Combining traditional Indonesian musical instruments with contemporary Western songs, The Gameladies are encompassing transculturalism to the fullest. The Gameladies is a 6-lady (though they are known to “occasionally rope in David Kotlowy, our guest ‘Gamelad’” says Abby, one of the ladies) Gamelan band that has ‘organically’ formed through their connections to the Indonesian community and another community gamelan group, Sekar Laras. The core members are Simone Bignall, an Indigenous Studies academic and avid piano player; Emily Collins, an ethnomusicologist who studied gamelan in Indonesia; Margret Eusope, an Indonesian teacher; Trina Lucas, a film maker who has long family involvement in gamelan and Indonesian Studies in South Australia; Hannah Tunstill, a classically trained bassoonist whose family is strongly involved in gamelan; and Abby Witts, a languages specialist who has studied jazz drumming. The Gameladies are taking the Adelaide multicultural community by storm with their ingenious and unique Gamelan style. I got in touch with one of the Gameladies, Abby, to discuss this unique collective.
Gamelan is a traditional form of music originating from Java and Bali, though it is now played throughout Indonesia. It is comprised predominately of percussive style instruments, such as the kendang, gong and saron, however the exact instruments in any single ensemble are generally regionally specific. The Gameladies play on a bronze set originating from Surakarta that is, incredibly, more than 100-years old.
The Gameladies have a wide-ranging level of experience playing gamelan, from Hannah who has played since a child to Simone who has only recently become involved in the scene. Despite all their variety of professions, the Gameladies all share a common interest in and passion for music and Indonesia and met through the Indonesian community in Adelaide. Abby says it’s their love for “challenging musical idioms, and just the enjoyment of playing music together” that motivates them to keep playing. The Gameladies draw on their individual skills and different experiences playing other instruments and music genres, to allow them to alternate between instruments depending on the song.
Traditional gamelan music uses complex cross rhythms, time signatures and interlocking parts that are rarely heard in contemporary pop music that can be quite confusing and difficult to master. However, The Gameladies further challenge themselves by playing contemporary and pop music poses a number of challenges. The Gameladies have a wide repertoire, ranging from traditional pieces from across the Archipelago through to contemporary songs, from the likes of David Bowe to Lady Gaga. The ladies use their musical skills to collaborate and adapt contemporary songs into music that can be played on the gamelan. This is quite challenging as the gamelan is constricted to a five-note scale, which necessitates the Gameladies to adapt the chromatic scale of pop songs to conform to the limitations of the Gamelan. Fortunately the Gameladies strong and diverse musical background allows them to overcome these challenges to create great fusion pieces. However, in the words of Abby, “sometimes the audience will be able to place the tune, but for others, hearing a pop song played on gamelan is so out of context that it is assumed that we are playing obscure traditionals.” After watching a number of videos of the Gameladies, I have no doubt the audience is suitably enamoured by the Gameladeis skills and music, regardless of whether or not they were savvy enough to pick up on the contemporary renditions.
You can catch the Gameladies performing across Adelaide at a number of cultural festivals, such as OzAsia and Indofest, as well as at functions in the Indonesian community and also at weddings. Although the Gamelaides currently almost exclusively perform at cultural events and for the Indonesian community in Adelaide, they believe that their unique and progressive style will allow them to expand their reach to more mainstream venues and audiences.
To keep up-to-date with The Gameladies (or to even book them for your wedding) check out their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/thegameladies/