Coffee Talk for Drum Up JB!


With its founding in June 1988, the art of the 24 Festive Drums celebrated 35 proud years of drumming this June.


Damien Leow opening the Coffee Talk
with a brief introduction

I had the privilege of walking alongside in their journey of drumming that started in Foon Yew High School in Johor Baru and saw how this art of drumming gradually spread nationwide and was also exported abroad.


I learnt that when the drummers furthered their studies at universities located in the UK, US, Australia, China and other countries, they brought along their passion for drumming and established drum troops there.


This dramatic art of drumming was literally exported back to China when the drum troop from Foon Yew High School proudly staged a performance of the 24 Festive Drums at Teochew City and Beijing in China on their first visit there in 2008.  


Facade of the Permaisuri Zarith
Sofiah Opera House in Johor Baru

In 2010, I also had the pleasure to witness the first National Drums Competition and International Drums Festival that was organised and hosted in JB, the hometown of the 24 Festive Drums.


This performing art continued to be actively promoted by younger generation drummers and professional drum troops like HANDS Percussion, Orang Orang Drum Theatre and the JB Drums.


I was privileged to document the art of the 24 Festive Drums in My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, among the brands that were proudly established in Johor, spread nationwide and then exported abroad.


Under the Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme: Arts, Heritage and Culture provided by Think City and supported by Iskandar Regional Development Authority and the JB City Council, the Drum Up JB! shows, a collaboration between JB Drums and Orang Orang Drum Theatre, were presented at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House.


The audience waiting for the Drum Up JB! show
to start for the 8pm show

With monthly shows staged since January 2023, Drum Up JB! was proud to be established as the city’s First Permanent Cultural Attraction.


To commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 24 Festive Drums, a number of activities planned for the celebration weekend of June 17 & 18, included a 24 Festive Drums Workshop, a Drum Up JB! Photography Exhibition and a 24 Festive Installation Art By Artbaiduren.


On Sunday, June 18, there was a 24 Festive Drums Guided Walk with a tour of the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums and two sessions of Drum Up JB Coffee Talk that were held at YSpace, Johor Baru.


Mohd Shahril speaking at the Coffee Talk

The first Coffee Talk at 11am was conducted in Mandarin that featured guest speaker, Dr Koh Doh Tat while the English session at 2pm with me as the Moderator, featured three speakers.


They were Tan Chai Puan also known as Xiao Man, co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums, Indian classical dance virtuoso in the art of Bharatanatyam, Ajith Bhaskar of Suvarna Fine Arts, and Mohd Shahril Abd Manan, Programme Manager with Think City Johor Baru.


This Coffee Talk aimed to discuss how the staging of Drum Up JB! shows impacted audience members from our multi-cultural community and to share ideas on how to develop the cultural scene in our city.


The original illustration by Tan Chai Puan was
screened as a backdrop for a segment of the show

To prepare for the Coffee Talk, I accepted the invitation from Drum Up JB! to watch the show again on Saturday, June 17 so that I could observe the changes and improvements since I enjoyed the show when it was first presented in January.


In my second viewing, I saw that a storyline was woven into the flow in an interesting biopic narrative that showcased the origin of the art of the 24 Festive Drums.


I was impressed with the clever use of lighting and I liked the screening on the backdrop, particularly in the segment where the original illustration by Tan Chai Puan that depicted the artistic pose of a drummer was screened as the backdrop while the outline of nine drummers were portrayed in silhouette.


Ajith speaking at the Coffee Talk

The Coffee Talk on Sunday, June 18, marked a major milestone for the performing arts community Johor as we brought together these key personalities in the local arts, culture and heritage scene to share their thoughts and ideas.


Incidentally, Tan and Ajith were acknowledged for their contribution to the Arts by the Iskandar Malaysia Social Heroes Awards (IMSHA), and I had the pleasure to document each of their stories under Portraits in my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


In our Talk, Tan was pleased to share relevant info on how data on the number of drum troops and drummers were collated from a social media application since 2018.


In Malaysia alone, there were over 300 drum troops with more than 30 drum troops based in universities while drum troops were also established in primary and secondary schools.


Facade of the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah
Opera House by night

He commented that while drummers were made up of mainly male in the majority, there were also many female drummers. This was a promising phenomenon as this art of drumming is assured of continuity in this region.


Ajith said that the performing arts community must have its own eco-system to sustain interest and develop future generations of artistes and performers.


While Suvarna Fine Arts train young people and build the next generation of artistes, they also work hard at developing a succession of performers through personal engagement among a network of students, parents and friends.


Tan Chai Puan speaking at the Coffee Talk

He encouraged an active engagement in the artistic community here for mutual benefit instead of working in isolation in our deeply polarized community.


Ajith applauded the Chinese schools which has an Art curriculum in place, something which is sadly lacking in Tamil schools and National schools here.


This, he observed, was probably why youths lacked the exposure and opportunity to develop their passion for the Arts, unless their parents arranged for separate classes outside of school.


He shared from his 30 years of experience in Suvarna Fine Arts, with more than 27 years of teaching and performing in Johor Baru, with all the struggles from seeking a suitable venue, how they were forced to work in isolation, to the lack of recognition of their artistic value.


Ajith highlighted the need to make a distinction between theatre performances vs public entertainment and that Tourism cannot be lumped together with Art & Culture because serious theatre productions are not the same as shows for tourism promotion.


Entrance to the Permaisuri Zarith Sofia
Opera House in Johor Baru

Both Tan and Ajith recognized that Johor needs something like the Johor Society for the Performing Arts (JSPA), the organizer of the annual Johor Arts Festival for 15 years, that curated and built a creative system and championed the arts scene here.


They lamented the absence of an active JSPA and the driving force behind it, the late Suzie Yap and her husband, Yap Siong Cheng, who worked hard at bringing a wide range of live shows, both free and ticketed, to this city.


I had the privilege to pay my tribute to the Yaps and their work in JSPA, in a piece published in My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, the third and final instalment of My Johor Stories.


“Art is not cheap!” declared Shahril as the speakers discussed the lack of theatre-going culture in our community and the issue on why the audience often arrived late for the start of the shows.


Having supported a host of art, culture and heritage events, Think City is well aware of the costs involved in presenting a live show or event.


The organisers needed to find out why the audience was arriving late and must address the issues as they lay down the ground rules to deal with the late arrivals.


Logo for the Johor Society 
for the Performing Arts

Ajith, who has performed in international venues, agreed that theatres must have clear rules for late arrivals because being late simply means that they don’t respect the artistes.


The Coffee Talk closed with a general consensus that this city needed a reboot of the Johor Arts Festival in a two-way engagement to develop administrative skills in production management and as a platform for applying and acquiring the funding.


Shahril suggested to learn from the experience of other creative cities and to seek opportunities to collaborate with other artistes.


To create more interest in Drum Up JB!, Shahril proposed that they reached out to students and parents through schools in weekend cultural exploration events and to corporate groups through promoting the show packaged with hotel stays.


Ajith shared that the Indian arts community here knew very little about Drum Up JB! and proposed that they reached out personally to Indian arts organisations, community leaders, temple presidents and other organised groups.


Tan gave an example where a lady in Singapore used WhatsApp to connect with art, culture and heritage groups or personalities, and kept everyone regularly informed of the activities that was happening in the city.


He said that the Southern University has created a similar WhatsApp chat group and was keeping the art, culture and heritage community in JB and Singapore connected and updated with relevant info.


Borrowing the same concept, Tan proposed to create a landing page in multi-language to let the art, culture and heritage community here stay connected and well informed.


Lim Yi Kai [third from Left] with Ajith [Centre]
and friends at Suvarna Fine Arts

In the course of the Coffee Talk, Ajith invited everyone to a solo dance show in the art of Bharatanatyam presented by his Chinese student, next year.


I could hear the pride in his voice because this was a classic example of a healthy cross-cultural exchange and how each race group here may collaborate to create something very special together.


Fast-forward to Wednesday night when I received a WhatsApp message from Lim Yi Kai of JB Drums.


“Tonight, we had a practice session with Ajith,” was the caption he sent with the photo.


I trust this was the start of an exciting collaboration, a smart initiative by these talented artistes in JB.


The dates for the following bi-monthly Drum shows are scheduled at 2pm and 8pm for Saturday, August 12, October 14 and December 30 for drumming enthusiasts to plan their trips and enjoy a spectacular live show at the Opera House in Johor.


Tickets are available from


Note: The trilogy of My Johor Stories books is available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online from mphonline. In Johor Baru, my books are available from JARO and YSpace.

No comments:

Post a Comment