In the Fall of 1982 I was a Junior at U.C. Berkeley. By that time, I was right on my way to becoming a relatively well-versed armchair-ethnomusicologist: I spent hours absorbing recordings and performances of traditional music from around the world. One day, as I zipped along in my beloved live-in long-bed Chevy Luv truck, I was listening to Henry Kaiser’s World Music program on KPFA when I heard, for the first time, Javanese gamelan music. The piece was the most glorious of all gendhing bonang in the repertoire: Babar Layar, pl. 5 (here’s a clip). There was something about this music that resonated within me like nothing ever had before; I was utterly enchanted and moved to tears. I immediately went to my favorite record shop in search of this recording. I found the album, bought it, and played it over and over for days. I was hooked and I bought all the gamelan music I could find, which in those days was limited to several albums on the Nonesuch label. One day, while planning my course schedule for the Spring semester, I happened to notice that there was a performance class in Javanese gamelan offered through the Music Department! Needless to say, I signed up for the class and my passionate affair with Indonesia began in earnest.
I relate this story because during my visit to Manado, North Sulawesi, last month, I had a weird my-life-is-not-simply-a-result-of-my-choices kind of moment. That moment occurred as I stood before Mt. Lokon in Manado.
Here’s the full-circle: In that gamelan class at Cal, I fell in love with a woman from Indonesia, her family name was Lokon and they were originally from Manado. I was inspired by the music, by the girl, and by the fantasy of far-flung equatorial climes. As I continued my study of Javanese gamelan, I also took classes in Bahasa Indonesia. Upon graduating, I worked in a hot-tub factory to finance a trip to Indonesia. After six months of penny pinching, I had saved up enough for a trip. In 1985, said Lokon and I spent 11 months traveling from Medan to Bali. Although we parted ways, Indonesia was only beginning to open its arms to me… And 25 years later, there I was standing before the namesake of the woman who was instrumental in the course of my adult life. I remain convinced that this is where I’m meant to be. (But I’ll be home soon, Mom…)