Dramatic Drums

Drummers added drama to their drumming by using
props like these umbrellas used by the troupe from
Foon Yew High School, Kulaijaya
In 1988, when Tan Chai Puan and the late Tan Hooi Song founded the 24 Festive Drums in Johor Baru, they did not know that this creative art of drumming would grow into an international art-form.  When 7 international and 6 national drum troupes came together for the 2nd International Invitation & National 24 Festive Drums Competition on Sept 15, the MBJB Indoor Stadium reverberated with the pulsating rhythms of Chinese drums.  Enthusiastic fans started streaming in from as early as 5pm and the 7,000 capacity stadium was packed with people when seats were filled right up to the rafters.  

The panel of distinguished judges probably had a tough
time awarding scores after each impressive performance
The 24 Festive Drums was recognised as a national cultural heritage by the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry on 14 February 2009 and it is a proud achievement as the drums celebrate its 24th anniversary this year.  Since its inception at Johor Baru’s Foon Yew High School in 1988, this unique art of drumming has spread nationwide and abroad and was even incorporated into the cultural ceremony to pay respects to ancient Chinese national ancestors in the Hu Nan province of China.  Now there are more than 300 drum troupes worldwide including professional troupes in Singapore, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.

A spectacular performance by troupe from SMJK Yu Hua,
Kajang won them top scores in all categories to
emerge as this year's champion drum troupe
In the national competition at the event, Malaysian troupes took turns to present colourful and creative drum performances in various themes while the international troupes presented an exhibition of their skills in this Johor-born art of drumming.  The foreign troupes at the event included the M24D troupe from the Oklahoma State University, United States of America, the University of Liverpool troupe from the United Kingdom, Hua Qiao University in China, Taiwan Xinzhuang Drum Art Team and ZingO Festival Drum Group and Edgefield Secondary School troupes from Singapore.  This spectacular show was organized as part of the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association’s 90th anniversary celebration and was an item in the calendar of the 9th Johor Baru Arts Festival.

Drummers from SMJK San Min, Teluk Intan, Perak,
gave an energetic and commendable performance
In his opening address, Lim Ik Kim, president of the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association, expressed his pride in the 5 cultural products that are recognised as Johor attractions. 

Besides the 24 Festive Drums, he listed the city’s annual Chingay street procession, the Lantern Festival, the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum and the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk.  He also acknowledged the founders of the 24 Festive Drums, Tan Chai Puan and the late Tan Hooi Song, for their contribution to this creative art of drumming.

Drum troupe from SMK Jalan Arang, Kuching, Sarawak,
incorporated elegant, ethnic dance steps into their
drumming performance
JB Arts Fest patron and Member of Parliament for JB, Tan Sri Dato Shahrir Abdul Samad, congratulated the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association for organizing this prestigious event that went a long way to promote a positive image of JB.  In addition to the 5 that Lim said are Johor Baru icons, Shahrir identified 3 more cultural products that Johor should be proud of, naming Johor’s dragon dancers, the Foon Yew High School and Southern College which would soon receive its recognition as a university.  He has high regard for Foon Yew High School, the institution that inspired the birth of the 24 Festive Drums which is celebrating its 100th anniversary while our nation has only marked its 55th anniversary!

Guest performance by drum troupe from
the University of Liverpool, UK
As the troupes added drama to the drumming, fans of the 24 Festive Drums thrilled to the superior standards of performance by school troupes in the competition segment of the event.  Troupes from Foon Yew High School Johor Baru, Foon Yew High School Kulai, Chung Hua High School Seremban, SMJK Yu Hua Kajang, SMJK San Min, Teluk Intan, Perak and SMK Jalan Arang, Kuching, displayed exciting choreography while some used additional percussion instruments like cymbals and even props like long bamboo poles and umbrellas.  The brilliant blend of colourful costumes, clever choreography and creative drumming presented the audience with an entertaining evening while the panel of judges probably had a tough time in awarding scores after watching each impressive performance.

Troupe from SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang, swept up the
prizes for all the special awards and was overall champion
After the scores were tallied, the special awards for Best Creation, Best Technical Performance, Best Formation and Best Composition, were all swept up by SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang for their rendition of “The Crying of the Crowd,” a theme inspired by rapid development that caused global warming and the critical damage to our delicate eco-system.  The Bronze award went to SMK Jalan Arang, Kuching, whose drumming performance entitled, “The Passion of Borneo,” included elegant ethnic dance steps that are unique to their state.  The commendable performance by Foon Yew High School Johor Baru entitled, “Chuan Deng – Passing on the Lamp” earned the troupe the Silver award while SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang won the Gold and emerged as the event champion.

“I plan to write a book about the 24 Festive Drums and establish an international platform for global communication among drumming enthusiasts,” said Tan as he reflected on the success of the event.  With overwhelming response from the public and the positive feedback from first-time viewers, Tan is pleased that the reputation of the 24 Festive Drums is now firmly established and ready to be further developed into a strong cultural product.  “A friend of mine commented that this art of drumming is bringing nationalities from all parts of the world together to one common platform – their passion for the 24 Festive Drums,” said Tan.

The top three drum troupes in the National 24 Festive Drums Competition 2012
with Tan Chai Puan, Lim Ik Kim and Tan Sri Dato Shahrir Abdul Samad [Standing Left to Right]
Wei Yen Chen, widow of the late Tan Hooi Song commented that this performing art that involves much creativity, imagination, strong team discipline and tough training, is very good for the development of youths, particularly in character building.  

Two friends, who saw this dramatic drumming show “live” for the first time, succinctly summed up the sentiments of the entire audience.  “So much practice went into presenting such well synchronised and entertaining performances.  These drummers are truly in a class of their own!” said Florence Liew, praising the drummers for their skills and commitment to the art while Emily Linggam said that troupes like SMJK Yu Hua Kajang and SMJK San Min, Teluk Intan, succeeded in drawing them into the stories they were telling.  “It was an eye-opener for me and to discover that the 24 Festive Drums originated in Johor Baru – I’m so proud to be a Johorean!” said added.  

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 27 September 2012

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