(1) Music of Southeast Asia
ASEAN-Korea Centre Reporter, Sanghun Lee
We have all been tourists, in some way or another, in some part of our lives. Tourists devour strange cultures, traveling from Paris to Cairo, walking from ancient tombs to city parks. But one important food that molds everything into one dish is hard to catch at first sight. Or rather, first hearing. That food is music.
And, in one part of the world is music that holds the notes of Buddhists, Hindi, Muslims and Shamans, music that holds the rhythms of China, India and Europe.
We introduce you the music of Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia has a long history as the “melting pot of cultures.” Consequently, its music developed to incorporate various cultures and, in turn, influence other neighboring cultures. Shengs, which are Chinese bamboo harmonicas, developed into numerous wind instruments that now serve Vietnam, Laos, and Borneo orchestras. Gongs, which originated from Southeast Asia, now embroider every Buddhist temple in East Asia. The ancestor of oboe, surnai, and the uncle of violin, rabab, all arrived from Arabia and found their places in the melting pot.
The exotic melody of Indonesia’s slendro, pelog and Thailand’s heptatonic music often entrap the listener in the beauty of the southeastern culture. Music of Southeast Asia also incorporates such other fascinating arts as shadow play and dance, boasting of the richness of its unique culture. It is a true melting pot of all music.
◎ Various Native Music of Southeast Asia
Historically speaking, ancient Buddhist music of India helped the music of Southeast Asia bloom in 6th – 7th Century. It’s easily found with all houses’ engravings of Indian instruments in Borobudur of Java and Angkor Wat of Cambodia, and according to the New Book of Tang (新唐書, Xīn Tángshū), many Indian instruments and Buddhist songs were popular in Myanmar by 9th Century. In this flowering era of music, such aboriginal instruments as Gongs developed and began to embroider the mainstream music.
From 13th ~ 14th Century, the music and dance of the music began to have a truly unique color. Music also started to have different colors in different countries. Here, we will see some of the different styles of music.
(1) Vietnamese music
Vietnamese music uses Chinese music as its base, playing instruments of Chinese origin. Zheng, pipa, sanxian, huqin, and guan are used as the typical configuration.
(↑Hát xẩm, a type of folk song that was popular in the Northern region of Vietnam.
It is considered endangered today.)
(2) Thai music
Thai music originates from Cambodia’s Khmer culture. In 17th ~ 18th Century, musicians modified the imported Chinese string instruments into unique Thai instruments and incorporated existing instruments like bianzhong and surnai to accompany singing. Heptatonic notes (where seven notes comprise one octave) and nasal sound are unique characteristics of Thai music.
(3) Indonesian music
The most famous of the music of Southeast Asia is the gamelan of Indonesia. Gamelan is performed in both islands of Java and Bali. Gamelan is a very rare form of music, because it uses polyphony or harmony, different from the typical monophonic music of Asia. Indonesian music is also an excellent example of interfusing dance, play, and music into one form of art.
(Balinese legong dance)
Although different regions show different and unique forms of music, there is one defining characteristic of the music of Southeast Asia as a whole — gong chime ensembles.
In the next article, we will observe the beauty of gong chime music and its impact on neighboring cultures.
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