This is a look at the behind the scenes of tuning the bamboo used by the Lun Bawang Bamboo Flute and Bas Band in Ba’kelalan.
Most only get to see the performance of the Orang Ulu bamboo bands but not much is known about the effort it takes in preparing, tuning and practising the tunes.
I was fortunate enough to see how the band members tune their bamboo flutes and horns on a recent trip to Ba’kelalan in October 2018.
What is a Bamboo Band?
A bamboo band requires at least 25 players with a minimum of five flute players to form a band. There is no specific number of flute players required for a bamboo band.
Such big numbers are required because the bas (pronounced as bus), or the bamboo horns as I call them, only produces one note. More notes means more people to playing single Note bas.
However, the more players the better is the band and the merrier the atmosphere.
The Bamboo band is performed by the church choir during special occasions like Easter and Christmas celebration as well as during church wedding ceremonies.
They also perform during visits of important dignitaries to their village like the head of state, chief ministers and ministers.
Tuning a whole village
Cikgu Sang fine tuning his Bas
Tuning of the bamboo bas we were told only happens once in every two or three years. So we figured it would be a nice opportunity to have a closer look at how they tune the bas.
When we arrived at the Buduk Nur longhouse, which also happens to be the last Lun Bawang longhouse, we were taken by surprise by the number of people who had gathered to tune their bamboo pieces.
Unlike the Ibans and Bidayuhs, the Orang Ulu Longhouse common communal area is the kitchen and dining area.
Most of the band members had just finished their lunch when we arrived and we were greeted with all sorts of hooting and sawing sounds. Male band members were seen hand sawing their bamboo pieces while the ladies of the village waited patiently for them to finish.
Sawing their bamboo bas to the correct tune.
The bamboo used were all dried and ready to use. Sang explained that the bamboo selected are of the right age, not too young and not too old. Long pieces were cut and brought to the river to be sanded down with sand and also with a special leaf that acts as a fine sand paper.
Once this is done, the bamboo are dried for about two weeks which by then it would be ready to be made into flutes and bas.
The bamboo pieces of the bas are sealed using sticky latex, which is the black blob as shown in this picture.
Once they were all done with tuning the bas, it was time to do a quick dry run on some of the songs. So we sat there and saw in amazement, how the conductor lead the bamboo band. Just a few commands while lifting his bamboo baton up and down.
Few more songs and it was called a day. We were informed that the next practice would be after church services that coming Sunday.
That one hour occasion was enough to make us feel like important dignitaries. What a rare coincidence it was. It was an honour to see the whole village work together in tuning their bamboo music instruments.
What a great way to get the villagers to get together, I thought to myself. Ba’kelalan proved that music indeed is a great way to unite the whole community. Each person has a tune to play in this bamboo band. Without each person, the melody would not be complete.
Thank you Ba’kelalan for this lovely life lesson. We all have our roles and is important we play along to each others strength and weaknesses.
A quick edit video of some footages I took.