Kecak! Balinese Monkey Chant Asian American Resource Center

Recommended Ages: 3 and up (parent assistance required for young children)

Duration of Activity: 30 minutes

What's Kecak?

Kecak (pronounced "kechak"), is a popular dance-drama from the Indonesian island of Bali. In Kecak, dancers tell the heroic Ramayana story without speaking words.

What makes Kecak unique? Instead of adding music to make storytelling more interesting, Kecak singers (traditionally a group of as many as 150 men) shout out short sounds like "cha!" "sil!" and "bo!" repeatedly with energetic body movements. When these chants echo through the air, it sounds like monkeys in the forest. You've got to watch Kecak performance to understand what this magical performing art is like!

photo credit: Kecak Dance (image by Wiaskara, 02/18/2020, distributed under CC BY 4.0 license)

Watch Kecak!

Video Source: "Baraka (1992) - part - 'Kecak' Balinese Monkey Chant" uploaded by daviidem, Aug 10, 2009

Who Started Kecak?

I Wayan Limbak, a Balinese dancer, created Kecak with the German painter named Walter Spies in the 1930s.

Who can perform Kecak?

Kecak chanting had been performed only by men until the first women's Kecak group started in 2006. Men, women, boys or girls, anyone can enjoy performing Kecak!

Try Kecak with Your Family!

  1. Decide in your family who will play the role of Commander, Chanter A, and Chanter B. It is okay to have more than one person for Chanter A and Chanter B roles. The parent should play the Commander role for young participants.
  2. Chanter A and B sit facing Commander.
  3. Commander sits with her hands on her thighs and chants the following phrases to announce the beginning of a Kecak session.“Pun! Pun-pun- pun,-pun-pun-pun, cha! Pun! Pun-pun- pun,-pun-pun-pun, cha! Pun-pun-cha! Pun-pun-cha! Cha!
  4. Chanter A and Chanter B start chanting the following phrases repeatedly at the same time. Chanter A: “Sil-bo! Sil-bo! Sil-bo! Sil-bo! Sil-bo!...” Chanter B: “Cha-cha-cha! Cha-cha-cha! Cha-cha-cha! Cha-cha-cha!” Don’t get confused by the other chanter’s sound!
  5. Once Chanters get comfortable chanting, Commander begins making various arm movements (see below). Chanters copy Commander’s movements while they keep chanting their phrase.
  6. Whenever Commander wants to change her arm movements, she shouts out “Sil!” and begins the next arm movement. Chanters follow Commander. Chanters must keep chanting their phrase all the time!
  7. When Commander wants to end the session, she shouts, “Es, es, byo, sil!” and places her hands back on her thighs. Chanters immediately stop chanting and put their hands back on their thighs, too.

Example of arm movements

  • Bring arms up overhead and down back to the thighs while constantly shaking hands.
  • Reach toward the right with both arms and move them above the head and toward the left while constantly shaking hands.
  • Lean back and forth with straight arms reaching toward the front. Keep the hands constantly shaking.

Learn more arm movement variations from the Kecak video you watched. Feel free to create new arm movements.

Level Up!

Vary the loudness of the chants: loud chanting after a loud command (“Sil!”) and gentle chanting after a gentle command (“sil”).

Chanters, keep chanting your phrase no matter what is happening! Pay attention to Commander and follow her lead.

Enjoy Kecak chanting!

We'd love to hear your feedback!


Created with images by Den - "Kecak Dance, Bali - Indonesia" • Nico Wijaya - "untitled image"