The Javanese Gamelan group Kusuma Laras holds rehearsals at the Indonesian Consulate twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. Beginning at 5:30, members trickle into the basement of the Consulate, each taking their respective place in front of the majestic bronze instruments, sitting shoe-less and cross-legged while rhythmically beating to the numbered musical notations. An hour and a half later, a cooker of rice and tupperwares filled with aromatic Indonesian home cooking are placed on the table buffet-style, indicating that dinner has commenced.
I was introduced to Kusuma Laras by Josh, who began playing gamelan in college and now regularly practices and performs with the ensemble. What is gamelan? “A gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included. The term “gamelan” refers more to the set of instruments than to the players of those instruments. A gamelan is a set of instruments as a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together — instruments from different gamelan are generally not interchangeable.” – Wikipedia
Kusuma Laras consists of an eclectic mix of Indonesians and non-Indonesians from a diversity of backgrounds. There’s Amy, a host at NPR, Jon, a native of rural Appalachia who leads Wednesday rehearsals and speaks in fluent Indonesian, Stuart the seasoned gamelan player who also contributes to the potluck style rehearsal dinners along with the “ibu ibu” – from the long chains of emails that I receive from the gamelan google group, I believe the term is a reference to the Indonesian ladies who kindly feed us their homecooked dishes (a few of the ladies also participate in the Masjid Al Hikmah bazaar) – as well as a smattering of musically inclined guys. And that’s just a small sampling of the wide spectrum of members who make up the ensemble.
Having sung in a children’s choir and spent years devoted to piano and flute in grade school, my musical talents have since waned while I’ve been busy pursuing my other interests and hobbies. Learning gamelan was my personal attempt to awaken my latent musical abilities and renew my interest and love for music. But ultimately, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was initially lured into this tiny subterranean musical den by the promises of a good home cooked Indonesian meal.
A typical Wednesday dinner in the Indonesian Consulate consists of:
Green curry with tempeh, green beans and onions: Unlike most of the Westernized vegetarian restaurant-style tempeh I’ve had, which usually is pretty tough and chewy, this tempeh was surprisingly dense yet soft.
The spicy salted fish is fried, bones and all, resulting in a dense, slightly chewy texture, similar to my favorite canned comfort food — Chinese fried dace with fermented black beans.