As a few of you might already know, I’ve been looking for an instrument called the kecapi for quite a while now.  Here it’s a well known musical instrument but no one seems to play it or know how to make it anymore.  Last week things changed for the better!

I was out at the end of a peninsula, about as remote as you can get.  There was no phone reception, no electricity, and I had to take a motorbike to the end of the road and then take a boat for another half hour to get to this village.  Needless to say, I don’t make it out there very often although it is somewhat of a haven for the language and culture of this people group.  Here’s a shot from the outrigger canoe ride in:  IMG_20120627_121700

And then through a mangrove swamp to get to the village:



While I was there last week, I learned that someone had built a kecapi for me!  The kecapi is a two-stringed plucked instrument that is shaped somewhat like a boat.  It is found throughout this part of Indonesia and even up into the Philippines.

My kecapi isn’t quite done yet since it still needs to be stained and finished, but it plays just fine.  The guy who made it for me decided to give it a go, and I very quickly whipped out my field recorder (handy to have at all times!) and started recording.  The quality isn’t great since it wasn’t a formal recording session and people were coming and going, but at this point I’ll take whatever I can get.  I got about a half hour of recordings total, but here’s a short  sample for you:

 Kecapi sample 27-6-2012 by mattmenger

Normally there would be singing too, but he was just testing it out.

Later, we hiked up to his (the man who made the kecapi for me) home in the mountains by his garden:IMG_20120627_172525

Although it’s a pretty simple home, he lives alone and has everything he needs.  I am amazed at the ingenuity I find here.  Plus, he’s got an amazing view:IMG_20120628_192043

I have an old picture of a kecapi that I took last year; up until now it was the only one I’d ever seen and it was broken.  All I’ve had of this amazing instrument for the past two years was this grainy picture taken in the night:


Now I have finally heard it!  There’s a big cultural event in two weeks, and there’s talk that more people might bring their kecapis along.  I’ll have my A/V equipment handy and I hope I can learn more about this unique instrument, how we can preserve it as well as encourage it to be used,  and how it might be a part of our work with the church.

I’ll share a picture of my kecapi as soon as it is finished and I get my hands on it!



Filed under Ethnoarts, language/culture, Music

2 responses to “Kecapi

  1. Bill

    Very cool sound. Much better than I would have expected from two strings on a miniature dugout kayak!

    • mattmenger

      It will sound better later. For now they’re just using nylon fishing line for strings, but eventually it will probably use metal guitar strings. Then it will have even more resonance.

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