Asep Nata’s Innovation of Karinding Towél

Asep Nata with his karinding towél (photo taken from Asep Nata’s Facebook page)

By Ilham Nurwansah

Meet Asep Nata, a humble person who innovate a new type of Sundanese karinding. He is now a lecturer (honored) in Faculty of Art and Literature Pasundan University, in Bandung, capitol of West Java. His invention has given new passion not only for the karinding society, but also ordinary people. Why? Because his karinding towél (from Sundanese word toél means plucked) much easier to play than the normal Sundanese karinding (hit). 

He invented the karinding towél in 2005 after tens of year’s research around Indonesia. The basic shape idea came from the metal mouth harp he found in Sumatra. He plays the metal harp well, but unluckily, it was not safe because it can hurt his teeth. In some case, the Sumatran metal moutharp player has no teeth at all.  

Several years later, in another research, he found another gengong from Bali and Lombok that made of palm. This was safer than the metal. From this research, he decided to make an innovation of “safe play” mouth harp with simple way to play. From a small idea to make karinding easier to play, became a popular thing among the karinding existence. 

This well experienced ethnomusicologist has visited several places in Indonesia that having the mouth harp tradition such in Bali, Lombok, Kalimantan (Borneo), Java, and Sumatra. From those long experiences, he decided to make his own mouth harp formula as a public domain. 

The differences of Asep’s karinding with the ordinary one is the shape, way to play, and tonal. The material of karinding towél is the same with normal single needled karinding that is bamboo (with various kinds of it). 

First, the shape. Its shape construction is not like ordinary karinding with thick end part on one side. The karinding towél has slim and long flatted shape without any segment. So, it has clean and simple look. He said the first inspiration of the shape came from génggong. He has tried to make the normal hit-karinding shape, but unfortunately, he needs extra hard work to make just a “perfect” piece. He said the hit-karinding is more difficult to make and more developed than the other mouth harps in Indonesia.    

As the sound producer, it uses a wider single tongue than usual, with hand nail-like as the plucked part. The concept is similar with Philipinean Ku(m)bing and Vietnamese Dan Moi

A set of chromatic tuned karinding towel (photo by Intan Sinambela)

The second is the way to play. Asep improved self-techniques to play his karinding towél. The basic technique is plucking the nail end part with thumb, while the other hand grabs the handle part properly. To sound the tongue, you need to alternate your thumb back and forward. This karinding can produce short sound. It depends on the speed and power of plucking to make louder and more various sound. With this technique, you can make more patterns and variations. Not only a finger you can use, but your entire plucking finger can be useful too (for virtuosos). Just jump to YouTube to see Asep Nata playing his jawharp.

Asep Nata & Romy Jaya Saputra at “Bukan Musik Biasa” Wisma Seni TBJT pavilion, Surakarta Central Java (Photo by Zack Mao)

Third, tonal sound. Unlike ordinary karinding with untunned sound, the karinding towel is made with modern tuning system. Asep tried to make his karinding widely use in modern music life. So, it can be used as well tuned mouth harp in western music and Sundanese traditional music as well. He makes custom-order sets of karinding, depended on the customer want. 

Usually, in a normal set he makes eight pieces of karinding towel with a full normal octave notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C’). As well as the normal set, he able to make a full set of chromatic scale with 12 notes (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, G, G#, A, A#, B, C’). That’s a big work to do. He also makes sets of Sundanese pentatonic scales for his mouth harp.

This innovation is well accepted by public, not only in Indonesia but it has gone abroad too. Asep has succeeded his ambition to bring Sundanese and also Indonesian culture to be loved by the world people. 

From only personal use instrument, nowadays there are so many communities who play this Sundanese plucked. There is a supervised group by Asep Nata himself, named Suku Karinding Towél with hundreds of member and player. They live specially to socialize Asep Nata’s karinding towél as well as ordinary karinding.

If you are interested to have one of it, just mail Asep Nata to or to his Facebook page 

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