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  • Performing the Arts of Indonesia: Malay Identity and Politics in the Music, Dance, and Theatre of the Riau Islands ed. by Margaret Kartomi
  • Patricia Matusky (bio)
Performing the Arts of Indonesia: Malay Identity and Politics in the Music, Dance, and Theatre of the Riau Islands. Edited by Margaret Kartomi. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2019. NIAS Studies in Asian Topics, no. 68. 368 pp., color and black-and-white photos, illustrations, transcriptions, maps. ISBN: 978-87-7694-259-5 (hardcover), $90.00; ISBN: 978-87-7694-260-1 (paperback), $32.00.

Performing the Arts of Indonesia, Malay Identity and Politics in the Music, Dance and Theatre of the Riau Islands serves as a remarkable discourse on the performing arts of the peoples of Kepri (the province of the Riau Islands, Indonesia), in which a group of fifteen authors contribute their expertise and knowledge of the Riau Islanders' music, dance, theatre, poetry, and history. Place, space, people, and sound occupy the fourteen chapters arranged in four large parts: (1) The Riau Archipelago in the Southern Malay World, (2) The Two Western Riau Archipelagos, (3) The Northern and Northeastern Archipelagos, and finally (4) The Cities: Arts and Popular Culture.

Focusing initially on the Riau archipelago in the "Southern Malay World," chapters 1 and 2 (written by Margaret Kartomi and Leonard Andaya, respectively) introduce the Riau Islands and its geography, peoples and culture, history, identity politics, and performing arts. The first chapter is illustrated with a few maps of the Riau Islands Province and its five regencies (Karimun, Lingga, Bintan, Anambas, and Natuna). Photo illustrations abound in the book. In chapter 2, Andaya gives a historical view of the province, discussing the "northern Malays" in contrast to the "southern Malays" of which the Kepri islanders are a part. Continuing with the music of the Orang Suku Laut (Sea Peoples), anthropologist Cynthia Chou writes about the contemporary music of these people who are considered to be marginalized. Chou discusses lagu pop (popular music), noting especially "slow Malay rock," as preferred by the young people, and, in contrast, muzik gereja (church music), as preferred by older folks, who see Christian hymns as serving to educate and encourage a specific lifestyle.

Chapter 4, by Margaret Kartomi, focuses on the royal nobat ensemble seen as a symbol of the legitimacy of the sultan (ruler) first at the seventeenthcentury palace at Bintan, then at Daik-Lingga, and finally at Penyengat Palace in the late nineteenth century. With the demise of the Riau-Lingga sultanate in 1913, the old instruments were kept in storage, and the newer instruments were eventually sent by the deposed sultan to Terengganu in Malaysia. For the occasion of a Riau state festival in 2013, a new composition for nobat was composed by Raja Ahmad Helmy to produce a "colossal" nobat sound appropriate for the festival. The first major section of this book concludes with the notions of space, sound, and social relations as noted in literary texts of [End Page 161] the Riau-Lingga sultanate of the nineteenth century. Ethnomusicologist Jenny McCallum notes sounds described as azmat (awe-inspiring and loud) by nobat and European military brass band ensembles, ramai (for celebrations and festivities), and merdu (harmonious voices) emanating from religious vocalizations, narratives, romantic syair (poems), and other works.

Part 2 (chapters 6–9) focuses on the performing arts of the western archipelagos of Lingga and Penyengat. Ethnomusicologist Bronia Kornhauser writes about bangsawan theater in Lingga. This popular Malay musical theater emerged in Lingga in the 1880s. The theatrical style is discussed using recorded examples (also noted in the appendixes) of performances in 2013 and 2014. The description of these performances is illustrated with musical transcriptions and photos. In the next chapter the ethnomusicologists Brigitta Scarfe and Muhamad Hasbi present a clear statement on place, both urban and rural, in relation to two specific biola (violin) players in Kepri. Of the two players, Nasri is still living in his rural community on Lingga Island and maintaining a traditional biola playing style, while the other, Adi, moved to the capital city, Tanjungpinang, and engages in a very progressive and eclectic biola style, seen in the use of electronic technology in his composition "Progressive Mak Yong...


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