Gala Laga 2020 festival: A clash of traditional and modern Malay music

The Singapore Youth Malay Orchestra (SYMO), also known as OMS Belia.
The Singapore Youth Malay Orchestra (SYMO), also known as OMS Belia.PHOTO: WISMA GEYLANG SERAI

SINGAPORE - What happens when hip-hop and traditional Malay music collide?

The answer can be found in this year's edition of Gala Laga, an annual music festival that highlights young talent. "Laga" is the Malay word for "clash".

Organised by Wisma Geylang Serai, the third edition of the festival will be live-streamed on the social and cultural heritage hub's Facebook and YouTube pages on Nov 28.

The gig will see acts such as The Singapore Youth Malay Orchestra (SYMO), also known as OMS Belia, perform with an array of musicians from urban and contemporary genres such as pop, hip-hop and experimental.

One such collaboration features rapper Fariz Jabba performing an alternative rendition of his new single Nak Tak Nak (a term that means half-hearted or reluctant) with the orchestra.

"I think they can really see that our roots travel deep to our traditions when it comes to our style and artistic expression," the 24-year-old rapper says when asked what the audience can expect from the collaboration.

Together with pop singer Aisyah Aziz and guzheng player Faizal Salim, the orchestra will perform a rendition of Tudung Periuk (Pot Lid), a late 1950s classic that was sung by Malay music icons P. Ramlee and Saloma.

The orchestra will also perform with experimental musician, poet and Young Artist Award recipient Bani Haykal, as well as electronic music artist Deformed.

The orchestra's music director Zulkifli Mohamed Amin and assistant music director Ahmadul Amin Haronsay that working with artists from different genres was "refreshing".

"The collaboration pushes the boundaries of our instrumental playing, which includes applying contemporary techniques on the instruments," they say in a joint statement. "The working relationship with the artistes have been amazing, we got to share new ideas and explore cross-cultural musical languages."

Mr Syed Ahmad and Mr Rifaah Ridzuwanulhakim, Gala Laga's two directors, say the festival's line-up covers a diverse range of local Malay artists, including non-mainstream ones.

Mr Syed says: "We tried to balance between the popular and introducing independent unique talent. We wanted to highlight to the community that there is this whole other spectrum of arts practised by contemporary and cosmopolitan Malay youth."


Singapore rapper Fariz Jabba. PHOTO: WISMA GEYLANG SERAI

Mr Rifaah adds that filming the performances for an online show meant that the organisers had to find a balance between letting the artists realise their vision and adhering to strict safe management measures put in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The organisers never had to worry about elements such as cinematography and audio recordings in previous live editions of Gala Laga, he notes.

The festival also aims to groom budding music talent through its Open Call programme, in which the two directors mentor amateur and semi-professional musicians.

These new acts, which include singer-musician Amanda Ong and a cappella artist Arshad Sunday, will also perform at the festival.


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GALA LAGA 2020

WHERE: Wisma Geylang Serai's Facebook page and YouTube channel

WHEN: Nov 28, 8pm

ADMISSION: Free