Madra Homestay grows… and becomes Bali HQ for Gamelan Sekar Jaya

Over the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ketut Madra expanded the homestay property, buying four adjacent pieces of dry land to the west and north of the first four bungalows, all just to north of the seemingly endless rice fields. The final land acquisition in the southwest corner came from Madé Lebah, a well-known Peliatan gamelan musician and teacher, who was the brother-in-law of Madra’s first wife Ibu Lampias, through her first marriage to Pak Lebah’s older brother, Wayan Gedah. Madra anchored that corner with a two story pondok in the lumbung style of a Balinese rice barn. It was soon followed by another building to the east with two guest rooms for a total of seven by the mid-1980s.

In 1984, at age 43, Ketut Madra married his second wife, Wayan Konderi. They moved into the homestay’s first brick building, positioned near the center of the property.

Ibu Wayan, 10 years (?) younger than Pak Ketut, had grown up in Banjar Kalah, Peliatan. He had known her since moving there to pursue his career as a painter at 18. It was Wayan’s father who sold Ketut the land on which the homestay’s first pondok was built. By then, Wayan had already been living away from Peliatan from her late teens through her twenties, working in the tourist hotel business in Denpasar and Sanur.

As the homestay grew after their marriage, she was the one who focused on making it work in terms of hospitality and finances, while Ketut assisted whenever needed and continued to paint wayang stories.

At the urging of I Nyoman Kakul, Madra also began learning the Sidakarya masked dance repertoire. He initially performed comic, spoken, bondres roles in the mid-1980s at local odalan. He soon was in demand for more more demanding patih and subtle dalem roles, and eventually acquired a reputation as an accomplished performer of topeng tua, with its mix of comedy and pathos.

Before he reached age 50 in 1990, he also began contributing weeks of time and effort to the temples of his banjar and the villages of Peliatan and Pengosekan. He designed and then executed with the help of family and painter friends the wayang narratives to replace the paintings of the pura that were wearing out after half a century of use and exposure to weather.

The idea of Gamelan Sekar Jaya emerged over conversations at Madra Homestay in 1978. Michael Tenzer and Rachel Cooper were both in Bali then, studying gamelan and dance respectively. Their friend I Wayan Suweca was already on the gamelan faculty at ASTI (later ISI-Denpasar). The three “had been hanging out together a lot at the homestay,” Tenzer recalls. Suweca would be teaching gamelan at UCLA in the summer of 1979, and Tenzer was planning to start graduate school in composition at UC Berkeley that fall.  “We hatched a plan to meet in Berkeley and start a group after Suweca’s summer session,” he says. “Rachel already knew all the folks in the Berkeley gamelan scene through the Center for World Music there. Of course, we had no idea it would grow and continue for more than 40 years and counting.”

By 1980, Gamelan Sekar Jaya was a functioning sekaa gong of more than 20 members, playing traditional Balinese music on a set of instruments Tenzer had bought in Bali in 1977 and 1978. Pak Suweca was GSJ’s first resident teacher from Bali. Three years later their guest teachers included I Wayan Dibia, I Wayan Tembres, and Ni Madé Wiratini, who were all in residence in Berkeley at various times. “We collectively began to think about a  Bali tour and whether it would be possible” Tenzer says. “Dibia solicited the invitation through his connections in Bali.”

The official invitation from Bali Governor Ida Bagus Mantra arrived in late 1983. The group had already started planning; serious fundraising could now begin. Ketut Madra learned of the invitation as soon as it arrived in Berkeley. The homestay would be the central gathering place for GSJ rehearsals and had room for about 10 of its members, with some doubling up in the bungalows.

Pak Ketut and Ibu Wayan, together with their extended families in both Peliatan and neighboring Pengosekan, began the next phase of construction at the homestay. The most urgently needed missing piece was a covered rehearsal and performance practice space. A wantilan-style structure, open on three sides, about five by seven meters, with a thick, thatched, lalang roof and raised concrete floor went up quickly near the entrance to the homestay property from Jalan Bima to the north. A new open-sided garage with tiled roof formed an adjacent ell-shape creating more space.

“Kembali,” the film about Gamelan Sekar Jaya’s 1985 Bali tour that played on PBS in North America, and brief clips and stills from the film below showing rehearsals and practice at the homestay, tell the rest of the story. (A VPN is neccesary to view Vimeo in Indonesia.)


Three brief Vimeo clips from the film show the group’s arrival for its first rehearsal (3:15); a traditional blessing of the performers at their last practice before their first performance in North Bali (:19); and Pak Madé Lebah, a legendary drummer and gamelan leader from Peliatan, teaching an old piece in the traditional way (1:15).

The three photos below, screenshots from “Kembali,” show Ketut Madra first preparing, then sprinkling, tirtha, Bali’s holy water, on the members of Sekar Jaya during their final rehearsal in the homestay’s new teaching and performance space before their departure for their first scheduled appearance before a Balinese audience.

Three “Kembali” screenshots below show five of Sekar Jaya’s Balinese teachers at rehearsals. On the left, I Wayan Suweca (left), another of GSJ’s co-founders and its first resident teacher in Berkeley, watches with I Wayan Sinti. Suweca was on the ASTI gamelan faculty at this time and Sinti taught at KOKAR. In the center are I Madé Lebah (left) of Peliatan and I Wayan Tembres of Blangsinga near Blahbatuh. Both now deceased, they were elder statesmen among Balinese gamelan teachers and mentors of GSJ co-founder Michael Tenzer. Pak Tembres was also an early teacher of the group in Berkeley. On the right, Ni A.A. Ayu Kusuma Arini, a renowned teacher and former legong dancer from Denpasar works with Leslie Scoren of Sekar Jaya. Ibu Arini, now in her mid-70s, continues to teach dance at ISI-Denpasar.

Credits: Ketut Madra’s family are deeply grateful to Kembali’s producer and writer John Rogers and to Gamelan Sekar Jaya for permission to use these links and images.