Taken from Merdeka Supplement
Ethnic tunes with a modern feel
Local underground folk band
DEWANGGA Sakti’s music is perhaps best described as traditional Malay meets the 21st century. Originally, it revolved centred around the gamelan. But that was when they were still university students and had access to these RM30,000 instruments (cheapest).
Now, the music has shifted into a thrilling blend of gambus, darbuka and rebana communing with the violin and electric guitar.
Their contemporary rendition of traditional Malay tunes like zapin, nasyid, joget and inang call to mind a flurry of strange and confusing but exciting images: Butterfly lovers meeting in a Chinese teahouse, Anakin Skywalker and Amidala caught in a Bollywood moment on gentle grassy slopes, Turkish dervishes whirling madly to pulsing trance beats in a New York square. Adversity has served to fan their passion in producing music that speaks of their Malay legacy and identity.
“We don’t want to be entertainment workers. We want to be artistes. To sing not because of the money,” said Mohsen Amdan, founder, composer, guitarist and lead vocalist of this emerging local underground folk band.
The rest are: Abdul Raof Salhudin and Noor Azmi Mohd Shariff (percussion/ back-up vocals), Muhammad Syamsul Faiz Zainuddin (bass guitar), Norman Soo (violin), Wan Yaser Wan Salim (guitar) and Mohd Zulkifli Ramli on the gambus. All but two are under the age of 30.
As the proverb goes: Easier said than done. The experimental artiste is only appreciated at home when he spreads his wings and flies away. The energetic techno-rap Tokyo Drift (Fast & Furious) by Teriyaki Boyz flavoured with beautiful strains of gamelan has got everybody talking. All of a sudden, people are asking: “What’s that sound? It’s amazing, it’s cool”. In Japan, they are clamouring for such compositions. Here, we don’t give a d___. Or do we?
The reality, says Mohsen, is simply that our young generation today “are not aware. There is a lack of exposure, a lack of local bands out there (producing ethnic music)”. And that was why Dewangga Sakti was born: “To conserve our heritage, to protect and promote our legacy, culture and identity. We saw a vacancy in the local music industry,” said Mohsen, 28.
When they first started performing during their university days, they were impeded time and again by a sort-sighted university administration. Luckily they had their own grassroots support; equipment was borrowed from fellow underground musicians. Their first-ever concert in 2001 was financed by a neighbourhood burger stall owner to the tune of RM400.
Currently, the band is in the midst of putting together their self-produced debut album, tentatively titled Mabok Kepayong (Lovesick). They hope to release it by year end. Finally, their music will be heard by the masses.
It has taken them six long years. All of them have day jobs (except Norman who is still studying music at the National Arts Academy in KL); Mohsen has a year-old daughter while Syamsul and Zulkifli are expecting their own soon.
Many of their original compositions were lost during this chaotic period. Only one survived, Jalan Kembali (Road to Return), which they have renamed Kembali Mencari (Returning to Find) for the album in memory of the band’s early days.
Next on the cards are setting up their own studio, expanding their repertoire of folk music (Syamsul plans on taking up the accordion) and expanding their band into a bigger ethnic ensemble.
They are very serious about becoming full-time musicians and to one day join the ranks of internationally acclaimed ethnic artistes at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak. Earlier this year, they performed to an appreciative crowd at the annual Fête de la Musique, held at the Alliance Francaise in Kuala Lumpur.
Right now, Mohsen, Norman, Noor Azmi and Zulkifli are in Taipei as part of the Government’s initiatives to promote Malaysian culture and heritage. It is their first time performing as Dewangga Sakti abroad. Next month, from Sept 25 to October 5, the latter three will perform at the Asean Tourism Fair in Sapporo, Japan. Their participation in the two concerts are sponsored by our the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism.
“We will be playing traditional Malay folk songs and maybe a couple of our originals. In Japan, we plan to play their folk numbers and maybe songs like Sukiyaki or the Doraemon theme song,” quipped Zulkifli. — By DEBRA CHONG (NST)