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Malay Culture



Gambus as well as guitar is a music played by picking its strings. Its function is for accompanying song and Zapin dance at a wedding reception or syukuran (Malay thankfulness party). However, gambus is identified as the accompaniment music of Islamic songs. In accompanying the singers, gambus is not the single music played, but another music such as marwas (type of musical instrument resembling small drum) is also played in order to make the song rhythm more beautiful. The Malay people know gambus very well due to its unique shape that resembles sechium edule. In the Malacca Sultanate era, this music was deemed as the primary music which accompanied Ghazal song that originally came from the Middle East. The Arab traders who stepped into the Malay land in the era of Malay Malacca Sultanate brought their own culture to be introduced to the indigenious people.

There are many kinds of gambus that can be found everywhere easily, especially in the Malay land. Some of this stringed musical instruments have three strings, but others have twelve. The amount of the string is always in accordance with the players preference. Gambus can be played as solo music as well as a group. Moreover, this music can be collaborated with either traditional or modern music. The collaboration among gambus, traditional and modern music will persistently create a unique melodious rhythm.

The way how to produce gambus is nearly similar to the way of producing kompang. The only difference is at the shape of both instruments. Gambus has a specific space at its top where the strings are tied, while kompang has not, it is simply hollow cylinder with parchment stretched tightly over the open sides. Gambus is made of the chosen thin wood of pterocarpus indicus or oncosperma tigillaria. The tree cut is shaped as such and such that becomes a specific style with a certain measure, and then the middle part of the material gambus is holed deeply. Until this process, the material gambus is called as bakal.

Bakal is refined precisely with a sandpaper, and then is polished with a coconut oil to become smoother and brighter. The next step, bakal is put in the sun for several times until appears its sparkle brightly as the gambusmaker want. The holed part is covered with parchment that is taken whether from varanus rudicollis, snake or ray. The parchment, before used as a cover, is soaked for several days in order to become softer and easier to be nailed. The next step is nailing bakal by using laduh nail.

After accomplishing all steps above, the gambusmaker then hangs penyiput (animal horn placed at the top of gambus). All kinds of gambus have four penyiput where the strings are tied and tightened tightly. One top of string is tied at the lowest part of penyiput, and another is tied at the lowest part of gambus. The string is then nailed fast. This process is repeated to the next strings. In addition, the buffalo`s horn is used as penyendal that well known as kuda-kuda gambus in order to make the gambusplayer easier of playing gambus.

After putting penyendal, the gambusplayer may begin to play it. The player needs to master the method and technic of playing gambus. He can uses his fingers or pementing (guitar pick). Usually, during playing gambus, the player prefers to use pementing rather than to use his fingers that because he may play it for a long time. 

Sources :

  2. Pusat Penelitian Kebudayaan dan Kemasyarakatan Unversitas Riau, Atlas Ensiklopedia Kebudayaan Melayu Riau, (Pekanabaru, Yayasan Bandar Seni Raja Ali Haji, 2005).
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