasak pride, resistance, and identity. Also distinct from other islands, Muslim leaders in Lombok found success in local government since Indonesian independence following World War II. Over recent decades, Muslim clergy have won wide-ranging appointments in government offices. In many cases, Hajis (men completing the Hajj) and charismatic religious figures, Tuan Guru, are prioritized for posts. Expertise in religion is considered sufficient qualification for government positions. Today, the governor, Tuan Guru Haji Bajang, is a major religious leader and grandson of Tuan Guru Haji Zainuddin Abdul Majid, arguably the most influential Muslim authority in Lombok’s history. Based upon his ancestry of religious capital, Tuan Guru Bajang has tremendous political capital, and with this first-time explicit marrying of religious and political authority, he can enact nearly any desired policy.

A puppeteer selects a wayang puppet from row of puppets lined up against a wall.
Figure 3. Wayang Sasak presented mostly in Indonesian for the PASEA members and organized by Bu Endah and the Culture Center. Photo by David Harnish.

Religious leaders have curtailed public performances of many traditional arts, at least those arts deemed inappropriate for contemporary Sasak consumption.15This list of sometimes-banned arts includes those that were used to popularize Islam in the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, such as wayang Sasak (wayang kulit shadow-play) (fig. 3). The shared aesthetic histories with Java and especially Bali open Sasak arts up to potential scrutiny. Most Sasak leaders still hold animosity against the Balinese, and anything that appears Balinese is often prohibited within Sasak communities. The Hindu or animist symbolism within traditional arts—along with the meditative, narrative, and heroic imagery in wayang Sasak (and other forms), and the rituals required of performance—are all problematic in the desired reformist model of Islamic Lombok. Further, the presentation of images (including a shadow puppet of the Prophet), the mixing of sexes, the purported magical/medicinal qualities of puppets, masks, and gongs, and the consumption of alcohol at performances compounded these problems. Tuan Guru can ban performances in their areas of influence, issue a fatwa (Islamic ruling), and decree an entire art haram (forbidden by Allah). Unlike Bali, where culture and religion are united, in Lombok arts and religion are divided and necessarily so as orthodox Islam does not prescribe music.

The provincial and district governments changed from nationalist to Islamist in the twenty-first century, and traditional performing arts have been increasingly marginalized. Traditional arts have been precluded in every event under Tuan Guru Bajang’s governorship. The governor, whose grandfather established the Nahdhutul Watan reformist organization and numerous pesantren(Islamic schools), has reportedly stated that Islamic values trump local values, and he permits only global Islamic forms at state events, including zikr (“remembrance” chants), qasidah (metric poems), and sholowat praise songs. This dismays music educators who fear “Arabisasi” (Arabization).

Bu Sri and other intellectuals were aware of increasing religiosity. She referred to the late 1960s and 1970s as jaman gelap (dark time) in which arts and artists were stifled or silenced by religious authorities. Her efforts helped revive interest in wayang Sasak (and other forms, such as rudattheatre and gandrung music/dance), though interest has declined in the twenty-first century as government support has ended and authorities have sought to eliminate pre-Islamic reform arts. Charismatic or innovative agents, however, can sometimes revitalize a form. In the case of wayang Sasak, puppeteer Lalu Nasib created new puppets and added contemporized humor (and lewd jokes) while retaining texts. This helped prevent wayang falling into obscurity. In its new decontextualized and secularized form, gendang beleq is usually exempt from religious censure. In the drive to modernize the form, several Tuan Guru supported its secularization and its use to help inspire national and provincial identity in Sasak youth.

The Situation on the Ground

When I began research on music sustainability in 2009, I expected to find yayasan, social or community organizations dedicated to preserving culture or religion. Only one organization calls itself yayasan. A few are lembaga (institutions/foundations associated with social development or education), and many are sanggar (smaller-scale organizations, often single troupes). Little communication exists between these organizations, and few external funds are involved in their operations, although there are occasional collaborations with government offices if a group represents the province nationally. Troupes desiring to perform abroad must request funds from the Indonesian diplomatic corp at embassies and consulates abroad, because they generally receive neither national nor provincial support for such projects.

Arts Institutions

Before provincial autonomy, public school programs included music and arts components. This funding was cut after 2000. Some politicians, including two successive mayors of Mataram, stepped up to support the arts. These mayors paid for gendang beleq ensembles and for specialists to teach them at schools. After those mayors stepped down, however, the support stopped. The ensembles are today sometimes maintained as extracurricular activities.

Endo Suanda, a well-known Indonesian dancer and ethnomusicologist in West Java, established LPSN (Lembaga Pendidikan Seni Nusantara; Institute for Arts Education of the Indonesian Archipelago) in 2002 to maintain the arts in public schools. Mochammad Yamin, a local teacher and arts advocate, worked with Suanda to open a branch in Lombok in 2005. The national organization was awarded a Ford Foundation grant, and the office in Lombok received assistance from 2005 to 2007. The institute in Lombok invited more than a hundred teachers in Lombok to come to Mataram, the capital, and train in the arts and learn how to produce such artifacts as topeng (masks), gambus (lutes), and even small gongs. The teachers were given materials (booklets and video-compact disks) for presenting both local and national arts in their classrooms and in extracurricular programs, and the participants were awarded certificates upon completion of the training. Since 2007 (when the grant expired), this training, which has reached more than two hundred teachers, has not been free, but it has been provided for a nominal cost. Though participation has greatly declined, programs are continuing. Sometimes Pak Yamin goes out to villages to observe school programs; sometimes he funds the programs himself.

In the early twenty-first century, the head of the Arts Office in the Department of Culture and Tourism was Endah Setyorini, who had served under Bu Sri. She managed to train and take performing troupes to Jakarta and internationally for performances, and this galvanized some aspiring musicians, dancers, composers, and choreographers to produce performing arts. Even so, she did not receive support from the governor’s office, could not independently develop projects, and had to collaborate with other offices to launch even small-scale programs. She currently serves as head of Taman Budaya (Arts Center). The center’s mission was reduced since autonomy, and it now only supports events that are initiated elsewhere (for example, in the downsized Arts Office) and provides technical assistance. Music and dance leaders in the center sometimes teach or coach groups. Some are Balinese, whose ancestry goes back many generations in Lombok and who endure scrutiny for new arts representing Lombok. They now often credit Sasak students for their work to avoid it being denounced as “Balinese.” Bu Endah sought resources to produce a major event of new and traditional arts in 2014. She knew that members from the PASEA (Performing Arts of Southeast Asia study group within the International Council for Traditional Music) conference in Bali would visit Lombok for a few days and used that as leverage to produce the largest government-supported arts event in many years. It included gendang beleq, other ensembles, wayang Sasak, and two strikingly avant-garde performances,16 the first of that type I have ever seen in Lombok.

Troupes and Arts Advocates

Relatively few sanggar are in Lombok, particularly when compared to Bali, and they are scattered. While Mochammad Yamin might be the greatest fighter for sustaining performing arts in Lombok today, many others have made contributions. Some educational institutions have resisted outside scrutiny while struggling to transition to twenty-first-century Indonesian/Lombok realities. Over the years, I have met many arts advocates and troupe leaders, and I feel responsible to tell their stories.

The Sanggar Seni Kayangan Sasak, located in Lenek, East Lombok, was a thriving arts institution for decades and performed nationally and internationally. Amaq Rahil, its founding father, is the only person I’ve ever met with the courage to proclaim himself publicly a Wetu Telu nominal Muslim. Self-sufficient, the sanggar featured many performing arts, extensively taught Sasak arts, served as a school and an orphanage, and was built on an ashram model. East Lombok was markedly more orthodox than the North (with its larger numbers of Wetu Telu) and the West (with its greater pluralism with Balinese), and yet Amaq Rahil managed to sustain a world of traditional culture and arts. After he died in 1990, the sanggar crumbled and sold its instruments, gamelans, and wayang puppets for financial reasons. When I visited Lenek and family members of Amaq Rahil in 2009, there had been no performances of wayang Sasak or other forms for many years. I was informed in 2014 that the family members are trying to revive the sanggar.

With help from a Dutch citizen, the Sanggar Teater Lombok was established in West Lombok around 2000 to take care of abandoned children and keep them in school. Crushing poverty exists in much of Lombok, and according to local sources, the rate of abandoned children is at an all-time high.17The sanggar affirms that the performing arts are a vehicle for discipline, aesthetic education, and cooperation. Amaq Senen, the main music teacher who is well known in West Lombok, arranges occasional performance opportunities at hotels and for local officials. The money earned goes to schooling. While Amaq Senen and others have done a superior job with the children, they lack funds for dance costumes and instruments. He is hopeful that the graduates will remain artists and will become performers in their own villages. The program is somewhat crippled, however, by lack of funds.

Sanggar Wayang Wong in the remote hill village of Batu Pandang retains several traditional arts; the most unique one is a form of wayang wong (human shadow dance). Other villages formerly performed wayang wong. The Menak stories concerning Amir Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet, are known in a few areas of Java, but in the Sasak medium it now exists only in this village. The village suffered a loss with the death of its most senior dancer early this century. Compounding the problem, many men have left to find jobs in Malaysia. (This situation is symptomatic of the national economic crisis.) The sanggar has not performed wayang wong or many of its other arts for years. Leader Amaq Sukiman relented that, though the knowledge still exists in the minds of the artists, their arts are endangered.

Bayan is the last village stronghold of Wetu Telu culture. Its sanggar to train youth disbanded years ago. Nevertheless, village leaders and the community’s ritual needs sustain traditional arts and artists, and the Masjid Bayan Beleq (the central, traditional, “big” mosque) helps train youth in ritual arts. Religious reformists have targeted the village for conversion to orthodox Islam. The loss of Bayan’s musics and dances would mean the end of much of Lombok’s older, sustained performing arts. A reformist Tuan Guru established a mosque right next to the traditionalist Bayan mosque; the main mission, funded through revenues at his pesantren and mosques,18 is to convert locals to reformist Islam. When they convert, they leave traditional culture and music behind. Two village leaders, Raden Gedarib and Amaq Jamili, believe a new sanggar could lead efforts to sustain culture and arts as they increasingly confront challenges from the larger outside world.


Black and white photo of an elderly man playing preret.
Figure 4. Amaq Sari performs preret during construction of the main offerings at the Lingsar festival, 1987. Photo by David Harnish.

The factors for music sustainability proposed by Schippers and Grant are relevant, though Lombok has additional challenges in sustaining traditional arts and artists. I have seen many arts recede during my thirty-two years of visiting Lombok. My research at the Lingsar festival (see especially Harnish 2006) has demonstrated how some forms disappear due to external pressures. Perhaps because they no longer relate to contemporary life, advocates are uninterested in sustaining them. According to festival musicians, performance of preret double-reed to accompany the main festival offerings was considered a sacred rite required for hundreds of years (fig. 4). The tradition was an ear-splitting index of Wetu Telu, and it thus became problematic in the decades following independence. It was gone by 1993. As Sasak move from nominal to orthodox Muslim, earlier musics are discarded, sometimes forcibly so by religious authorities.

Although it is now hard to determine a music ecology for Lombok, at one time webs of beliefs to ancestors, landscape, and between communities generated and sustained ritual arts. The disassociation with the land in the process of urbanization dissolves the web that connects individuals with communities and histories, which also undermines traditional arts and disrupts ecology. The adat that held villages together came under fire decades ago as agama (world religion, in this case Islam) became primary, and adat receded to lesser importance or irrelevancy. While local officials recognize religion as a major force curtailing traditional music, they also acknowledge modernization, Indonesianization, and globalization as factors. I have sensed a frustration directed at political leaders due to their deliberate neglect of traditional arts (outside of gendang beleq), their banning of public performances, and their refusal to restore arts education in schools. One critic, former official Achmad Majeluk, calls the actions of current officials “religion covering over culture” and “empty and without substance.” I also was told over and over: If there is no grant, no work commences; if the grant runs out, the project is over.

Beyond Bu Sri, Pak Kantun, Pak Yamin, Bu Endah, and other individuals, most government personnel will only act when the government acts. This suggests that without government intervention, traditional art forms cannot compete with the tuan guru-promoted Arabic forms and will diminish and disappear. Quoting the optimistic Pak Kantun, however, “whenever something disappears, it tends to later reappear in some other form.” (My translation from the Indonesian.) The formation of aleh aleh from earlier ensembles cilokaq and kecimol demonstrates a reappearance from the grassroots level. In my experience, it is the older generations of artists and intellectuals that denigrate such developments, preferring the earlier arts with their literary, performative, and historical appeal.

Although my experiences and the perspectives of advocates like Pak Yamin all indicate a steady disappearance of traditional arts in Lombok, the critics have some good points. Gendang beleq and other styles are better known and more advanced than ever. A few forms (gandrung and perhaps wayang Sasak) can sustain themselves (except in areas under direct tuan guru control), and numerous troupes are available to hire for family events.19 Lombok has been changing and continues to change; perhaps music should change as well. The concern stated repeatedly, however, is that if only global, eroticized, and Arabic Islamic forms are available, the Sasak people will lose their identity and cultural values. In this scenario, citizens would then either Westernize or become reformist Muslim in religion and culture.20 To local educators, what was particular to Lombok (khas Lombok) and to the Sasak (khas Sasak) would then vanish.