Traditional musical instruments to feature on SG50 electronic keyboard

Students collect samples from 25 traditional instruments for SG50

It was the first time they had encountered the dholak, but the five Republic Polytechnic (RP) students were instantly fascinated by the Indian hand drum.

Made of jackfruit wood and featuring one face of goat skin and one of buffalo, the dholak had a “bounce” that delighted them.

The students recorded notes played using the dholak and 24 other traditional Indian, Malay and Chinese instruments, so that they could be featured on a special edition SG50-themed electronic keyboard.

To go on sale in June, the keyboard is expected to be the first on the local market to combine samples from the three cultures.

It can be used to blend sounds as diverse as the Malay cak lempong (a brass-mallet percussion instrument), the Chinese yang qin (a hammered dulcimer) and Indian drums like the mridangam and thavil. It will also have sounds from Western keyboard staples like the piano and violin.

Team leader Azurah Jan Che Onn Azahar, 23, said: “It’s important that we have all these sounds saved, so future generations will know the music of the cultures of Singapore.”

The Diploma in Sonic Arts students, aged 20 to 23, created the keyboard for a final-year project in collaboration with local music store City Music. The keyboards are being produced by global music manufacturer Korg, for which City is the Singapore distributor.

City sales manager Mike Mayuni, 43, one of the project’s advisers, said: “Most keyboards have instruments that are generally Westernised, but we wanted to package local sounds. We’ve had quite a number of requests from fellow musicians for a keyboard with Malay instruments, or Chinese instruments, and so on.”

To record more than 160 samples in all, the students worked with traditional musicians to record notes and tones from the instruments – half of which they had never heard of before.

They did this from last November to February, at times recording up to three instruments a day.

Among their least favourite experiences was listening to the piercing sound of the more highpitched Chinese flutes repeatedly. Student Mohamed Ifraq Mohamed Basir, 21, quipped: “It was quite a torturous process.”

Mr Mayuni said City’s next step is to combine the samples in sets of rhythms and styles for easier use, such as a lion dance style.

Said student Joey Lim, 22: “It could open up new possibilities in fusion music. This keyboard is a bridge to traditional music.”

Several models of the SG50 keyboard will be available, at a cost of $1,000 to $4,000, comparable with the prices of Korg keyboards sold by City that do not have the additional samples.

oliviaho@sph.com.sg