The second time I met with Teguh was in September 2020. We met in Rancakalong, a village scattered across the hills in the western Java (Sunda region) that is famous for the perseverance and practice of Tarawangsa ceremony. It is hard to exactly determine when the tradition came about from the northern parts of the island, but some senior masters say it can be traced back to as early as the 7th century.
The ritual is organized around cosmic and natural cycles (the birth, harvest, change of season), and it’s dedicated to the ancestors, and Dewi Sri, a Goddess of Rice and fertility. It’s always performed indoors, in the dense smoke of kemenyan stones – the balsamic resin, that is burned throughout the ritual.
The shaman (saehu) and his female counterpart (istri saehu) overlook the interactions that are happening between those who partake in the dance, the musicians, guests, and the etheric worlds. This ritual brought about the inspiration and focus to the band Tarawangsawelas who are expanding its sonority through esoteric reverbs and delays in their live performances.
Vanja : How long does ‘Tarawangsawelas’ exist?
Teguh: We started Tarawangsawelas in 2011, when I first found the bow instrument (tarawangsa) on the campus, neglected. So, 10 years… wow..I can believe it I still do this thing haha.
The name comes from a long-standing art form that has spiritual and cultural value for the people in west Java. What brought you to this community in the first place?
Tarawangsa has a lot of really interesting elements. especially the ceremony that made me more interested in it. We chose the name from Tarawangsa itself, to respect the tradition, and we added ‘(sa)welas’ which in Sundanese means eleven, a number that looks like 2 people standing side-by-side, equal. Also it’s the two last numbers of the year when Tarawangsawelas started.
Do you burn the kemenyan stones when you perform live?
I respect that but we don’t do it because this music project is quite different from the traditional Tarawangsa ceremony. Even in Indonesia, there are some audiences who still find it taboo to smell it. We have to respect them as a part of the performance.
How much of your songs are based on the original Tarawangsa songs?
Two songs on the Wanci album. Kecemasan and Selalu.
What are the reactions to Tarawangsawelas music from the Tarawangsa community?
In general they listen attentively to the music, and they are often surprised how this sacred music can be developed into an alternative like we did.
What are your plans for this year?
Making a 2nd album, which is delaying for 2 years now. Since Wisnu left the band, me and the new member had to adapt to each other first.
V: That delay must sound amazing by now! 🙂
What direction are you exploring with the new album?
Hamzah and I have the same interest in pseudo-science which can be mixed with local cultural value. Both concepts have some similarity. For example a myth of Batarakala as a representative of how the ‘time’ can have a meaning of something terrible somehow. Eating everything in this world.
What are the biggest challenges that you face these days?
Surviving as a musician during this pandemic is quite hard of course. So, arranging a schedule between earning money not as a musician takes a lot of time, but we try to stay focused on producing the new ideas from the album and just staying in the creative element.
Where would you like to tour next?
Still around Europe, but I’d love to visit other continents as well. We’d love to play at the Nyege-Nyege festival in Uganda, and there’s a chance we will play in Russia. But it’s all still hard to arrange. We’ll see.
Are there any other artists in West Java who use the tarawangsa instruments in a non-traditional way?
If we talk about an album in which all the tracks developed from Tarawangsa, there are 2 albums, but both are a collaborative project with me (not fair right haha).
But there are some tracks that have Tarawangsa on it.
Here’s the list:
Forgotten – Laras Perlaya Genre : Death Metal
Dewa Budjana – Kalingga Genre : Jazz
Sambasunda & Chung Yufeng Genre : Sundanese Fusion
Bangun & Bunga – Swastria Genre : New Sundanese
Who are your favorite avant-garde composers from Indonesia?
Slamet Abdul Sjukur, Dody Satya Eka, Iwan Gunawan, Dewa Alit, Ismet Ruchimat.