To develop typically modern Papuan music, a musician should make some selection and modification. Not all characteristics of traditional Papuan music are suitable for the 21st century.
Reasons for Selection and Modification
Short and simple melodies with monotonous motion – such as those beginning with the highest and ending with the lowest tones – quickly bore listeners. Composers of modern popular music having strong rhythms – such as reggae, disco, rock ‘n roll, samba, salsa, and chachacha – might find it impossible to develop rhythm if the time signatures of their idioms keep changing in their songs, such as from 2/4 to 4/4 to 3/4 and then to 4/4. Moreover, each idiom has its own dance version developed on the basis of only one time signature. The regular steps of dancers will therefore be interrupted if the song to which they are dancing changes its rhythm to fit its changing time signatures, including rare ones such as 9/4 and 4/8. Therefore, the tendency of traditional Papuan music to change its time signatures frequently, including rare measures, is impractical for the creation of popular musical idioms. Even modern church songs rarely make use of time-signature changes. If the traditional Papuan songs that use more than one time signatures should be modernized, musicians should make selection of which songs they can modernize and modification by using only one time signature. In short, the selection and modification of Papuan traditional music is indeed necessary for enabling it to be a part of the 21st-century music, nationally and internationally.
Selection and Modification
What characteristics can be selected and modified? The following recommendations are personal.
Single time signature
Develop typically Papuan songs by giving priority to the use of single time signatures. Choose time signatures that are common in modern music, such as 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/4, 3/8, 6/8, and 9/8. Then, determine one type of time signature to substitute for the different time signatures in one traditional Papuan song. This step will make it easier for the typically modern Papuan music to be absorbed by national and international music, especially popular music, nowadays. There is an exception. If a traditional Papuan song will be developed into a meter-free song like a psalm or Gregorian chant, a musician can make the adjustment needed.
Greater chance of being developed
The triadic and fanfare songs of the Awembiaks and Dems seem to have a greater chance of being developed into modern songs. Triadic and fanfare melodies are common in modern military music in the West. They can also be traced to musical phrases of various national anthems, such as that of France, and even in some famous church songs, like “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”. In Indonesian national songs, a triadic and fanfare phrase can be heard from the opening part of Maju Tak Gentar where singers sing the phrase, “Maju tak gentar”. Another phrase can be heard in the opening of Dari Barat Sampai ke Timur, another national song, where singers sing the phrase “Dari Barat sampai ke Timur, berjajar”. Such fragments of triadic and fanfare melodies were creatively developed on the basis of certain rules in music and have contributed to the popularity of some famous songs in Indonesia, France, and church services. Obviously, the potentiality for developing the triadic and fanfare melodies of the Awembiak and Dem tribes into modern songs exists.
Careful development of typical rhythm
The typical rhythmic patterns of traditional Papuan songs should be carefully developed. Modernizing Papuan music without its typical rhythm will make it lose its identity because it is not different from the rhythms of other music. The traditional vocal music contains rhythm affected by the lyrics or words of songs and, to a certain extent, the rhythm in nature. The words chosen for traditional melodies consist of word accents, intonation, tempos, musical instruments used, and – in certain cases – the imitation of natural sounds, such as animal sounds and bird chirps. Each language and natural environment produce different rhythm. Therefore, a musician who wants to develop typical Papuan rhythm should absorb it before he recreates it as typical modern Papuan music.
Typical Papuan melodies
Musicians should also develop typical Papuan melodies. Rhythm is an important component of a melody; therefore, a musician should study the relation between the typical Papuan rhythm and melodic contour. Note combinations with various values and the use of triplets and other irregular divisions need to be carefully studied before a musician recreates the typical Papuan rhythmic patterns.
Factors determining melodic shapes
A melodic shape is also determined by the type of scale, tonal range, and melodic form used. There are, for example, tetratonic scales such as the G, Bb, C, Eb scale that underlies the melodic structure of Huembello. There are also pentatonic scales such as the C, D, E, G, A scale that forms the basis of Yamko Rambe Yamko, Diru-Diru Nina, and Gembala Baik Bersuling nan Merdu. There are some other traditional scales not developed yet into typical Papuan songs, a part of them will be explained later. In addition to the scales, the tonal range of the traditional Papuan songs is one octave, more or less. Modern Papuan songs can use various tonal ranges that fit the need. Regarding melodic forms, the form frequently noticed so far in the traditional Papuan songs is the strophic form. This form is also noticeable in modern music; therefore, a musician who recreates Papuan music can make use of the modern strophic forms.
Precentor and chorus
The singing technique that involves precentor and chorus of the Dems needs to be developed. It can refresh secular and Christian pop music as well as church music.
Favorite time signatures?
The frequent use of 3/8, 6/8, and 9/8 in traditional Papuan music is an interesting musical phenomenon. This is not because these different time signatures are typically Papuan; modern music often uses them. They seem to be time signatures favored by the composers of traditional Papuan melodies. If this is true, why did the composers like them? It is not easy to answer the question. Rhythm is endless motion in nature, around and inside the music-composing man. Due to factors hard to explain, the composers of traditional songs were spurred by their creativity, either spontaneous or planned, to choose the three different time signatures and their related rhythmical patterns. Their choices have affective or emotional meaning that they like.
If the traditional composers do like those time signatures, a modern musician can recreate traditional Papuan melodies by using one of the three time signatures. Modern church songs frequently use them; therefore, recreating a typical Papuan melody for church services will be easy. However, it looks not easy to use any one of them in current pop music which are generally composed by using 4/4, 2/4, and 3/4. This opens a challenging opportunity for musicians to recreate modern and typical Papuan pop music using 3/8, 6/8, or 9/8. Only a creative and persistent musician can become a trend setter of some new pop music from Papua, pop music based on one of the three time signatures.
Reduplication, vocalization, and pleasant-sounding words
The use of reduplication, vocalization typical of the Central Mountain Range using the o a o vowel sequence, and word choices that produce pleasant-sounding words need to be studied and used in modern Papuan music. These characteristics can strengthen the typicality of the music.
Melodic phrases or fragments of the mountain tribes and several tribes along the coast as already explained can be developed in modern pop music, such as disco. These short melodies have the potentiality to be developed into modern music.
In fact, there is a type of modern disco that makes use of strong rhythm and short melodies as parts of the disco rhythm. Two examples can be listened to from the recordings by D.J. Mangoo in http://www.mp3.com/mangoo: Screw Me dan Sad Memory. Both songs are short and simple; the chords used are basic. Their sizes and simplicity are not very different from those sung by the mountain tribes and several tribes along the coast of Netherlands New Guinea. Mangoo, however, can develop his disco songs into interesting pop songs.
Interestingly, Sad Memories seems to make use of a musical instrument that resembles the jewish harp in Papua. The rhythm it creates is strengthened by drum beats and bass line typical of the disco. It reminds a Papuan listener or anyone else familiar with Papuan music to a modern Papuan melody accompanied by the tifa, native drums, and a typical bass line.
By learning from short and simple melodies that can be developed into interesting and even captivating disco music by Mangoo, a musician is now challenged to recreate the traditional and short melodies into modern songs. As far as I can remember, the Black Brothers, a Papuan pop-music band, pioneered the modernization of traditional and short Papuan melodies and also of other short melodies in the Pacific, especially, after they lived abroad. Huembello formed from four tones is an enchanting song because it combines Papuan and Western pop music. You can hear, for example, “jungle” voices that are blended with modern music.
Their pioneering efforts need to be continued by other musicians. The basic stuff – original melodies from various Papuan tribes in Dutch New Guinea – is already there. Who else want to develop them?
Gembala Baik Case
Considered one of the most beloved church songs by an Indonesian composer in Indonesia and abroad, Gembala Baik Bersuling nan Merdu (The Good Shepherd Playing a Flute Melodiously) has often been sung in various church services and choirs, Indonesian tv broadcasts, during Christian funerals and personal Christian meditations, in Christian choir competitions in Indonesia, in Christian singing groups, and on some other occasions. It has also been recorded by several Christian singers and musicians, in Indonesia, Holland, and Germany. Mus Mulyadi, an Indonesian Catholic and also a famous pop singer, sings it in kroncong style, a successful blend of Portuguese and Indonesian music. While the song is composed by using the 1-2-3-5-6 pentatonic scale, Mulyadi sings it by using the diatonic scale typical of the kroncong idiom. Amos L. Tjanu from Holland and his group and Helen Perina from Indonesia sing the same song in a country style. Kharitas Singers from North Sulawesi (eastern part of Indonesia) sing it in a contemporary pop style while Sonia Hitijahubessy turns its refrain into a flexitone. There are some others who sing and perform the same song in different ways and in different parts of Indonesia and abroad.
Though the song is very popular, probably few know that its composer is a Papuan musician. Mostly self-taught in Western music since the Dutch period in Dutch New Guinea, C. Akwan, a Protestant of Calvinistic background but now a retired HRD staff from a multinational oil and gas company operating in Indonesia, is the man behind the song. The six-foot tall man who originally came from Manokwari, now the capital city of the newly formed Indonesian province of West Papua, used one of the traditional scales in the central northern coast of Papua to compose the melody. He then turned most of Psalm 23 from the Old Testament into heart-felt, soul-stirring lyrics for a melody he also composed that sounds simple, but strong and majestic. (Akwan has lived in Jakarta for almost 30 years.)
His song is one example of the use of traditional scales from Papua to compose songs for a modern world. The song that has three verses is published in Kidung Jemaat (no. 415), a hymn book used mainly by mainstream Protestant churches and also by Catholic churches in Indonesia.
The song is also available on the Internet. Those who are interested in the kroncong rhythm of the song by Mus Mulyadi can access it via http://www.youtube.com/. After opening this site, type in the dialog box gembala baik bersuling nan merdu and you can see the song title, the singer, and the thumbnail picture of a sheep on the youtube screen. (This site has already been embedded below.) You will also notice another modern idiom (jazzy?) of the same song by My Voice, a singing group from Bandung, West Java; still another version is played on a guitar by a young man who identifies himself as fid0m5r. If you are interested in contemporary pop idiom, please, access the song at http://www.imeem.com/people/mHfW6b as sung by Kharitas Singers. To play the song, please, click Next or 2. The flexitone version of its refrain can be accessed at http://www.telkomflexi.com/popup.