Making a loud bang with Malay percussion

Percussion group Nadi Singapura stages theatrical shows with storylines, poetry, dance and singing.
Percussion group Nadi Singapura stages theatrical shows with storylines, poetry, dance and singing.PHOTO: SYAFIQAH ABDUL HAMID

Nadi Singapura was set up in 2011 by percussionist Riduan Zalani, 32, and rebana artist Yaziz Hassan, 42, to push the performance boundaries of Malay traditional drums and percussion.

Malay percussion at the time was primarily used in religious practices or at weddings.

"The drums were never taken out of that realm and I thought there was good potential," says Riduan, who has been involved with Malay music and arts since he was seven.

"What we are trying to do is challenging - to still retain that traditional feel and sensibility and yet have that edge of having your own sound. There is no exact reference for us that we can follow," says Riduan.

Six years on, Nadi (which is "pulse" or "flow of consciousness" in Malay) has about 25 active members who are mostly in their 20s and who play different types of Malay percussion instruments such as the kompang, rebana, jidur and gendang.

Its ticketed theatrical shows - which have strong storylines, poetry, dance, singing and visuals - have played to sold-out audiences.


Riduan, who received the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council last year, has penned 30 original compositions for the group, which bear meaningful titles and messages for the community.

Kampung Berani (Brave Kampung), for example, is about the group's members standing together with confidence, for example, against musicians from a Western orchestra.

Riduan says: "Not many people are courageous - especially young musicians who want to play traditional drums. When they face musicians playing Western instruments, they might feel a little intimidated.

"But the Nadi musicians don't feel inferior. When they play, they feel power, they feel strength."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Making a loud bang with Malay percussion'. Print Edition | Subscribe