The Gambang Kromong (xylophone) has long been regarded as authentic Betawi (Batavian) music. However, it is actually a powerful blend with the Chinese music introduced by the China Benteng community who still reside until today next to the Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Cengkareng, Banten Province, close to Jakarta.
China Benteng (Benteng is Fortress) is a popular term for the Peranakan Chinese (kiaw seng) ethnicity, descendants of Chinese men (sin kheh) and the women (nyai / lady of the house) of Teluk Naga, Tangerang, Banten. The mixture had created the skin tone of China Benteng people different from other Chinese in general. Their eyes are slanted, but the tone of their skin is dark brown.
In addition, unlike several other Chinese societies who are fluent in Hokkien, the China Benteng community mostly can only speak Malay. Perhaps the ladies of the house (the Nyai) preferred to teach their children to local language rather than conforming to the the husband’s background.
Their culture which was born from an acculturation process a cultural blend of Chinese traditions with the local culture—had made the China Benteng society exceptional. Such as what appeared in the kromong xylophone music that is highly popular in this area.
If popular music tries to build pop culture that is the preference of the society, the gambang kromong music reveals instead the journey of a local culture with all the distinctions within. The kromong xylophone, that is identical to the China Benteng community, is a blending result of authentic Betawi (Batavian) music and Chinese musical instruments, even sometimes with European musical instruments.
Currently, the gambang kromong belongs to two communities, namely the Peranakan Chinese society (the result of mixed marriages among the Chinese and the natives) and the Betawi society. The Peranakan Chinese or the Betawi people generally reside in the same area and both use Malay with Betawi dialect.
In the meantime, the term gambang kromong was drawn from two Indonesian musical instruments, a xylophone (gambang) with 18 bars which were tuned in pentatonic tones along three and a half octaves and ten small gongkettle (kromong) which were tuned in pentatonic over two octaves.