Thirty-Two years of the 24 Festive Drums

June 12, 2020 marked the 32nd anniversary of the founding of the 24 Festive Drums, an art of drumming that was proudly born in Johor Baru in 1988.

Tan Chai Puan [Right] and I at the live-streaming event
as part of the 32nd anniversary celebration for
the founding of the 24 Festive Drums in 1988
From its humble beginnings celebrated in the forecourt of the Johor Old Temple, this art of drumming which started as a school activity, has since developed into a national and global drumming performance artform.

It started with a single drum troop in Johor Baru’s Foon Yew High School, and now drum troops have been established in schools, colleges, and universities, not just nationwide but also in various nations around the world.

While the 24 Festive Drums Association Malaysia had grand plans for their 32nd anniversary celebrations, the Movement Control Order (MCO) throughout the country compelled the organisers to make necessary adjustments and changes.

The event poster for the live sharing session on July 2.
Then Tan Chai Puan, co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums, told me about how the MCO created an opportunity for them to consider creative ways to celebrate their 32nd anniversary.

While there were limitations to physical gatherings, there was virtually no limit to the number of participants to meet online or during live-streaming sessions.

The MCO, in fact, had opened an avenue for the Association members to connect online for the celebrations!

Tan said the organisers then planned a schedule of online activities for sharing short videos of drumming demonstrations and performances, talks and interviews that involved drum troops and drum enthusiasts nationwide.

With the support of several corporate sponsors, these events were conducted mainly in Mandarin and were even broadcast in China.

R & F Group Chairman, Richard Hu, [Right]
overseeing the event held at the R & F Sales Gallery
Tan was pleased that co-organisers R&F Group and R&F Princess Cove in JB, have provided their support for the broadcasted events, since June 11.

The Facebook live-sharing session planned for July 2, however, was in English and arranged in a two-part event.

Tan explained that in Part One, he would speak from Johor Baru on the topic, So, what is 24 Festive Drums?

And in Part Two, featured speakers will speak from Kuala Lumpur on the topic, Rhythm of the Nation, with theatre director and actor, Ghafir Akbar, as Moderator.

The panel of speakers were founder and artistic director of Hands Percussion, Bernard Goh, founder of Geng Wak Long, UiTM Faculty of Music senior lecturer, Kamrul Hussin, and Temple of Fine Arts, Head of Tabla Department, Prakash Kandasamy.

Richard Hu [3rd from Left] with Liew Chuen Chi,
[2nd from Left] setting up the live-streaming session
Tan felt that it would be ideal if I could join him in the presentation as Moderator because I was familiar with him and the founding of the 24 Festive drums, and had even featured Tan in my 2017 bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

Tan, a Johor cultural activist, was an exclusive story featured under the Portraits section in my book, and I remember being absolutely thrilled when Tan presented my books to the VIP guests at the 5th International Drums Festival in 2018.

When the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums was opened on January 1, 2020, I was deeply honoured to see my book – opened to the pages that featured Tan – displayed among the valuable exhibits in this unique museum.

Tan Chai Puan and I getting comfortable in our seats
Tan felt strongly that the audience would enjoy watching two Johor personalities (Tan and I!) having a chat on the 24 Festive Drums, an authentic Johor story.

He was sure that a dialogue would be more interesting than his monologue presentation.

Looking back on my long and eventful working relationship with Tan, it was interesting how we have supported each other in our Johor cultural and heritage journey … to where we are now!

I had a flashback to when Jalan Tan Hiok Nee was declared a Heritage Walk in 2009 and the regular weekend cultural events organized by the Heritage Walk Committee headed by Tan, to which I was often invited.

Because Tan was bi-lingual in Mandarin and English, he made every effort to provide me with relevant information in English so that I could share accurate stories about the cultural events for readers to better appreciate Johor Chinese culture-heritage.

I'm pointing to a photograph of Tan
and the original drum troop at the
forecourt of the Johor Old Temple,
taken in 1988
A proud achievement for the 24 Festive Drums’ art of drumming, was its recognition as a Malaysian National Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009.

Tan had worked tirelessly to establish the 24 Festive Drums in Johor and in 2010, the inaugural bi-annual International Drums Festival was held in JB.

I had the pleasure to be part of every one of the Drums Festivals, which were held at an increasingly large scale in every event, with the most recent in 2018 being the 5th International Drums Festival, held in the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium.

I also had the pleasure to be at the 4th Iskandar Malaysia Social Heroes Awards (IMSHA) in 2017, where Tan was recognised for his contributions with the Arts & Culture (Individual) Award.

It was my joy to witness Tan receiving this well-deserved award, especially since I had featured him in my book that was just launched earlier that year.

2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the founding of the 24 Festive Drums in JB and I remember that Tan gave me advance notice to meet him at the JB Old Temple on June 21, for a special reunion celebration.

It was indeed a special celebration when the original drum troop of Foon Yew High School 30 years ago, gathered again to reminisce.

Tan spoke passionately on
the subject close to this heart!
And they even gave an impromptu performance – albeit a little out of practice – but I was more than pleased to witness this special reunion. 

It was a double celebration for Tan that year when he was declared a Living Cultural Heritage of Malaysia by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, in October.

This was timely because Tan received his award exactly 10 years after co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums, the late Tan Hooi Song was honoured by the same award in 2008, just before his demise.

And in October 2018, when the 30th anniversary national level gala celebration was held in Kuala Lumpur, I was more than happy to be Tan’s guest at this special occasion.

I have indeed been on an eventful journey with Tan and the 24 Festive Drums, so when Tan proposed that I joined him to talk about the 24 Festive Drums in the live-streaming session, I did not hesitate to say, “Yes!”

So Tan and I, accompanied by photographer, Kenny Seah, met with Chairman of the R&F Group, Richard Hu, who escorted us to the R&F Sales Gallery where a VIP room was set up for this event.

It was my privilege to share about My Johor Stories...
Hu confirmed that this live-streaming event would be available from the R&F Princess Cove official Facebook page and the Facebook page for the 24 Festive Drums.

While the tech-team from the 24 Festive Drums Association helped to set up Tan’s PowerPoint presentation, Tan and I got comfortably seated on armchairs for the lighting and sound checks.

Tan was provided with a clicker to use with his PowerPoint presentation (flashed onto a screen behind us) while a super-strong mini-microphone (which picked up our voices very clearly!) was placed on the table between our two armchairs.

More light on me while I was sharing about my
experience with the 24 Festive Drums
Over the years, Tan and I have had many casual coffeeshop-talks but this chit-chat was rather different because it was happening in front of a camera which was live-streaming it to an audience out there…

Liew Chuen Chi, the tech-guy coordinating the live-streaming in JB with his KL counterpart, told us to wait for his cue in a 3 – 2 – 1 countdown by his show of fingers and to pause two seconds before we started to speak.

Meanwhile I heard a Mandarin-speaking lady’s voice from Liew’s laptop making some comments – which I vaguely understood – until she mentioned “Peggy Loh” in English followed by “My Johor Stories” and a barrage of more Mandarin words.

My eyes widened in surprise and Tan confirmed with a smile that she was introducing the next two personalities: Tan and me.

And then we were live!

Tan opened by introducing me and My Johor Stories, declaring that the 24 Festive Drums was truly a Johor story that we were proud to share.

This led me to continue by talking about featuring Tan in my book and I opened to the pages under Portraits to read the first line in Tan Chai Puan, cultural activist.

I read: “To many, Tan Chai Puan is synonymous with the 24 Festive Drums because he and the late Tan Hooi Song founded this dramatic art of drumming in 1988.”

While making sure we covered the key points that explained, So, what is the 24 Festive Drums? Tan and I had agreed to keep the flow of our conversation casual and natural.

One for the album: Tan Chai Puan and I.
I thought our chit-chat went pretty well as we discussed how this art of drumming was born in JB and exported to other parts of the world, about how JB was being established as the Home of the 24 Festive Drums, as well as some future plans for the 24 Festive Drums.

Supported by visuals in his PowerPoint presentation, Tan, an eloquent speaker clearly passionate about the 24 Festive Drums, was in his element as we discussed various points in a casual conversation.

Tan was in his element, sharing about the 24 Festive Drums!
About 40 minutes into our talk, there was just one small hiccup when the PowerPoint presentation seemed to remain static, but I was relieved when this awkward moment quickly passed. Whew!

While I was familiar with all that Tan shared, I was pleasantly surprised by something new when he talked about the latest developments – the formation of a drum troop in Africa!

He explained that the drums were already shipped to them but due to the travel restrictions during this global pandemic, it was not yet possible for a trainer to go there.

Tan was, however, optimistic that this African drum troop may be ready to participate in the next International Drums Festival!

As our discussion drew to a comfortable close, Tan hinted about his next collaboration with My Johor Stories: a book project to document in English, the proud heritage of the 24 Festive Drums in Johor.

Then we watched for the countdown from Liew who indicated by his finger-counting that we were no longer live after he passed the control over to his KL counterpart.

Liew then turned his hand to show a thumbs-up sign and smiled widely in affirmation as he congratulated us with, “Well done!”

Note: Behind-the-scenes photographs are courtesy of photographer, Kenny Seah.

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