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Getting acquainted with the Sasando

The sasando instrument from East Nusa Tenggara’s Rote Island has long been hidden and only visible in books, but the persistence of musicians from the instrument’s homeland is slowly bringing it to the fore.

Sasando, or sasandu in the Rote dialect, means vibrating sound instrument and it works like a harp. The 28-string version is called a sasando engkel and a 58-string version is also available. The strings surround a bamboo tube covered by a lontar (palmyra) leaf that can be opened and closed.

It is believed that the people of Rote Island have been familiar with this eye-catching instrument since the 7th century, but not many others, even in Indonesia, are aware of what the sasando looks, let alone sounds, like.

Lately, more local musicians have been trying to introduce the sasando to the rest of the country, and one of them is Jeremias Ougust Pah.

Jeremias, who is now in his 70s, is known as the sasando maestro. He can often be seen in his workshop playing a sasando he made himself with a loving smile on his face.

Preserving and popularizing the sasando runs through his veins. His father, Ougust Pah, played the instrument to entertain the guests of Rote’s king.

Jeremias and his youngest son, Djitron Pah, have modified the sasando and added a microphone to turn it into an electric instrument.

Djitron once wowed the audience of the 2010 Indonesia’s Got Talent show by playing the pop song I Believe in You, popularized by the male group Il Divo, with his sasando. He now lives in the capital city Jakarta to pursuing a musical career, still with his Sasando.

In Jeremias’ workshop, in Oebelo 25-kilometers outside the city of Kupang, he sells sasando of various sizes, the Tiilangga hat, which is made of palmyra leafs, and Ndao, which is Rote’s traditional ikat fabric, made by his wife.

I recently visited the workshop and was greeted warmly by the maestro. He let me wear the Tiilangga hat and even asked me to sing with him as he played the sasando.

When he noticed my limited knowledge of local songs, he switched to playing My Way.

After I bid farewell to Jeremias and began walking away from his workshop, I could still hear him singing the song I had unsuccessfully tried to sing before, it was Bolelebo, which expresses the Timor people's love of their hometown, no matter how far they have strayed away from it.

Bolelebo lanah Timor lelebo
Bolelebo ita nusa lelebo
Baik tidak baik tanah Timor lebin baik
Baik tidak baik tanah Timor lebin baik

 

Visit Jemeriah Pah’s workshop

Rumah Sasando
Jl. Timor Raya Km 22
Oebelo
Nusa Tenggara Timur

 

Read also: Rote Island, where the living is easy

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  • Jay Aguero 2 yearss ago

    This is interesting, from this unique traditional instrument could produce such sound. So we could sit there and enjoy the performance or just a gallery to see the instrument? I'd like to listen the sound it produces.

    Reply
    Mary Sasmiro 2 yearss ago

    Actually its a gallery and a shop. But mostly Mr. Pah will be there. I was lucky to see him there while he was making his Sasando. When he sees tourist is interested in what he is doing, he is happily demonstrate how Sasando works by playing a song. I think I am lucky that he also sang. To listen how the sounds like, maybe you can go to youtube and search for Djitron Pah, his son. I hope this info is helpful.

  • Albert Knox 2 yearss ago

    Such a beautiful music instrument! Very unique indeed! It's like a harp but more traditional. Beautiful.

    Reply
    Mary Sasmiro 2 yearss ago

    The sound also beautiful. Try find djitron pah's performance in youtube and hope you enjoy the music from his sasando. He surely inherit his grandfather and father's talent.

  • Greta Russo 2 yearss ago

    Beautiful instrument and artwork! And it's very good to see the owner is expanding his business through workshop.

    Reply
    Mary Sasmiro 2 yearss ago

    Kind of like modest gallery...

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