KUALA LUMPUR: The roaring success of Arts For All Seasons (ArtsFAS), a grant programme to preserve and celebrate the rich tapestry of multi-cultural Malaysia, has been an inspiration to many arts, culture and heritage (AHC) practitioners.

Initially launched in 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ArtsFAS offers an alternative avenue to showcase and honour Malaysian “cultural frontliners” by making their art accessible, while supporting livelihoods.

To date, ArtsFAS, which is powered by Yayasan Hasanah, a foundation under Khazanah Nasional Bhd in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance (MoF), has provided significant employment opportunities for arts activists in the programmes it supports, thus catalysing the growth of the nation’s creative economy.

One of the recipients of this year’s award is Drum Up JB. Sharing their journey with Bernama in staging the Drum Up JB 2023 festival are Lim Yi Kai, 32, Lee Sheah Liang, 34, and Damien Leow, 35.

Little did the trio expect their initiative in merging elements of Malaysia’s cultural diversity through drums, movement and music since June 2022 through the festival would receive overwhelming enthusiasm from the audience. They have so far staged 16 shows nationwide since January this year

‘Drum Up JB!’ is a mixed percussion ensemble, combining drumming, physical movements, and other theatre elements to create an artistic visual and auditory sensory experience, led by two major culture groups in Johor Bahru - ‘JB Drums’ and ‘Orang-Orang Drum Theatre (OODT)’.

The 90-minute performance, which encapsulates two themes, ‘24 Festive Drums’ and ‘LaguKu’ - an explosion of creative energy and cultural diversity of Johor Bahru - will be once again showcased at the ‘Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House’ on Dec 30 after their two previous performances on Aug 12 and Oct 14. The project is one of 39 partners of the ArtsFAS 2023 award themed #SeniKitaKitaPunya.

Showcase cultural heritage

According to OODT performance tour manager Damien Leow, the first section will bring the audiences along the footprints of ‘24 Festive Drums’ history through the classic works from different eras, to allow them to witness the creation of this intangible cultural heritage of Malaysia.

“In the second section, we will use drumming and choral music to showcase the fresh fusion of percussion instruments belonging to the various ethnic groups of Malaysia, hoping that the direct nature of the ‘drum’ and the simple appeal of the ‘song’ will draw in the audience and get them to sway along.

“The audience will also get to enjoy the combination of music with various instruments like Chinese ShiGu, Malay gendang and the kompang jidor, the indigenous instruments of Sabah, like the kuling tangan and the gong, as well as the sape from Sarawak.

“We are not only highlighting the three main ethnic groups in Peninsular Malaysia, but also our friends from Sabah and Sarawak,“ he told Bernama.

‘Drum Up JB’ co-producer Lee Sheah Liang, who is also the group’s former drummer, said that few people are aware that the ‘24 Festive Drums’ performance originated from Johor Bahru and was created by two Malaysian poets and musicians, Tan Chai Puan and Tan Hooi Song, in 1988.

“Many thought that it was from China but actually no. In 2009, this art form was recognised as Malaysia’s intangible cultural heritage and has since gained recognition worldwide.

“While many have witnessed the 24 festival drums performance during various opening ceremonies or entertainment shows, there hasn’t been a specific event that delves deeper into this art form, which showcases our cultural heritage and its development over the past 35 years in Johor Bahru,“ he said.

Lee, who is also an entrepreneur, has envisioned that one day Johor Bahru will be recognised as the hub for cultural heritage, attracting other collaboration and exchanges of culture from other states.

“With our participation as part of the ArtsFAS 2023, we hope to preserve and promote our 24 festive drums culture as Malaysia’s national intangible cultural heritage.

“Since its inception in 2006, JB Drums has enlisted professional coaches to work with various primary and secondary schools and associations, promoting education and guiding more than 20 drum teams of different age groups.

“Additionally, they have showcased their performances in five continents - Asia, Europe, America, Oceania (Australia) and Africa which have left the footprints of 24 Festive Drums,“ he said, adding that they also established two drum troupes in Africa in April 2022.

Promotes local craftsmanship

Another grantee of ArtsFAS 2023, Ariza Mohd Yusoff from Persatuan Pekerja Seni dan Warisan Anak-anak Kelantan, concurs with the view that traditional and cultural heritage can be highlighted to reunite people, regardless of their age and background, through art festivals.

She said the ‘Festival Wau 2023’ to be held on Nov 30 to Dec 2 at Kampung Laut, Wakaf Bahru, Kelantan, would go a long way in instilling love for the national heritage art as well as to unleash young talents in producing wau or kites.

“We also hope to attract the younger generation who are synonymous with technological gadgets, to traditional games that were popular among children of yesteryears, while making them appreciate the cultural heritage of our ancestors, as well as strengthening family bonds.

“Besides kite flying, the festival aims to revive other traditional games such as congkak and batu seremban,” she said, adding that the festival is also among the preparations for Visit Kelantan Year 2024.

Besides reviving the traditional games, she said the association also strives to encourage veteran wau makers and arts activists to showcase their handicraft to visitors.

“So far, most of them work backstage, but at this festival, we will bring them to the forefront so that they can interact with visitors by promoting the art of making the traditional kite.

“The festival provides visitors with the exposure and education on wau making, while helping the traditional craftsmen to market their handicraft products,” she said.

In addition, this festival draws in the participation of women entrepreneurs who will promote various traditional food of Kelantan, better known as Cik Siti Wan Kembang.

“We expect visitors both domestic and foreign visitors to come to the festival.We are also working together with women associations to promote popular traditional Kelantan food, especially the local delicacies,” she added.

Art preservation

This year, ArtsFAS provides a total grant funding of close to RM4.5 million to AHC practitioners through various showcases to the public.

According to Yayasan Hasanah’s trustee and managing director Datuk Shahira Ahmed Bazari, a total of 39 ArtsFAS partners have been awarded the grant to showcase 142 arts and cultural shows around the country.

“With the theme #SeniKitaKitaPunya movement, it features Chinese festive drums, Wayang Kulit, Bangsawan theatre, classical Indian dance, traditional Wau festival, Sarawak heritage cuisines and many more since March till December this year,“ she told Bernama.

She said Malaysians today are marked by a cultural crisis, where AHC practitioners are growing older with no avenues to pass on their knowledge.

“Today, with the proliferation of social media creating new cultural narratives amongst our younger generation, it feels that we are more and more disconnected with our very own cultural heritage.

“Cultural assets are perceived as not more than passive artefacts in a museum, mere decorations for special occasions, or reserved luxuries for the privileged few.

“We are at risk of losing not just our cultural heritage but also a part of our very identity as Malaysians that weaves us all together,“ she said.

She said recognising this gap, ArtsFAS offers an accessible scene for local arts & cultural events, where the arts are truly for all – across all generations and layers of society.

“Inclusivity is key in ensuring our heritage lives on; both in championing diversity in the art forms and communities we empower, while ensuring everyone from all walks of life has access to enjoy the arts,” said Shahira.

Since its inception, ArtsFAS has provided RM10.2 million in grants to 62 partners through the 333 arts, heritage, and cultural events it has supported, creating economic opportunities for over 7,500 individuals in the creative sector.

“This partnership has empowered ArtsFAS partners to expand our outreach, creating more employment opportunities and reaching wider audiences.

“We are excited to power more initiatives in the scene, preserving our cultural identity together, while contributing to the sector’s sustainable economic growth,“ she added. –Bernama

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