The journey of the performing arts industry in Malaysia has always been tumultuous.
From the lack of audience at theatre halls, the scarcity of funds and support from the government, the actors, directors, performers involved in the arena are no strangers to these challenges.
Despite an increase of productions in the country, these trials continue to persist.
With tickets ranging from RM30 to RM300, audiences who actually purchase the tickets are those with deep pockets, who understand the finer details and efforts in coming up with a production. The average, uninformed Malaysians clueless about behind-the-scenes efforts will make the obvious choice – watching a movie at the cinema.
Fact is theatre production is an expensive affair – for audiences, organisers and artists. While corporate sponsorship has been dwindling over the past few years, some performing arts groups like Hands Percussion are grateful to have sponsorship from the country’s largest financial services group, Maybank.
For Bernard Goh, founder and artistic director of Hands Percussion, the cost in having a production up and running is secondary because he believes in spending money to put on a good show for the audience. Another vital issue is the fervent desire to share performing arts with more Malaysians – particularly the younger generation.
“We have a responsibility to share our work and reach out to people. We don’t need money to survive, but to reach out. I tell my members that if you can perform in a theatre in Adelaide, you can perform at a Kampung Attap badminton court. The standing ovation is the same.
His opinions are echoed by versatile percussionist and member of traditional music group Geng Wak Long, Mohd Shafic Aminuddin Hussin or popularly known as Mat Din.
“More Malaysians, especially the younger generation, need to experience the power of a live performance, mainly if it involves traditional instruments.”
“I also hope they are inspired to pick up a new skill by learning how to play these traditional instruments,” says the 30-year-old who is adept at different performing styles and genres including the Makyung, Dikir Barat, Rebana Ubi, Kertuk, Main Peteri, Silat Wayang Kulit Kelantan and Tomoi.
Preetsuraj Singh, co-founder of the electric 11-member dhol collective Dhol Alliance, knows the power of learning traditional music, first playing the tabla before moving on to dhol.
“A friend brought the dhol to school on sports day, started playing it and there was an instant attraction. I bought one and went for classes and never looked back since then,” revealed Preetsuraj.
The trio are unanimous in their hope that the new Malaysian government will embrace the power of the arts.
“Music is something that everyone can accept.”
“Children are naturally interested in music so it’s important for us to teach them how to play instruments and make sure the tradition lives on,” said Mat Din, whose passion for traditional music began at the tender age of five living in a kampung in Kelantan.
After forming Hands Percussion with friends in 1997, Goh has been instrumental in getting the Malaysian drumming ensemble expand their skills in the international drumming arena by learning new instruments such as the gamelan and gendang, besides traditional Chinese drums. Performing locally as well as overseas, the two Hands groups have added nearly 30 productions to their name – including Dialogue In Skin, Tchaikovsky on Gamelan and Percussion Paradise.
Come August 2-5, Hands Percussion will once again give Malaysians the opportunity to experience talents of home-grown and international percussionists live on stage in the capital city. Along with Hands, Mat Din, Dhol Alliance, Prakash Kandasamy and Majd Hass performing arts lovers will get to see percussion performances by Abbos Kosimov (Uzbekistan), Ben Walsh (Australia) and U-Hee Company (Korea) at Kaleidoscope 5 – Unbeatable, at Pentas 1, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.
Inspired by Malaysia’s own rich diverse culture and our neighbour countries, the musical offering incorporates contemporary percussion styles with unconventional methods of delivery, creating a melodic menu for music lovers through the Kaleidoscope series. The festival will also feature workshops and master classes.