Indonesian musicians sound notes from the past

Hasan Ali, a musician and composer from Tidori, plays the arababu, a guitar-like instrument with only one string.

Echoes of the past rang out in Bo-Kaap last week as musicians from Indonesia performed traditional songs inspired by their visits to the kramats of the forefathers of the Muslim faith in the Cape.

The musicians, who performed for residents at the Bo-Kaap Musuem’s community hall, were in town to learn more about Tuan Guru and Sheikh Yusuf as part of the Seeking Tuan Guru project through the Indonesian Ford Foundation.

Aristofani Aris, a musician and traditional-arts activist, brought the musicians together for the project.

“I know these artists and how each one does their music, their creative process. They are also history students and know about the life of Tuan Guru and Sheikh Yusuf. Before this, they never worked together, but through the fellowship, we brought them together to do this project in Cape Town,” said Mr Aris, who is from Macassar, Indonesia.

“So we learnt more about Tuan Guru and Sheikh Yusuf to know how they inspired people in the country. We then composed music based on our visit here. The main idea was about learning more about these forefathers as well as creating music using the history, culture and spirituality of the people and the places we visited.”

According to SA History Online, Tuan Guru, was a prince from the Trinate Islands. His “crime” is not known, but he arrived in the Cape in 1780 as a state prisoner. After 12 years of imprisonment, Tuan Guru became active in the Muslim community around Dorp Street and was instrumental in the building of the first madressa, in 1793, and the first mosque, in 1795. His kramat is in the Muslim cemetery in the Bo-Kaap.

Sheikh Yusuf, is regarded as the founder of the Islamic faith in the Cape. Of noble birth, he lived in exile due to the Dutch occupation of his hometown, Macassar, where he had spearheaded resistance. He was eventually persuaded to surrender. On a broken promise, the Dutch transferred him to the Cape in 1693 and accommodated him on the farm, Zandvliet, on the Cape Flats. He provided refuge for fugitive slaves, and it was through his teachings that the first true Muslim community developed in the Cape as early as the late 1690s.

His kramat is situated in Macassar.

Mohamad Siradj, the consul general of Indonesia in Cape Town, said he was impressed by the group’s musical interpretation of their visit to the kramats as well as the sounds of the traditional musical instruments.

“We would like to see more of this happening as the Cape Malay community inherited many values from Indonesia. We should be proud of the forefathers that came here 300 years ago. Tuan Guru and Sheikh Yusuf came here during difficult times and they survived and thrived,” he said.

Helza Amelia, a project manager with the touring group, said she was looking forward to more collaborations between Indonesia and South Africa.

“It’s fascinating what we learnt about Sheikh Yusuf and Tuan Guru. They are considered great people from Indonesia, and we learnt that they are very important to the culture of the people and the city,” she said.

“This is the first time we are doing this type of project, and we want to do this again. We want to share with the world what these two great people did for these countries.”

Thania Petersen, a Cape Town artist, said it had been exciting working with the Indonesians on the project.

“I’ll be going to Indonesia soon to learn more, and hopefully we will work on a performance soon. I’ve introduced them to local musicians and showed them our indigenous instruments and music that’s unique to Cape Town. So we are excited about this venture.”

Annelize Kotze, curator of the Bo-Kaap Museum, said the event had been a wonderful opportunity for the community.

“It gives the residents a chance to visit the museum and see what we have here, and we are planning on having more of these events happening here in this community hall.”

An eager crowd gathered to watch the Indonesian performance.
Aristofani Aris, a musician and traditional-arts activist, with a flute called the pue-pue.
From left, Suhada Lawa from West Java, Hasan Ali from Tidori, Anggari Satrea from the Sumatra Islands, Aristofani Aris and Masykur Diengesa both from Macassar.