The Golden Island - Songs and Dances from S.E. Asia and Beyond

Posted: 16 June by David Norrish

The canon of indigenous music to be found in South East Asia is enormous and immensely diverse. Twenty-three years of living there brought me into contact with a wonderfully rich palette of song and dance and The Golden Island, which comprises two orchestral suites of pieces, represents my response to some of the music I heard there.

The first suite comprises nine short pieces, some of which are fairly straightforward re-workings of melody, others being more a synthesis of themes. In all of them I have tried to retain the flavour and essence of the original, while presenting them in an orchestral format.

The Golden Island(s) was the name given to the lands we now recognise as forming South-East Asia, and beyond, as far as China, by ancients who believed that there was wealth and gold to be found there.

Suite Number One:

I. Harm Sang Duen (Thailand). The title means 'in the moonlight'. This is a courting song sung and danced by young men looking for a wife.

II. Giling Giling (Brunei). Giling is Malay for 'turning' and this indigenous children's song is somewhat akin to 'Ring a Ring o' Roses'.

III. Sapit (Sarawak). The sapit or saepe is a long and narrow guitar-like instrument, carved and hollowed out from a single piece of wood. It is much played by the Iban and is widely popular in Northern Borneo. The player accompanies his melodies with drone-like chords. The high harmonic 'E' represents the overtones produced by the Sapit's strings.

IV. Tarian Enggang, Hornbill Dance (Iban/Dusun, Northern Borneo). A reworking of motifs taken from music played to accompany the highly popular Hornbill Dance which is still performed in Northern Borneo. It is usually accompanied by the gulintangan, a set of gongs arranged in a straight row, other single gongs and drums. As in Balinese Gamelan, it makes extensive use of ostinati.

V . Laila Menchanai (Brunei). Laila Menchanai was a legendary princess who rose from the sea in a bubble. While sitting in a boat sewing, she accidentally pricked the finger of her lover, the captain of the boat, with a golden needle. He died and Laila Menchanai was left inconsolable. The arrival of the Malays and Islam in Brunei in the 15th century led to Arabian influences on many aspects of culture and their influence on this melody is striking.

VI. Nina Bobok ( North Sumatra). One of the many beautiful lullabies found in Indonesia.

VII. Leron Leron Sinta (Philippines). This morality song tells the story of a young man, Leron, who climbs a neighbour's tree to steal papaya (paw-paw) only to find the fruit is not ripe.

VIII. Hanakage (Japan). 'Falling Cherry Blossoms'. Standing in the shadow of falling cherry blossoms a little girl waves goodbye to her newly-married older sister. Now she feels truly alone. Originally a Koto piece.

IX. Moh Lee Hua, Jasmine (Malaysia/China). 'Come, let me bring you sweet-scented flowers' is the sentiment of this song. Puccini made extensive use of this very popular folk melody in his opera, Turandot.

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