Song


Sung Verse Forms (Macapat)

Ki Supatman playing siter during a performance at PSMD. Photo by Ruedi Nuetzi and used with permission.
Ki Supatman playing siter during a performance at PSMD. Photo by Ruedi Nuetzi and used with permission.

Performances of the Javanese epic poetry tradition called macapat are unique from other types of Javanese theatre. Generally considered an important repository of cultural identity and history, all night performances of macapat epic sung poetry have largely been replaced by modern popular music genres such as dangdut (a popular dance music that emerged in the late 1960s that combines local music traditions, Indian and Malaysian film musics and Western rock) and campursari (a popular style of music that combines elements of kroncong, Javanese gamelan and Western rock). Pak Supatman, a former tandhak performer in the transvestite ludruk theatre, is one of the few remaining practitioners of the unique Malang-style macapat sung poetry tradition. Staged presentations of macapat traditionally include performances by two or three performers – the dhalang macapat, a second dhalang (who ‘interprets’ the poetic verses) and at least one female singer. Throughout the evening, the dhalang macapat and the singer take turns singing stanzas from that evening’s chosen text, usually one of several extant historical epics. Pak Supat provides plucked zither (siter) accompaniment. The singers also act out various important characters in the stories. The second dhalang interprets the sung verses, interjects comic elements and elaborates or abbreviates the story in a way similar to that of shadow puppeteers. The ability to sing verses at random in this way is based on the expectation that any singer of Javanese verse worth his or her salt can correctly and artfully sight-sing unknown texts on the spot. Indeed, it is possible to do so because of the metrically structured nature of macapat verse forms.