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Tuesday March 28th 2017

Behind the Songs

Culture | Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 | sundanesecorner.org

Hawé Setiawan

The song writer whose works I often listen to lives not far from my home. Sugandi Sunaryana’s house is located at Jalan Sersan Surip, a tiny and crowded street in Bandung’s district of Cidadap that intersects with Jalan Setiabudhi, next to a bus and angkot station. A small kiosk, which he runs since he retired from his office, is attached to the house. He warmly welcomed me and allowed me to park my bicycle right in front of his kiosk.

Sugandi shows Ajip's anthology that compiled, among others, his works (Photograp: Hawé Setiawan)

Sugandi shows Ajip’s anthology that compiled, among others, his works (Photograp: Hawé Setiawan)

More than a hundred song lyrics, mostly in Sundanese, he has composed since 1990s. Many of them were sung by well known Sundanese pop singers, e.g. Darso, Doel Sumbang, Hetty Koes Endang, and Nia Daniati. Among his popular Sundanese songs are Duriat ‘Love’ and Dina Amparan Sajadah ‘On A Prayer Mats’. His song lyrics are recently sung by his daughter, Ela Maelasari in her solo album entitled Balon-Balon Cinta ‘Love Balloons’ that is recorded in CD format.

He said that musicians usually send him melodies and he writes his lyrics. In other case he usually composes a melody and write a lyric by means of kacapi, a traditional string instrument. He showed me a kacapi that lied in a corner of his living room.

Sugandi also writes Sundanese poems. His works issued on some local periodicals, namely Manglé, Galura, and Giwangkara. Some of his poems are compiled in Sajak Sunda ‘Sundanese Poetry’ (2007), the most complete anthology of Sundanese modern poetry edited by Ajip Rosidi. Many of Sugandi’s poems are written in ballad form and inspired by wayang stories.

It is wayang that shapes his world, actually. Born in Bandung in 19 July 1948, he learned to be a dalang ‘puppet master’ since his high school years to Abah Sunarya, a prominent guru of wayang golek in Southern Bandung’s suburb of Jelekong. He studied Sundanese language and literature at IKIP Bandung (the present time Indonesian University of Education) but didn’t accomplished his study.

The puppet master Sugandi when he was young

The puppet master Sugandi when he was young

As a dalang, Sugandi worked for an art and cultural section of Siliwangi Division of Indonesian Armed Forces. Commissioned by this sate body, he performed wayang golék along with his Argapura musical team from 1970s to 1990s. As commonly happened to many other puppet masters, his plays were often aired by RRI Bandung, a state radio station in West Java. The last time he performed this very popular play was 1997.

As the show was ended, there came a reflection. In his old age Sugandi writes a series of essay on the meaning of life based on his knowledge and experience on wayang stories. It is entitled Ngundang Luang tina Wayang which literally means ‘In Search of Meaning of Life from Wayang‘. This writing, however, hasn’t yet been published. He gave the draft to me.

Father to six children, grandfather to twelve grandchildren, and great-grandfather to a great-grandchild, Sugandi seems to live a humble and happy life with his whole family.***

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