The Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF) announced its second batch of Teman Warisan (Cultural Heritage Ambassador) recipients during Hari Warisan (Cultural Heritage Appreciation Day) 2022 in December. Guest-of-Honour Madam Som Said, a Cultural Medallion Recipient (1987) and The Stewards of Intangible Cultural Heritage Award (2020), presented 34-year-old Rosemainy Buang with an award in recognition of her dedication and contribution to the Malay arts and heritage sector. Similar to the inaugural Hari Warisan (HRW) 2021, three more individuals were appointed this year to be the foundation’s Teman Warisan.
Rosemainy or affectionately known as Rose, is a musician, educator and composer. She started her musical journey ten years ago and is formally trained in Javanese and Balinese gamelan. Fuelled by the philosophy of gamelan, in which establishing a relationship between the musician and the music requires more than hitting the right notes, Rose aspires to ascend towards rasa – the highest form of aesthetics in karawitan.
She is proficient on all instruments of both ensembles, notably as a pesindhèn (female vocalist) in a central Javanese gamelan ensemble and a drummer in a Balinese gamelan ensemble. With Gamelan Singamurti, Rose is proud to have achieved Nunas Taksu – Seeking Guidance, an independently produced EP comprising original compositions that fuse gamelan with western instruments. The EP was launched in 2018 in an unconventional form; it was presented as an immersive installation with music accompanying video projections and photography. On the opening night, musicians took over the exhibition space and responded to the artwork by performing music from the EP. Nunas Taksu had its debut overseas at the International Gamelan Festival 2019 in Surakarta, Indonesia.
As a collaborator, Rosemainy moulds traditional musical idioms to complement other musical styles. She relished taking on the role of Dewi Bulan in an Esplanade commissioned production, Fatih: The Prince and The Drum (2019), directed by Garin Nugroho and produced by Nadi Singapura. She enjoys experimenting with vocals with The Its, an experimental ambient alternative local band. The Its has performed at Cita Seni: Sonic Spaces and Sonic Seas at the Arts House Play Den, and PNEUMA – a collaboration with Noor Iskandar, at Stamford Arts Centre, in conjunction with Singapore Arts Week. Rose is also expanding the definition of collaboration with other multi-disciplinary artists involving a variant of sounds, fusing her traditional elements with electronic, incorporating the sound design.
MHF had the pleasure of interviewing the multi-talented Rose to learn more about her musical journey, which started a decade ago, and her aspirations in fusing different sounds together that could fit in different musical contexts.
Q: What sparked your interest in Gamelan?
I still remember my first Gamelan tryouts at Republic Polytechnic. That was when the Gamelan Interest Group (IG) first started. Like all the other first-time students who went for the tryouts, I was invited to pick an instrument, and we learnt a piece together. What intrigued me was that within that one piece, there were many possible ways to garap (interpret) its notation, playing it at various tempos, moods and styles. On top of that, we were encouraged and guided to learn other instruments within that same piece. I remember telling myself, “This learning process doesn’t stop.” And, the rest is history.
Q: Which part of the Gamelan ensemble is your favourite?
Apart from learning music, Gamelan is a medium to bring people together. The best part of playing in a Gamelan ensemble is the nongkrong session during break time and after rehearsals. I always look forward to meeting my
“gamelanerds” and being in a circle of new people. Also, not forgetting the snacks, and if in Indonesia, teh and kopi.
Q: You did some fusion pieces of Gamelan with western instruments and alternative bands. What inspired you to do so?
Along the way in my journey, a very inspiring individual shared with me this statement: “Gamelan instruments are just a medium that produces the sound”. Since that day, my perspective on Gamelan and sounds has widened. I started to look at Gamelan from the perspective of sounds and became curious about how other non-gamelan sounds could come together. With this, I began to learn how these different sounds I put together could fit in different musical contexts.
Q: What is one thing you want to experiment doing with Gamelan that you’ve yet to try?
Maybe, disassemble and dismantle every gamelan instrument from its original construction and play them unconventionally, to create more layers of sounds from the different materials of each instrument. And, also maybe insert sounds from the digital world to create an intentional sound realm. Maybe.
Q: Please share with us one of your most memorable performances.
Indonesian Dance Festival 2022 at Jakarta, where I was the composer for Mas Hari Ghulur’s piece titled SILO. We opened the festival with a high-energy performance at Taman Marzuki Ismail Theatre, and ended the piece with a climax that led everyone to an even higher energy; where the dancer ended his last movement on air, and the stage went to an immediate blackout, leaving the audience with a standing ovation. Until today, that last image on stage is still fresh in my mind.
Q: What does being a Teman Warisan recipient mean to you?
For me, being appointed as a Teman Warisan means being an approachable ambassador to the youth who would like to know more about processes behind the scene – from creating, performing, or even living your day-to-day life with your practising art. Apart from being able to share with others, I would also love to hear stories from others as I myself still have a lot to learn from in this journey.
Q: As a Teman Warisan recipient, what do you hope to accomplish to continue championing Malay heritage?
I believe in collaboration and creation. It allows me to meet new inspiring individuals with their practising crafts. Through this, there will be the presence of educating one another through sharing of knowledge and experiences. And, I hope to be able to continue this process.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the Malay performing arts scene? Any advice for young Singaporeans interested in pursuing a career in the performing arts?
May we always continue to come together despite our different practices, and we can create our own creative safe space despite the challenges we face on this island. Continue to create, don’t be afraid to express yourselves, and don’t forget to be kind to yourselves and one another.
Q: In five years, where do you see yourself?
I know now that I will continue to berseni with much sincerity and love, and I will allow my craft to take me through a journey that will bring me to 5 years from now, insyaAllah. As my favourite saying goes: Janganlah hidup untuk berseni. Tetapi, kerana seni, kamu bisa hidup! (Don’t live for art. But, because of art, you’re able to live!).
Q: Describe yourself in three words.
Dauntless – Selfless – Santai (Relax).
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