Found Sounds: UNCG Musicology Journal

Kecak “Monkey Chant” and Authenticity in Balinese Culture

Kenan Yedidiah Baker


The kecak “monkey chant” is the most famous and popular art form presented to the Western world that has come out of the island of Bali in Southeast Asia. The synchronized dance movements of the pengecak-pengecak, the hundred or so men chanting in interlocking rhythms or kotekan, and the condensed story of the Ramayana has given Western tourists a taste of Balinese culture that many believe to be the most “traditional, real, and authentic” performances of Balinese culture out there. However, to the citizens of Bali, the kecak is mainly regarded as a means to produce income for their communities. Kecak in Bali has been a tool to impress Western tourists since the 1930s, and to some isn't considered a true embodiment of Balinese culture and entertainment. This may also have to do with the fact that many villages and communities (desa and banjar) that create kecak groups have little musician and dancer involvement in their renditions of kecak, and these performances are so standardized that they are not in line with the ideals of Balinese kreasi baru or “new music.” The goal of this paper is to find concrete evidence of whether the Balinese kecak “monkey chant” can be considered an authentic Balinese art form, or if it has been created solely for the entertainment of Western tourists with no cultural significance to the native population itself.


Bali; Balinese Culture; Kecak


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