Exploring the kakalo’uta

Lospalos, day 87

I’ve been doing some transcriptions this week, revisiting the footage I shot in Dili at the Cultural Festival of different traditional instruments. I realised I had some footage of the Kakalo’uta being played, so spent some time reviewing that and transcribing the piece they performed.

Tony and I have gathered up quite a bit of bamboo over the last few weeks, and yesterday we lined up three pieces of resonant bamboo each, and started to transfer the kakalo’uta rhythms to these three pitches. It sounded pretty good. Then this afternoon, Tony got talking to our neighbours, a family of many young boys who often come to our verandah jams. They offered him a coconut and he ended up sitting with them to eat it. Somehow this led to him describing our bamboo instruments, and from there, to the father of all the boys making a new instrument for us from one of our pieces of bamboo.

What he made was very like a Papua New Guinean log drum, planed flat on one side with a long slit down its middle that you hit on either side. “This piece of bamboo is too narrow, though,” he told us. “If you can get a very wide piece” – showing us the ideal size with his hands – “then that will be even better. It will have a much bigger sound.”

Now our heads are buzzing. A traditional instrument craftsman right next door to us! We have two more weeks. If we can get enough bamboo, could we commission him to make us some more of these instruments so that we could create a piece for an ensemble? What about our experiments with three differently toned pieces of bamboo – our makeshift version of the kakalo’uta I saw in Dili? Perhaps we could modify this design to make a variation of the kakalo’uta that could be played on the ground, rather than having this three pieces of wood hung suspended from a frame. I asked what it is called. It’s called kakalo – from the Fataluku word meaning “to hit”.



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