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Upon arrival three weeks ago, I was greeted in our transport by 90s trashy dance songs that crawled out here to Bali for another year of glory (or 10, since that seems to be how far behind they are in the music scene) before getting buried in a hole, hopefully to be forgotten for the rest of eternity.
And yes, I realize some of the bands I mention may or may not be American, but they have all been popular in America at one point or another.
In Bali, the large Hindu population believes in reincarnation, so moving from this life to the next is very sacred and important. Out of the numerous rituals here, cremations are the most celebrated. Our group of 13 students was very grateful when we were invited within our first week here to attend one. Many of us were nervous, and some had never been to Asian funerals before.
On the way to the cremation and funeral services, to lighten the mood, Madonna kept us company, serenading us with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” closely followed by “Like a Virgin,” as we rode along the rice terraces on the bumpiest roads I’ve ever been on. Our drivers were quite proud of their pirated cassette tape, asking us in broken English, “You like Madonna?” When I think funerals, I tend to play Wagner in my head as I go along with the flow, but I couldn’t seem to get “Like a virgin, touched for the very first time,” out of my head as I watched this procession.
Another ritual here in Bali is the tooth-filing ceremony, where young adults have six of their teeth filed down, which symbolizes control over greed, lust, anger, intoxication, confusion and jealousy. This ceremony makes prom look cheap. Then again, I don’t have much of a comparison, since my high school prom was held in an old gymnasium that had to be quarantined for a few weeks because of a worms problem, to give you an idea of our funding.
Of course, a few of my classmates and I weren’t disappointed by our soundtrack as we drove to the ceremony. We had the pleasure of sitting in the car with our middle-aged language instructor as he blasted rap music. He sat in front, smiling in his own world, bobbing his head to the beat of the music, as a few of us tried, and failed, to learn simple phrases like “Saya tinggal di Kerambitan,” which, in Indonesian, means, “I am staying in Kerambitan.”
Lady Gaga, as much as I hate to admit I like you, judging by the music trends here, you’re the next to go. I think “Poker Face” is the only song from this decade I have heard since I landed.
However, to make up for the abysmal pop music that we’ve grown quite fond of again, Bali has a unique style of their own music, gamelan. Consisting of drums, bamboo xylophones, flutes and other instruments, the music sounds completely disorganized until you really stop to listen to it. Not following the 8-note musical scale on which most music is written, it took me a few days to realize that the music wasn’t just out of tune.
The gamelan orchestra accompanies many important ceremonies and dances. It can accompany the “wayang,” or shadow puppet performances. It gives the Legong dancer a beat to move to in their traditional Balinese dance.
I have grown used to the sound of the gamelan bands playing late into the night as I fall asleep (sadly no later than 10 p.m. these days—what kind of college student does that make me?). Even though I thought gamelan bands sounded like nails on a chalkboard when I first got here, since then I’ve found them to be as comforting as the bad 90s music we get treated to.
Contact CU Independent Contributor Stephanie Davis at Stephanie.email@example.com.