Unique to Jakarta, centuries-old tambourine music returns with Ramadan

Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
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Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
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Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
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Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
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Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
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Updated 09 April 2022

Unique to Jakarta, centuries-old tambourine music returns with Ramadan

Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. (AN Asia Bureau)
  • Known as rebana biang, the instruments have been used by the Betawi community for the past 200 years
  • Today, the tradition is being kept alive by the city’s last remaining ensemble, Sanggar Lestari Budaya

JAKARTA: The sound of tambourines has returned to the narrow alleys of southern Jakarta after a long pandemic hiatus, marking the month of Ramadan with distinctive Islamic devotional music native to the Indonesian capital.

Locally known as rebana biang, tambourines have been used by the Betawi community of Jakarta for the past two centuries. Bigger than those used elsewhere in Southeast Asia and with no metal jingles, the handheld drums are also played during other religious celebrations, but it is especially Ramadan that has traditionally been associated with their sound.

Today, the tradition is being kept alive by the last remaining rebana biang ensemble, Sanggar Lestari Budaya.

For decades, the group consisted only of family members, with the techniques of playing and producing the rebana handed down from generation to generation. It was only in the 2000s that the great-grandson of its founder, Mohamad Natsir, started to teach the music to those who were not his kin. 

“He was the one who opened space for those who aren’t family to learn rebana and form their own groups,” said David Rahman, 30, who is not a family member but took over the ensemble this year, after Natsir’s death.

The group now has seven members, all between the ages of 25 and 30.

While they have been experimenting by adding other instruments to their performances, rebana remains the core of their art and to perform with them, a musician needs to master it the way their great-grandfathers did and learn 12 traditional rebana strokes.

“Collaborations are meant to attract people to join us,” Rahman said.

“I will keep the original strokes unchanged.”

To keep the original form, however, the young musicians will find it increasingly difficult to maintain their instruments.

There is only one master artisan left in Jakarta who can make the rebana: Abdul Rahman, a member of the extended family of Sanggar Lestari Budaya.

Already 80 years old, he admits that his eyesight is not good anymore.

It takes Rahman two weeks to produce the three different sized drums that form part of the rebana. Sometimes it takes longer, as materials are sourced from other parts of Indonesia and can be expensive. It costs about $350 to make one instrument.

“The raw materials, such as wood and sheepskin, I take from Loning village in Kebumen, Central Java,” he told Arab News.

Rahman says his son has learnt some of the craft, but his skills still require polishing.

For now, the musicians are not trying to borrow tomorrow’s sorrow and are all focused on practice during the fasting month.

“Practicing during Ramadan is a joyful experience,” the group’s leader said.

“We’ll surely gain a (spiritual) reward as it is a good and blessed month.”

They have already earned a warm welcome from members of the Betawi community, after their performances were suspended for two years by coronavirus lockdowns.

Catur Widarsono, a watchman who lives next to the group’s practice room in Ciganjur, said the neighborhood felt desolate without the sound of rebana biang during the pandemic and everyone was happy to hear it again.

“(For us) residents, when there are activities such as rebana during Ramadan, it becomes serene, the atmosphere in the neighborhood becomes serene,” he added.

Mohammad Alwi, whose family also lives nearby, told Arab News he was glad the sound of music was back.

“Because of the pandemic, their routine was less,” he said.

“I’m glad to hear them (again), especially during the month of Ramadan. It reduces the anxiety the pandemic had brought.”


UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
Updated 8 sec ago

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
  • Foreign Office fears move could make communication channels with Iran more difficult
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ‘should have been proscribed by now,’ source tells Times

A plan to ban Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the UK for being a terrorist organization has been temporarily shelved by the government over fears that the move could harm diplomatic communication channels between London and Tehran. It is not known how long the pause will last.

The IRGC, established in 1979 in the wake of Iran’s revolution, has been accused of orchestrating insurgencies, assassinations, attacks and other acts of aggression worldwide. 

The proposed ban would have made membership of the IRGC or attendance of meetings in support of it illegal in the UK, and hindered its ability to raise funds in the country.

In November, the director general of UK intelligence branch MI5, Ken McCallum, accused the IRGC of plotting to assassinate or kidnap people living in Britain on at least 10 occasions in 2022.

The IRGC was also accused by British security services of threatening journalists working at London-based news outlet Iran International, which necessitated the deployment of armed police at its offices.

The IRGC’s outlawing has long been supported by senior British politicians, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat.

A source told The Times: “Foreign Office officials have real concerns about proscription because they want to maintain access.

“The Home Office, and the government more broadly, supports the move. The IRGC should have been proscribed by now, but the whole process is on ice.”

Diplomatic relations between the two countries remain strained, and were not helped by the execution earlier this year of UK resident Alireza Akbari, who authorities in Tehran had accused of being a spy. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the case had “appalled” him.

A UK government spokesperson said: “While the government keeps the list of proscribed organizations under review, we do not comment on whether a specific organization is or is not being considered for proscription.”


EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
Updated 13 min 58 sec ago

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
  • An existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day
KYIV: The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday.
“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February — exactly one year since the invasion started — we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen said during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she said, and “throwing it back by a generation,” estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
Updated 48 min 32 sec ago

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
  • 28.6% increase in asylum claims as opposition warns of ‘insurrection in the voting booths’
  • Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Georgia were main countries of origin for asylum seekers last year

French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is facing significant electoral losses amid concerns over “out of control” immigration, The Times reported.

The government’s perceived failure to control immigration — with a 28.6 percent year-on-year increase in asylum applications — has led to key potential allies urging Macron to take urgent action.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Georgia were the main countries of origin for asylum seekers in France last year.

New figures show that France provided 320,330 people with residency permits in 2022 — up from 193,000 a decade earlier.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the opposition Republicans in the Senate, said populism could make another comeback in France due to growing dissatisfaction with immigration levels.

Macron is likely to need Retailleau’s support in pushing through a critical new immigration bill in Parliament, with the president’s party losing its majority in the National Assembly during elections last year.

The proposed bill aims to ease concerns from both the left and right of French politics, with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne describing the legislation as a balance of “firmness and humanity.”

Under the plans, authorities will expedite the deportation of unemployed illegal immigrants, while industries facing labor shortages will gain access to new one-year working visas enabling the rapid hiring of undocumented migrants.

But Retailleau criticized the proposals, saying it “will not enable us to take back control” of immigration.

He added: “We are in the midst of migratory disorder (and) if we don’t take back control … there will be insurrections in the voting booths very soon.”

Retailleau warned that France could follow in the footsteps of Sweden, where “the extreme right is at the door of power.”

Political commentator Matthieu Croissandeau said: “The left thinks it (the legislation) is too right wing and the right thinks it’s too left wing.”


Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions
Updated 02 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions
  • Russia vows to push Ukrainian army back in response to longer-range rockets

MOSCOW: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said the United States was directly involved in explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea last year.
Lavrov provided no evidence for his claim. President Vladimir Putin has previously accused Britain of blowing up the pipelines, which London denied.
In an interview on state TV, Lavrov also said the West was lying about Russia’s refusal to negotiate over Ukraine and was trying to turn Moldova, Georgia and former Soviet states in Central Asia against Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.
In the interview on state TV, Lavrov said everybody wanted the conflict in Ukraine — which Moscow calls a “special military operation” — to end, but that the West’s support for Kyiv was playing an important role in how Russia approached the campaign.
Two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was preparing a new package of military aid worth $2.2 billion which is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time.
.”..We’re now seeking to push back Ukrainian army artillery to a distance that will not pose a threat to our territories,” said Lavrov.
.”..The greater the range of the weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime the more we will have to push them back from territories which are part of our country.”
Longer-range rockets would allow Ukraine — which has said it plans to retake all of its territory by force, including annexed Crimea — to strike deeper into Russian-held territory.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that such rockets would escalate the conflict but not change its course.
President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of Russian troops into Ukraine in February last year. He has said the operation was needed to protect Russia’s own security and to stand up to what he has described as Western efforts to contain and weaken Moscow.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of waging an illegal war designed to expand its territory.


EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’

EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’
Updated 02 February 2023

EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’

EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’
  • EU countries have staunchly backed Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February
  • In June last year, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status

KYIV: European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she had arrived in Kyiv with a team of commissioners on Thursday, a day before a Ukraine-European Union summit in the war-torn country.
“Good to be back in Kyiv, my 4th time since Russia’s invasion.... We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation,” she wrote in a tweet.
She is accompanied by 15 commissioners, including the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
The Commission described the visit as a “strong symbol” of European support for Ukraine “in the face of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression.”
EU countries have staunchly backed Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, by hitting Russia with waves of economic sanctions and by sending weapons to Kyiv.
In June last year, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status.