Festive Drums' 30th anniversary gala celebration

In June 2018, I joined co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums, Tan Chai Puan, and members of the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association with a throng of drumming enthusiasts in the Johor Gu Miao or Old Temple at Jalan Trus, Johor Baru, to mark the 30th anniversary of its founding.

A dramatic drumming performance by Hands Percussion
as the finale in the 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner show
The 30th anniversary of this art of drumming that was founded in Johor Baru in 1998, was celebrated with a mega drum festival over two nights in the Pasir Gudang Corporation Stadium, an indoor stadium with 2,600 seating capacity.

In August 2018, I was among the audience in the Pasir Gudang Corporation Indoor Station to witness the National Championship competition where ten drum troops – the top two troops who qualified from regional competitions – gave thrilling performances to the judges and fans of drumming in the 5th International Festival of the 24 Festive Drums 2018.

There was indeed, never a dull moment as troop after troop stormed onto the stage to perform with style and vigor, dressed in an array of colourful and creative costumes, until the top three troops were identified by their highest scores.

Cover design of the 5th International Festival
of the 24 Festive Drums 2018, souvenir booklet
Having worked closely with Tan over the years, I’ve had the privilege to be part of the drum festivals since 2010 through events organised for local drum troops to compete in the National Championship and international drum troops to showcase their drumming skills.

While I was busy about my book project, I thought the drums’ anniversary celebrations was by then, over. But I was wrong.

Around mid-September, Tan reached me with an invitation to join him at an auspicious event planned to be held in Kuala Lumpur for their 30th anniversary celebration!

“I want to hijack you to KL,” were his exact words and Tan went on to tell me that a gala dinner was being organized for the very first time on an unprecedented scale by the national association for the 24 Festive Drums, that would be held in KL.

Tan wanted me to be part of the celebration on the national level and gave me the date, Oct 20, in advance so that I could avail myself to be there. He ended our chat with, “Just leave all the logistics to me.”

Chinese couplets festooned on the pillars of Wisma Hua Zong that described the proud achievement
and heritage of the 24 Festive Drums since its founding 30 years ago.
This conversation was followed by the WhatApp version of the invitation card complete with the event programme, designed with an outline of the world map with sites indicated where 24 Festive Drums troops have been established!

Tenor Ian Chin [Right] accompanied by violins
played by the children of the late Tan Hooi Song
From the invitation card, I read that the hosts for the event were Malaysia 24 Festive Drums Association president, Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, and Tan, the co-founder of 24 Festive Drums.

I realised that this gala event was the culmination of 30 years of hard work to introduce the art of 24 Festive Drums to the world – a proudly Johor-born art of drumming – which is now shared globally.

Four days ahead of the gala dinner, Tan sent me by WhatsApp, a poster (written in Chinese) with brief English translations and a large digit ‘4’ on its left side.

The next day, I received another similar coloured poster with a large digit ‘3’ on its left side.

The text was mainly in Chinese but by this time, I had figured out that these posters were a countdown to the event. And sure enough, the very next day, I received yet another poster with the digit ‘2’ on its left side!

Tan Chai Puan [Left] and the children of the late
Tan Hooi Song [Right] receiving the gifts presented
Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew [2nd from Left]
On Oct 17, just two days before this gala dinner, Tan received the proud recognition as Warisan Orang Hidup or Living Legacy Award, a prestigious honour from the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry in a ceremony held in KL.

This was very timely because back in August 2008, the late Tan Hooi Song, who co-founded the 24 Festive Drums’ art of drumming with Tan, was the first Chinese to be awarded the Warisan Orang Hidup title by the same ministry, just a week before his demise.

It felt deeply privileged to share their 30th anniversary celebration in KL, so when Tan could catch his breath after such a momentous event on Oct 17, he gave me the hotel details for a group that he had arranged to join him from JB.

So on the afternoon of Oct 20, I found my way to The Palace of the Golden Horses and as I headed to the Reception, I was pleasantly surprised to meet Tan, just as he was heading out to the nearby event hall for a rehearsal of the evening’s programme.

A photo of the late Tan Hooi Song as the backdrop
while his son played his music on the violin
The first thing I did was to congratulate Tan on being awarded the prestigious Warisan Hidup Award.

Meanwhile Tan had arranged for someone to drive me to the event (he drove me back to the hotel later!) and when I arrived at Wisma Hua Zong, Tan met me at the lobby and took me out to the front compound (again!) to admire the giant Chinese couplets posted on four pillars in the building fa├žade.

Tan read aloud the Chinese characters in Mandarin and briefly translated it into English with a paraphrase explanation that it was a poetic rendition that described the proud achievement and heritage of the art of 24 Festive Drums since its founding 30 year ago.

Tan was then whisked away to attend to various matters before the event proper started.

The event sponsors and representatives beat the drums in unison and were acknowledged for their generosity.
As more guests arrived, the round banquet tables in the event hall gradually filled up. From the numbers indicated on the tables, I figured that it was almost 100 tables of 10 guests per table, packed into that hall.

A long row of rectangle tables were set up with seats that faced the stage for the VIPs while I sat at a round table immediately behind the center of this row.

The event programme kicked off with the help of two MCs, one who spoke in Mandarin and the other in English, but even then, I was prepared to soak in the atmosphere and put my own limited command of Mandarin to good use.

I was glad that Tan made sure that I was seated with English-speaking guests so that I was not totally ‘lost’ without any help with translation.

Three tenors sang in Mandarin accompanied by a drummer
Tan is conscious about this because he was/is my help with Mandarin-English translation throughout the years for Chinese community events that helped me write and publish them in English for the benefit of non-Chinese literate readers.

I’ve always appreciated his constant support in helping me understand more about Chinese community events like the Johor Chingay, the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk and the 24 Festive Drums, so that I could write about these more effectively in English.

This working relationship led me to discover more about Tan as an individual and I had the privilege to publish an exclusive story on Tan Chai Puan, the cultural activist, under Portraits in my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

[On Day-2 of the recent Drums Festival in JB, a copy each of my book was presented to VIPs, Johor Women Development & Tourism Committee chairman, YB Liow Cai Tung, and Department of National Heritage director, Khalid Syed Ali, for them to read this exclusive story on Tan.]

I noticed that a few copies of the souvenir booklet from the Drums Festival 2018 were placed on each banquet table for the VIPs.

I’m familiar with it because my story about the 30th Anniversary of the 24 Festive Drums, first published in New Straits Times, Life & Times, was reproduced on pages 20 & 21 of this booklet.

Besides dramatic drumming performances by drum troops, Souls Impact Percussion, Orang Orang Drum Theatre and Hands Percussion, the evening’s programme included musical performances – both vocal and instrumental.

It was especially meaningful when two children of the late co-founder Tan Hooi Song, played their violins to accompany his former student, tenor Ian Chin, who sang in Mandarin.

After the event hosts, Tan and Tan Sri Lee presented their speeches, Tan Sri Lee acknowledged the co-founders of the 24 Festive Drums by presenting each with a beautiful ceramic jar.

While Tan graciously accepted this gift from Tan Sri Lee, the two children of Tan Hooi Song accepted it on behalf of their late father. 

As a token of appreciation, the event sponsors were invited on stage to beat the drums in unison and to be acknowledged for their generosity.

With the local media present, photographers and videographers too, it was certainly an evening to remember for drum enthusiasts and supporters.

As the programme came to a close, the fun continued at the lobby when guests, friends and fans jostled for a photo opportunity with Tan and Tan Sri Lee.

After the crowd had cleared, Tan finally saw me and then introduced me to Tan Sri Lee.

One for the album: Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, Yours Truly, Khalid Syed Ali and Tan Chai Puan [Left to Right]
This was my opportunity to not only say, “Hello!” to Tan Sri Lee but to tell him that his name is also mentioned in my story on Madam Sweet Potato under Portraits in my book sequel, My Johor Stories 2:Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

I quickly explained that I was about to launch this next book which features some inspirational people in interesting Johor towns like Muar and Kluang, including his hometown, Batu Pahat.

While researching the subject for my story out of Batu Pahat, I came across a video of Tan Sri Lee that was filmed when he paid tribute to a former midwife for her 100th birthday celebration, the midwife who helped to deliver him in very humble circumstances.

On hearing this familiar name, Tan Sri Lee leapt into sharing about how this midwife helped his mother during his birth and that his mother often reminded him to go back to Batu Pahat to thank this selfless midwife, who is fondly known as Han Cher Soh!

[The locals call her, Han Cher Soh, a nickname in Hokkien which translated loosely means, Madam Sweet Potato.]

It was indeed a fun and fitting end to a meaningful and memorable celebration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the 24 Festive Drums celebrated in KL, as a valued guest of the president of the Malaysian Association of the 24 Festive Drums, Tan Sri Lee, and its co-founder and Warisan Orang Hidup, Tan Chai Puan.

Check out this video for a glimpse of this gala celebration.

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