A dancer from the Temengang Kaltara Studio in North Kalimantan performs a Saung Madang dance at the BaliSpirit Festival in Ubud, Bali, on Friday (24/03). (JG Photo/Reancy Triashari)

Indonesian Music, Culture Find International Audience at BaliSpirit Fest


MARCH 25, 2017

Ubud. While yoga practitioners find solace and harmony in numerous workshops at the 10th BaliSpirit Festival in Ubud, Bali, Indonesian musicians and art performers indulge in a rare occasion of world music spectacle at the near end of the annual event.

BaliSpirit celebrates yoga, an ancient practice that originated in India that offer physical, mental and spiritual benefits. But it was the musical and dance aspects of the festival that represent the traditional life in Bali.

Anak Agung Ari Brahmanta, deputy head of the Gianyar District Tourism Office, said the festival has introduced yoga and made the exercise popular among Balinese people. However, the festival also plays a role in presenting the diversity of arts in Bali.

"Music and dance have become a part in the daily lives of Balinese people. And this festival plays its role in introducing the philosophy and values of Balinese culture," he said in his opening speech.

Tourism Ministry representative I Gede Pitana, kicked off the One World One Stage musical program on Friday (24/03) with the strike of a gong. The night program consists of a series of musical performances, which include performing arts, musical genres such as folk, reggae and electronica, and traditional and modern dances. With pop singers, rappers and rock bands dominate the music industry worldwide, these elements of world music are not as easy to discover in music events.

Even though the program is committed to showcasing talents in world music, the evening began with none of the Balinese dance cliché, but an exquisite percussion show by the Bamboo Gengong group, featuring Wayan Sudi. The show features a variety of traditional instruments made from bamboo, which are played by a dozen young Balinese in traditional attire.

One of the highlights in Friday's lineup was the Borneo tribal performance, which is part of an initiative by the North Kalimantan provincial government's newly established tourism agency. This number features Saung Madang, Jepen Umbak Gesinggau and Jugit Demaring, three traditional dances that represent the Dayak, Tidung and Bulungan tribes in North Kalimantan.

Speaking on behalf of the North Kalimantan governor's office, Ahmad Hairani said the tourism agency sent 50 people, including government officials, dancers and performers, to amplify the province's presence at the festival. Other than performing on stage, North Kalimantan also set up a merchandise booth to sell arts and crafts at the festival.

"Our tourism agency is really new. It was formed two months ago, so this is the first chance to showcase our culture to an international audience," he said. "We are looking to host our own festival like this."

Ahmad was happy about the international exposure at BaliSpirit because his agency is aiming to boost the number of foreign visitors to North Kalimantan, which became a province only four years ago. Ahmad said North Kalimantan received around 200,000 tourists last year, but that only 5,000 of them were from abroad.

The BaliSpirit Festival attracted more than 2,000 visitors this year, with about 80 percent being foreigners from 50 countries. However, an encouraging fact behind this number is data from committee that shows 70 percent of those in attendance are repeat visitors.

I Gede said the ministry predicts that tourism will be the biggest contributor to foreign exchange by next year.

"Yoga, meditation and pilgrimage as various forms of spiritual tourism are a relatively new product in Bali tourism, but it's very good to hear people are returning to Bali to attend this festival," he said.

Gede Robi Supriyanto, popularly known as Robi Navikula for his involvement in the music band, said the vibe at BaliSpirit Festival is very similar to those in California, such as Burning Man. He has performed at BaliSpirit four times already – twice with the band Navikula. He performed solo on Friday, but also invited some of his musician friends on stage in a collaborative performance.

"Performing at BaliSpirit feels the same to me to when I perform abroad. Similar type of crowds, and the same vibe too," he said.

Robi believes the BaliSpirit Festival is more than just a collective effort to create a new haven for yoga and all things raw and organic. The festival culminates an acculturation between yoga and the Indonesian culture of herbal drinks, shaman's magic and alternative healing. He thinks a well-packaged introduction is needed for local values to survive modernity.

"This is how you promote Indonesia. This festival is like another form of nation branding, which is what Indonesia needs," he said.

Robi pointed out that he believes doing business is like judging a book by its cover, and he feels Indonesia must redesign its cover to strengthen its bargaining power.

"Our government is spending most of their energy on politics, and they work so hard to cast a good image as political leaders. But what we need today is economic growth. And if what's on display is good and sophisticated; that could be powerful for us," he said.

The BaliSpirit Festival ends on Sunday.

The Jakarta Globe is an official media partner of the BaliSpirit Festival.