THE BALLADS OF MUKTI-MUKTI
ON A BANANA TRUNK GUITAR
Salasa 20 Agustus 2013 Thejakarta Post
The trunks of banana trees are generally used to feed domestic animals. Other times, the trunks are used as an antiseptic to induce the growth of worms used to feed freshwater fish.
Some even use banana trees as the basic material to produce handicrafts ranging from bags, tissue holders to decorative souvenirs. However, one person, Mukti-Mukti, a musician from Bandung, West Java, has crafted an acoustic guitar from banana trunks
It all began when the 46-year-old was looking for a special instrument for a concert to be held during Ramadhan at the Gedung Indonesia Menggugat in Bandung,West Java, in late July. Working with Abu Sofyan, a 30-year-old guitar craftsman also from Bandung, he gathered the trunks and then cut them into broad pieces to be dried in the sun for two weeks.
The use of drying machines was avoided, as the fibers of banana stems are easily broken. The dried pieces were then sorted by size matching with the various parts of an acoustic guitar, and stuck together. The painstaking work and manual dexterity paid off. “This is the first banana trunk guitar in the world, I’m sure,” said Mukti. The novel instrument was played for the first time at Mukti’s Ramadhan concert. The guitar is completely comprised of banana stem fiber, except for its strings and metal parts.
Mukti-Mukti began his musical career in early 1995, when he lived in a boarding house in Jatinangor, about 20 airline kilometers from Bandung. He frequently recorded his songs on cassettes, which were then copied and recopied by his friends to the point of obscurity. This made him consider releasing his works in an album.
Although Mukti is a big name in local music production (he has worked on over 30 albums), he has a reputation as one of the nation’s most reluctant balladeers when it comes to releasing his own work. The ballads he composed give emphasis to the lyrics. Mukti said that he doesn’t remember how many songs he had written, although many were derived from his poems or were inspired by the works of eminent poets such as WS Rendra, whose simple language and touching themes he longed to make into music. Mukti’s song Children of the Sea was used in the controversial mining documentary Bye-bye, Buyata, which was recognized by the Film Festival Indonesia in 2006.
While studying Sundanese language at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, Mukti was a student activist who defended farmers. Owing to his preoccupation with farmers’ affairs, he eventually dropped out and his songs have since been imbued with agricultural concerns. The banana guitar is not Mukti’s first innovation. Last December, Mukti produced an acoustic guitar made from the bamboo of a local species known as Awi Tali. Still working with Abu Sofyan, this instrument was crafted in two weeks, although the pair had been searching for the right material for over six months.
Abu Sofyan, also known as Awan, is the grandchild of one of Indonesia’s master guitar craftsmen, Abah Anong Naeni or Ki Anong, who died two months ago. Mukti became acquainted with Awan because the two were entrusted with testing the guitars made by Ki Anong, including those used by famous musicians like Sawung Jabo, Abah Iwan and the famous Iwan Fals, another balladeer and who is widely regarded as the nation’s moral compass.
“I dedicate this guitar to my grandfather, who brought me up and trained me in guitar craftsmanship,” said Awan, who also expressed his conviction that it was the first of its kind in Indonesia and the world.
“I dare say this is the first bamboo guitar on the globe. Our friends from the Bandung Institute of Technology were reportedly working on the same experiment, but thank God, we managed to finish this guitar on the crucial date seen by most people as a historic moment,” he added in a humble tone. The bamboo guitar, named the Langit Biru, or Blue Sky, was first used publicly during a solo concert of Mukti-Mukti at the Auditorium of the French Cultural Center on Jl. Purnawarman in Bandung in December.