Gamelan del Museu de la Música de Barcelona (Foto: S. Guasteví)

10 years of the gamelan at Barcelona Museum of Music

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the gong kebyar gamelan ensemble at the Barcelona Museum of Music, thanks to the initiative of the then newly appointed new director of the Museum, Jaume Ayats. Getting it from the island of Bali, Indonesia, was already an odyssey, but the real adventure began once we had it installed in the interactive instrument room.

Jaume Ayats durant la recepció del gamelan Arribada del gamelan al Museu de la Música de Barcelona
Jaume Ayats during the arrival and reception of the gamelan, 2013.

As I had studied gamelan music on the island of Bali a few years before, the Museum asked me to return to the island to select a gamelan ensemble and supervise its purchase and shipment to Barcelona. With the help of friends and Balinese contacts, I was able to find a suitable ensemble for the Museum. Once there, after checking that the instruments were in good condition and a thorough cleaning, the gamelan set sail for the exotic and remote city of Barcelona.

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Jordi Casadevall with a group of Balinese musicians playing the gamelan that would later arrive in Barcelona.

The ensemble traveled by sea, with a planned journey of 6 weeks, but the journey was extended by 2 more weeks as the cargo ship, which was making its way calling at various ports, was detained in Egypt (along with all the country's maritime traffic) due to the coup d’état tat that took place on Wednesday, July 3, 2013, when the gamelan arrived at the port. The President of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, with the help of the army, overthrew the President of the Egyptian Government, Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected head of state in the country's millenary history. After the military mutiny, the coup leaders suspended the Constitution. And while our gamelan remained stranded in Egypt. At the Museum we bit our nails because it had been scheduled that the official presentation of the gamelan would be held during the International Shakuhachi Seminar that year was held in Barcelona, with headquarters at the ESMUC. We could see the exact location of the ship at all times on a map hosted on the website of the cargo company, and there was not a single day that we did not check if it had managed to leave Egypt. Finally, after 15 days the country's operational normality began to be restored and the ship set sail again. Once the customs bureaucratic entanglements were solved, the gamelan arrived at the Museum just 2 days before the start of the seminar. We could breathe calmly, but by the skin of one’s teeth.

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Packaging of the gamelan and transfer by truck to take it to the ship. Arrival of the gamelan at the Museum.

The authentic gesture, however, began after the seminar: we started the programming of educational activities around the gamelan ensemble, for primary schools, secondary schools and universities during the week, and for family audiences on weekends. And since then, thousands of people have passed through the interactive instrument room and have marveled at the visual and sound beauty of the Balinese ensemble. In parallel, I was able to establish the first gamelan music group in Catalonia, the Gamelan Penempaan Guntur ensemble and we began to study together the repertoire of music for gamelan orchestra, and to be able to offer regular concerts at the same Museum.

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Tallers de gamelan. Orquestra de gamelan resident al Museu.

This is how our adventure began, which took us, among others, to the Grec Festival and to a festival in the city of Munich. And today this adventure is still alive and with more strength than ever. We continue with educational activities, with a new director at the Museum, sensitive to the work done during all this time and to what remains to be done, we have a new dance music group, the Gamelan Barasvara ensemble, and we also have a non-profit association that promotes knowledge and the dissemination of Balinese culture. The next 10 years are sure to be even more interesting. We hope from the bottom of our hearts that you can also enjoy it because, as is believed in Bali, gamelan is a true gift from the Gods.

Concert of gamelan durring Festival Grec, 2018.