Enjoy the Mega Drums Fest!


The rhythm of the 24 Festive Drums fills the forecourt of the Johor Gu Miao or Old Temple, much like how it did 30 years ago when the drums were first performed here on 12 June 1998 for the opening ceremony of the 9th National Chinese Dance Festival.

Drumming at the forecourt of the Johor Gu Miao on its
30th anniversary celebration on 12 June 2018.
A new form of percussion art created by the cultural ideas of Tan Chai Puan and the musical composition of the late Tan Hooi Song, has developed into a unique art of drumming dubbed, the 24 Festive Drums.

Back in 1998, the two Tans never imagined the far-reaching impact of this proudly Johor-born tradition that was later exported back to China.

As students from the first drum troop in JB’s Foon Yew High School went abroad to study, they introduced this art of drumming and established drum troops in colleges and universities worldwide.

It’s appropriate that the birthday cake for this celebration is designed in the shape of a Chinese drum, complete with two drum sticks and Chinese characters for 24 Festive Drums, inscribed on the drum.

Tan Chai Puan [Front Row Center] with the first drum troop
at the Johor Gu Miao on 12 June 1998. 
Just as the first event was witnessed by representatives from the five Chinese clans, their current representatives are here along with Department of National Heritage director, Khalid Syed Ali.

A few members from the original drum troop are also present at the celebration and after the cake-cutting ceremony, they cannot resist taking up the drum sticks again to beat a familiar rhythm, just as they did 30 years ago.

I can hear the emotion in Tan’s voice as he speaks and I’m sure his dearest wish was to share with Hooi Song, who lost the battle to cancer in 2008, the joy and pleasure when the 24 Festive Drums was recognized as a Malaysian National Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009.

Drums Festival

Tan continues to actively promote this art of drumming through International Drum Festivals held every alternate year since 2010, for local drum troops to compete in the National Championship and for international drum troops to showcase their drumming skills.

Poster for the 5th International Festival
of 24 Festive Drums on Aug 24 & 25.
The coming 5th International Festival of 24 Festive Drums 2018, planned for August 24 & 25, is part of the 30th anniversary celebration and will be held at the Pasir Gudang Corporation Stadium, an indoor stadium with 2,600 seating capacity.

Drumming fans can look forward to two mega showcases – National Championship and International Show – over two nights in this drums fest.

On Aug 24, some 300 drummers in the 10 troops from the five regions will storm the stage to show off their creativity and drumming skills to thrill their fans.

To earn a place to compete in the National Championship, regional competitions were held in the North, Central, South, East Coast and East Malaysia where the two most outstanding drum troops were identified to represent each region.

The show on Aug 25 will be a celebration of drumming with performances by troops from China and Singapore, and a guest appearance by HANDS Percussion Malaysia. The three top winners from the National Championship from the previous night, will also perform.

Coming of Age

Tan aspires for JB to become the home for international drumming and is proud that data collected from schools, colleges and universities, including International Schools, indicate that there are currently an estimated 6,000 drummers and a total of 25,000 drummers since 1988.

Tan Chai Puan, Khalid Syed Ali and representatives of the
five Chinese clans in Jb, cutting the Drums' anniversary cake.
As he witnessed the live drumming performance, Khalid is impressed by how this art of drumming has developed into a huge and healthy cultural community of multi-racial and professional drummers.

While drumming may have started as a school activity, it has spawned festivals, promoters, trainers, team managers and even musical and cultural researchers, up to PhD levels.

In Chinese culture, a man is believed to mature at age 30 and the four Chinese characters on the Drum Festival’s poster, artistically rendered in brush strokes by celebrated artist Tan Swie Hian, is translated as ‘a celebration for drumming up and standing firm.’

Fast Facts

Tickets: VIP at RM100, Standard at RM60 and only RM30 for students. Available from JB Tiong Hua Association, Tel: 607 – 278 8999, and JB Chinese Heritage Museum at 42, Jalan Ibrahim, Johor Baru. Open daily from 9am to 5pm. Closed on Monday. Tel: 607 – 2249 633.

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times Jom on 16 August 2018