Pesta Raya: Where old meets new

A gig by rock queen Ella and a film by lauded director Garin Nugroho are among the highlights of Pesta Raya, which celebrates Malay culture

Experimentations and explorations of the old and new dominate this year's Pesta Raya, which takes place from July 20 to 23.

Organised by Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, the festival celebrates different aspects of Malay culture, from theatre and dance to music and multidisciplinary forms. This is the event's 16th edition.

The programme includes black- and-white silent film Setan Jawa (2016), helmed by award-winning Indonesian director Garin Nugroho. The old-fashioned medium is modernised with the addition of live gamelan and Western orchestral music, including by Singapore's Metropolitan Festival Orchestra.

The film/concert takes place on July 21.

And showing a new side is enduring Malaysian rock icon Ella, who will stage a concert on July 22. The singer, whose long dark locks used to complement her rocker image, now dons a hijab, or headscarf.

Ms Hanie Nadia Hamzah, the festival's programmer, says that for every edition of Pesta Raya, the festival team "makes a conscious effort to create a good mix of Malay classics and traditional art forms which are familiar to audiences, as well as introduce new artists and interpretations which showcase the evolution of the art forms".


  • WHERE: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: July 20 to 23

    ADMISSION: Various


  • Other programmes


    A collaborative effort between one-woman band The Venopian Solitude, featuring Selangor- born singer-songwriter Suiko Takahara, and Singapore electronic duo .gif.

    Takahara uses unusual objects as instruments, including toilet rolls.

    Where: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive When: July 21, 8pm Admission: $25 (go to or call 6348-5555)


    The Malay ghazal is an upbeat form of music that involves putting traditional Malay poetry, or pantun, to song. This performance by Persatuan Ghazal Johor Malaysia will include Malay ghazal classics such as Penawar Rindu and Seri Mersing.

    Where: Esplanade Concourse (July 20); Esplanade Outdoor Theatre (July 21) When: July 20 (7.15, 8.15 and 9.15pm) and July 21 (6.45, 8.15 and 10pm) Admission: Free


    A roving dance piece by Singapore dance group P7:1SMA, it is about the art of cooking, both in the kitchen and in children's games, and the link between food and life.

    Where: Esplanade Concourse, Pip's Playbox When: July 22 and 23, 2.30 and 3.30pm Admission: Free

    •For more information, go to

In particular, the team looks at "how Malay culture could be defined differently", such as by featuring artists "who inspire others to look towards the Malay archipelago as a source of inspiration".

Representing new blood in the festival is the young cast of Main², a play written and directed by Aidli "Alin" Mosbit, which runs from July 20 to 23.

Main² - which means "play" in Malay - was the first Malaylanguage play to be staged at the Esplanade in 2002.

There is also Indonesian indiealternative music group, Payung Teduh, whose sound blends keroncong, pop, folk and jazz with a 1960s vibe. They will perform on July 22.

There are 27 programmes this year, 20 of which are free. These include shadow puppetry, dance and children's theatre performances, as well as dikir barat battles.

Pesta Raya is one of the main cultural festivals of the Esplanade, which takes place during Syawal, the celebratory month after Ramadan.

Other cultural festivals include Huayi and Kalaa Utsavam, the Chinese and Indian festivals timed to coincide with Chinese New Year and Deepavali.

About 10 to 30 per cent of audiences for these festivals are from other ethnic groups - helped along by free and diverse programming and English surtitles for nonEnglish programmes.

Ms Hanie says: "We see this as an important avenue to raise greater awareness and understanding of different cultures.

"With our changing society, it is even more important that we build this understanding and appreciation through the arts."

Black-and-white film with live music

Light take on serious matters

Rockin’ it at 50

Indie quartet’s Singapore debut

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Where old meets new'. Print Edition | Subscribe