Indian Heritage Centre explores role of Chinese in Little India for CultureFest

The musicians playing at the CultureFest include (clockwise from top left) Ghanavenothan Retnam, 54, Tan Qing Lun, Christine Sham, M.S. Maniam, Jessica Lu and S. Anbarasan.
The musicians playing at the CultureFest include (clockwise from top left) Ghanavenothan Retnam, 54, Tan Qing Lun, Christine Sham, M.S. Maniam, Jessica Lu and S. Anbarasan. PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

This year's Indian Heritage Centre CultureFest will feature gigs with Chinese and Indian musicians

Percussion musician M.S. Maniam, 65, has performed at numerous events and concerts in Singapore and more than 80 countries.

In the 1990s, he even jammed at nightspot Zouk, his tabla accompanying the beats of local and international DJs such as Aldrin and Paul Oakenfold.

But he admits he will be in unfamiliar territory at a fusion music gig for the Indian Heritage Centre CultureFest this year.

The musician, with more than 40 years' experience, says: "I am used to playing with other musicians, including Chinese and Malay musicians. But for this programme, there are certain songs which I have never heard before."

They include Chinese folk song Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower) and Luki, a fusion song with Indian, Western jazz and world music elements suggested by fellow musician Jessica Lu, 41, who plays the sanxian, a Chinese stringed instrument.

This interplay of cultures is something of a theme for the CultureFest this year, which takes place tonight and tomorrow as well as next Friday and Saturday. All events are free.

  • VIEW IT /INDIAN HERITAGE CENTRE CULTUREFEST 2016

  • WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow, and July 29 and 30; from 6.30pm on Friday, from 1pm on Saturday

    WHERE: Indian Heritage Centre, 5 Campbell Lane

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: For programme details and timings, go to indianheritage.org.sg

Besides Lu, Maniam will also perform songs such as the hit, Jai Ho, from the 2008 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire alongside musicians such as Christine Sham (keyboards), 41, Tan Qing Lun (Chinese flute, dizi), 28, and S. Anbarasan (Indian stringed instrument, sitar), 60.

These fusion performances will take place outdoors in Campbell Lane, where the Indian Heritage Centre is located, at 7pm tonight and at 8pm tomorrow and next Friday and Saturday.

Mandarin tours of the centre, which opened in May last year, will also be offered this weekend.

The festival, though, does not stray from its main objective of showcasing the rich Indian heritage, culture and the arts.

Dance lovers can look forward to Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance from Tamil Nadu) and contemporary dance performances by dance company Maya Dance Theatre, as well as Kathak (northern Indian classical dance) and Odissi (eastern Indian classical dance) performances by Indian arts group Parampara.

There will also be opportunities to learn about the South Indian martial art form, Kalaripayattu, by local school The Kalari Academy, as well as sari tying and rangoli art.

Of the decision to include Chinese elements in the festival, Dr Lim Chye Hong, the National Heritage Board's deputy director of curatorial and heritage institutions, says: "The Singapore Indian heritage is not homogeneous. There is a lot of interaction with other community groups."

She adds that the festival also pays homage to Little India, which in the past had "a lot of Chinese community involvement".

Evidence of this includes the still-standing, colourful Tan Teng Niah villa in Kerbau Road, which was built by Chinese businessman Tan Teng Niah in 1900 for his wife.

The public can learn more about the history of the area through an exhibition in the special exhibition gallery of the Indian Heritage Centre. It showcases never-before-seen street photos from the archives of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Maniam says it will be an eye- opener for passers-by in Little India who encounter tonight's outdoor fusion performance by himself, Anbarasan, Lu and Sham.

He adds cheekily: "They will say 'these two fellows I know, the other two not so - but the sound, not bad ah?' This is something great. We want to show them that this is Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2016, with the headline 'Fusing beats and cultures'. Print Edition | Subscribe