Taking traditional music to a new level

Zulkifli Mohamed Amin co-founded Nusantara Arts, which integrates traditional art forms, such as literary works and music.
Zulkifli Mohamed Amin co-founded Nusantara Arts, which integrates traditional art forms, such as literary works and music.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN


Musician Zulkifli Mohamed Amin, 35, has received the Young Artist Award for taking traditional music to a new level. The award is the National Arts Council's highest honour for artists aged 35 and younger.

He has been conductor and music director of youth orchestra Orkestra Melayu Singapura (OMS) since it was founded in 2005 to nurture new talent in Malay music.

In 2015, he co-founded youth group Nusantara Arts, which integrates different traditional art forms, such as literary works and music.

He organised a poetry workshop and contest in 2016, where winning entries were featured along with live music at the B3 concert, where the Bs stood for Belia.Bahasa. Budaya (Youth. Language. Culture). The work was also reprised at the 2016 Singapore Writers Festival.

Last November, Nusantara Arts presented a three-hour journey through music in the Traditionally Avant-Garde (TAV) lecture-concert at the Esplanade Recital Studio.

Zulkifli is the older of two sons - his mother is a housewife and his father works in the maintenance industry.

His interest in music was piqued when he joined the choir in Yumin Primary School and then the band in Changkat Changi Secondary School. He joined the OMS as a teen and graduated from Lasalle College of the Arts with a diploma in 2004.

He is married to a healthcare worker who also plays music. They have no children. At their wedding, they exchanged trombones.

When did you realise that you wanted to do music?

When I first joined the band in secondary school. When I first held an instrument, I was like: "This is it."

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your art?

I was accepted into OMS when I was a teenager. That opened up my horizons. I didn't really know Malay music before that.

I was also attracted to composers who used traditional instruments in their arrangements like Dick Lee.

What was the most difficult challenge in your artistic career?

With Nusantara Arts, people might not be receptive to what we want to do musically. We've received negative comments.

It's up to us to show what we are about. I was happy to see a good turnout at the TAV concert.

Who is your favourite musician and why?

P. Ramlee. His music is quite simple, quite beautiful and has an impact on the movie.

Whatever you hear affects the scene.

If you were not a musician, what would you do?

I'll be a chef.

I'm the oldest so I had to help my mum in the kitchen. I also cook with my wife. That's my family time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2018, with the headline 'Taking traditional music to a new level'. Print Edition | Subscribe