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Monday May 1st 2017

‘Mang’ Koko the Maestro

Culture | Saturday, October 5th, 2013 | sundanesecorner.org

Hikmat Gumelar

Koko Koswara (Photograph: http://manuskripkesunyian.wordpress.com)

Many years have elapsed since he passed away, yet his very name is still alive and inspires many people. It is not because he left a huge amount of money, but rather because his year-long dedication in the world of arts, especially in music. That’s Haji Koko Koswara, better known as Mang ‘Uncle’ Koko.

He never went to any art school. His formal education was obtained at merely HIS (Hollandsch-Inlandsche School, 1932) and Pasundan MULO (Middelbare Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs, 1935). His musical talent seemed to be inspired by his father, Ibrahim alias Sumarta. A descendant of Sultan Hasanuddin of Banten, his father was a male songbird within the musical genre of Ciawian and Cianjuran. Mang Koko also learned from prominent Sundanese musicians, and attentively studied Sundanese music from Radén Machjar Angga Koesoemadinata, a Sundanese music guru that made Dutch musicologist Jaap Kunts stunned, amazed, and learned from him Sundanese melody.

From them, Mang Koko not only gained technical skills, but also the way to look at (nusical) art in a broad, deep, and sensitive perspective. Born on 10 April 1917 in the district of Indihiang, Regency of Tasikmalaya, West Java, he then looked at (musical) art as his way of life. And life for him is a sort of worship as commanded by Islam, and also means to be in the realm of (Sundanese) culture. For him, Sundanese culture and Islam is mutually reinforcing. In short, Sundanese music has an existential value for him.

Mang Koko studied Sundanese music diligently, attentively, and creatively. He respected the tradition as heritage and potential to be developed. Relying on traditional arts, he looked for other possibilities for Sundanese gamelan. The search was carried out with respect for gamelan instruments. No wonder that Mang Koko could explore Western songs with Sundanese musical instruments. No wonder that Sundanese musical instruments, such as the kacapi, could play something new in the realm of Sundanese music. No wonder that Mang Koko could actualize the musical genre of Ciawian, Cianjuran, Kliningan, and many others.

Through his way in exploring art, Mang Koko founded Kanca Indihiang ‘Indihiang Brothers’ in 1946. This musical group often performed at the studio of RRI Bandung, which —along with Nirom— was then a testing arena where performers had to pass a rigorous selection. This was where the famous name of ‘Mang Koko’ derived.

In 1951 he led Mundinglaya musical group. During the period when he led the group, which had a different task from that of Indihiang Brothers, he composed new songs. In 1956 he founded Ganda Mekar. The group drove him to innovate the melody of gending. In around the period he also founded Taman Murangkalih ‘Garden of Children’, a children musical group that became Taman Cangkurileung.

His creativity and productivity became growingly visible after the establishment of Bandung’s Music Conservatory (Kokar) in 1958. When he was a teacher at the school (the present day SMK 10), he composed hundreds of songs, and dozens of musical drama as well. And his works were called new versions, in both their forms and compositions, in the sense that they were very different from traditional ones. For example, a dialogue was sometimes inserted into the melody. Similarly, his style in playing the string instrument of kacapi was unique in the sense that it was quite different from that of celempungan and Cianjuran.

It was these achievements that had made Mang Koko become more known, loved, and respected by may people. It encouraged him to pay more respects and trusts to the importance of music. So he established several institutions to make Sundanese musical arts continues to spread and take root. This process was not an easy task, but he Mang Koko had chosen the task with all of its consequences.

It is understandable if Cangkurileung Foundation, one of the institutions he had founded, is still alive today. The foundation was founded in March 6th, 1959, in Bandung. It branches spread in schools throughout West Java. Its activities, among other things, are performing kawih song at the studio of RRI Bandung every Sunday, conducting musical courses for teachers, and publishing Swara Cangkurileung magazine since 1974, and so on.

It is also understandable if Mang Koko received numerous awards from both government and non-government agencies, including the Piagam Wijaya Kusumah (1971), the most prestigious award from the Central Government in the category of ‘Innovator in the Field Traditional Music’. In 2004, the Cangkurileung Foundation won Rancagé Award for its contributions to the conservation and development of Sundanese culture. In 2005 Mang Koko also posthumously received Jabar Music Award from Bandung College of Music and Culture and Tourism Agency of West Java.

His death seemed to underline his greatness. As have been mentioned above, Mang Koko harmonised Sundanese gamelan and Islamic art. Many examples prove the fact. One of them has something to do with azan, the call for prayer. In his last days, almost every morning he called for prayer. And his azan was uniquely sung in the melody of sorog, pélog, or madenda. It is said that people who previously didn’t intend to perform morning prayer in the mosque was quickly rushed to the mosque. For Mang Koko himself, the time before morning prayer was the good moment for vocal exercise. He liked to climb to the minaret and sang steady tarhim. He said, ‘As a vocal exercise, tarhim is a very good way.’

On Friday, October 4th, 1985, however, something happened. Early that day Mang Koko went to Masjid al-Jihad, not far from his house at Jalan Jurang 119, Bandung. In the mosque, he chanted tarhim, prayer, and pupujian. His voice floated to the air, waking up the neighbourhood. But the voice then suddenly disappeared. Mang Koko could not rise. Both his legs couldn’t move. The people are there in the mosque immediately contacted his family. Shortly after, Mang Koko passed away.***

Hikmat Gumelar is a poet and writer based in West Java’s regency of Sumedang. His article is translated by Hawé Setiawan from Indonesian. He can be reached by e-mail: skar_meta@yahoo.com

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