C asean Consonant: Treasuring the Southeast Asian Traditional Music

Musicians of C asean Consonant ⓒ C asean Consonant

Many wonderful compliments were paid to the performance of the ASEAN Anthem, “The ASEAN Way,” at the opening ceremony of the 34th ASEAN Summit. This beautiful performance, enjoyed by the leaders of ASEAN member states and distinguished guests, was given by the ten young musicians of C asean Consonant.

C asean Consonant is a traditional music ensemble composed of ten members from each of the ten ASEAN nations. The founding of the ensemble was an initiative by Ajarn Anant Narkkong, a Thai ethnomusicologist acclaimed for his passion for Southeast Asian musical culture. Playing the role of music director, Ajarn Narkkong has led C asean Consonant together with advisors from other Southeast Asian countries.

What makes C asean Consonant special is that it is a collaborative project providing a platform where young musicians gather to share, exchange and preserve the traditional music of the Southeast Asian region. Communicating through the language of music, the young artists share their understanding of ASEAN identity while promoting the values of their indigenous cultural heritage, which plays a significant role in conserving cultural diversity. Intangible cultural heritage preservation through collaborative projects of this kind is expected to become the model for nurturing a potential cultural industry; in this way, cultural expression will be generated from intangible cultural heritage resources, including the traditional music of the region.

The ensemble comprises a diversity of Southeast Asian musical instruments: kulintang (ensemble consisting of a row of horizontal gongs) and rabana (one-sided drum) from Brunei; tro sao (high-pitched fiddle), tro ou (low-pitched fiddle), and skor (a goblet-shaped drum) from Cambodia; kendang sunda (two-headed drums), saluang (flute), and kacapi (a zither-like instrument) from Indonesia; khaen (bamboo mouth organ) from Laos; gambus (lute-like plucked instrument) and sape (boat-shaped lute) from Malaysia; saung kauk (harp) from Myanmar; multiple bamboo instruments from the mountainous Cordillera area of the Philippines; bansuri (Indian side-blown bamboo flute) from Singapore; ranat ek (xylophone) and khlui (end-blown bamboo flute) from Thailand; đàn bầu (monochord zither) and đàn t’rưng (bamboo xylophone) from Vietnam. Among these, the khaen instrument of the ethnic Lao was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2017.

C asean Consonant performed at the ASEAN – China Music Week 2017, Nanning, Guangxi, China ⓒ C asean Consonant

The collaborative project has been brought to life as a series of concerts since its foundation, including the debut concert in 2015, Road Show in Malaysia and Singapore in 2016, plus appearances at events such as the ASEAN–EU Anniversary Concert, the 50th Anniversary Celebration of ASEAN, ASEAN–China Music Week 2017, Shanghai Spring International Music Festival 2017, Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, and the 34th ASEAN Summit. The performances primarily depict the spirit of the ASEAN Community through traditional music, creating a strong bond between the ASEAN countries. Videos of C asean Consonant’s performances can be enjoyed on the C asean YouTube channel.

The inauguration of the new ASEAN Secretariat building, which will take place August 8 at the ASEAN Headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, will see C asean Consonant showcase ten newly arranged songs in addition to the ASEAN Anthem. C asean Consonant plans to start a music education project for kids. “It is a laboratory work for our ten young musicians to develop their team project regarding the ASEAN music education package that will be put into action this year,” said Ajarn Anant Narkkong, C asean Consonant’s music director.