‘A Taste of Folk Music’ concert breathes new life into Asian folk music

The performers taking a group photo onstage after the finale.

KUCHING, July 20: A concert titled ‘A Taste of Folk Music’, which was held on July 9 at the Old Court House here, was a captivating demonstration of how Asian folk songs and dances can be adapted and brought to life on a contemporary stage without losing their original folk identity.

The Neko Music Centre-organised concert featured a selection of Kenyah folk songs from Sarawak, as well as traditional Malay, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese songs arranged for four-part choir with instrumental accompaniment and enhanced by dance, according to a statement.

Eddie Chan directed the self-funded event, which was the culmination of months of collaboration between several private music organisations in Sarawak, including Neko Music Centre, Jonah Music Studio, Primo Music Garden, William Music Studio, Beats Dance and Vocal Studio, and other music enthusiasts from Kuching.

In addition to classically trained Kuching singers and instrumentalists, the concert featured guest pianists from Singapore as well as tenors, basses, and sopranos from Sibu and Sarikei.

The first half of the programme featured a series of Kenyah songs that were transcribed and arranged by Dr Chong Pek Lin.

Besides the donning of traditional Kenyah attire, a longhouse atmosphere was created through traditional Kenyah dance movements and dramatisation.

The programme began with a sape player onstage, while two dancers in full Kenyah costume entered from behind the audience, gracefully dancing their way through the aisles and up to the stage, as if inviting the audience to their longhouse.

In true Kenyah longhouse tradition, the basses and tenors then gave a majestic rendition of the Kenyah ‘lemalo’ (call to arms), after which the sopranos and altos joined them to sing two “welcome” songs, “Lan-e” and “Ateklan”, in traditional Kenyah harmony.

To the amusement of the audience, the cries of a “baby” sleeping in a cradle on stage then initiated the crooning of a soothing lullaby “Teroh Na’ Ika” (Sleep My Child), which was joined by the full choir with piano accompaniment.

This was followed by Alexa Macy singing “Luntok Saidin Encik” (Sleep My Little Brother) and Brian Cai singing “Bampa Lale” (We Will Miss You), both of which were sensitively accompanied by cellist Darren Chin and pianist Ho Swee Jack.

Claudia Mas also performed the wistful song “Lunde Along” (I Yearn For You Along) while interacting with a sympathetic “bird”.

In addition, after emcee TP Chua explained the significance of the final song, “Kuai Maping” (The Argus Pheasant Spreads Its Wings), Claudia and Darren sang alternate verses while taking turns dancing in depiction of the pheasant, accompanied by Jacklyn Chu on the ‘jatung utang’ (traditional Kenyah xylophone).

Meanwhile, the second half of the concert began with the choir singing “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, accompanied by pianist Kho Yak Pei, and was followed by an a cappella rendition of “Siti Payung” (a Malay song with characteristic asli rhythm).

The audience was then treated to a dazzling rendition of the Chinese song “Mayira” by soprano Catrina Chu, which was followed by a Chinese dance performance by Beats Dance studio, which featured five dancers in flowing costumes and twirling umbrellas.

The well-known Korean folk song “Arirang” was performed next by a team from Jonah Music Studio, which included a vocal ensemble, ‘Gu Zheng’ (a Chinese plucked zither), and piano.

Then, Andrew Toe’s “Variations On Loy Krathong” (a piano solo) provided a whiff of Thai flavour.

The following performance transported the audience to the Land of Cherry Blossoms, a medley of two Japanese songs arranged by Eddie Chan with violin, piano, and flute accompaniment, and dance choreographed by Chong Pek Lin.

Tenors John Jin and William Lau performed “Akatombo” (Red Dragonflies) and “Sakura” (Cherry Blossoms), while eight kimono-clad dancers elegantly manipulated colourful fans, charming not only the local audience but also a group of visiting Japanese tourists.

The grand finale featured all of the performers onstage performing a medley of Malaysian folk songs such as “Moh Li Hua”, “Tepuk Amai Amai”, and “Trek Tek Tek”, merged with a snippet of Puccini’s opera “Turandot”.

Members of the audience, who had been deprived of live performances for the previous two years, were enthralled by the performance and enthusiastically offered comments and suggestions for future projects. — DayakDaily