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Dambus: The musical strings of Bangka
Blessed with pristine beaches and stunning natural sceneries, the twin islands of Bangka and Belitung also present some attractive traditions. Located off the eastern coast of Sumatra, strong Malay influences decorate the daily life of the people. In music, they express themselves best through the art of Dambus.
Also known as Gambus in other areas such as in Jakarta, Jambi, and other parts of the archipelago, the art performance has its origin in the Middle East. Historically, many believe that it was brought by Arab traders when they also spread Islam through Indonesian Archipelago.
The term Dambus or gambus itself actually refers to a particular string musical instrument; however it is similarly applied to the musical ensemble and the musical genre. Dambus is a string instrument resembling a regular guitar. It is closely related to the Arabian Oud, which has many variations across the archipelago. However, Bangka’s Dambus has a special distinction in its tuning head which is always carved into the shape of a deer head – the mascot of Bangka.
The traditional Dambus has the body, neck and tuninghead carved from a single piece of jackfruit wood, including the extension at the bottom. The front of the hollowed out body is covered with a thin piece of wood. The soundholes are often in a decorative pattern. Some makers like decorating the front and neck with abstract paintings. The peg head follows a curve to the back and ends at the front with a nicely carved head of a deer with antlers. It usually has seven large friction pegs (4 rights and 3 left) on the sides of the open tuning head.
The Dambus has seven nylon (guitar)strings in 4 courses; the bass is a single string while the trebles consist of two strings for each note. The strings run over a loose wooden bridge and are fixed to a small string holder on the extension at the end of the body. The traditional Dambus has fretless neck, however nowadays there are also Dambus with fretted neck and uses more string.
A Dambus ensemble or ‘Orkes Dambus’ of Bangka Belitung usually consists of a Dambus, a Violin, Rebana or Tarwas, Tawak-Tawak, and Gong. It is frequently played to accompany distinct ‘Malay’ songs or dances, especially in the performance of Incak.