Cultural Consultant = Cultural Bridge


I read the invitation to the Press Conference closely and understood its dual aim:


Tan Chai Puan [Centre] on his appointment as
Cultural Consultant, with Lee Ming Liang [Left]
and Xie Zehao [Right] of R&F Group Malaysia

One was the Appointment of a Cultural Consultant and the other was the Announcement of the Performance Plan for the 24 Festive Drums that will kick off in June 2024 as they commemorate the 36th Anniversary of its founding in 1988.


The event was jointly organized by R&F Princess Cove and the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House in collaboration with JB Drums, held at the R&F Princess Cove Sales Gallery.


I did not hesitate to accept this invitation as I was keen to witness the appointment of cultural activist, Tan Chai Puan, as the Cultural Consultant to build a cultural bridge to link cultural exchange activities, both local and from abroad, with the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House at R&F Princess Cove in Johor Baru.


The event kicked off with a performance in the
art of the 24 Festive Drums by JB Drums

I know that Tan is the ideal personality to help the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House develop the cultural branding of this property and provide professional advice for the operations and management of the Opera House in a sustainable way.


Looking back, I probably met Tan while I was featuring stories from the annual Johor Baru Arts Festival, published in the The New Straits Times, a leading English newspaper with nationwide distribution.


When Tan was with the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk Committee, this team was tasked to arrange weekend cultural events, presented at a makeshift stage set up in front of what is popularly called the Red House at the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk.


Tan Chai Puan, cultural activist, was featured as
an exclusive story in my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction
Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales,
Real People, Rich Heritage

Tan was instrumental in keeping me updated on these exciting events and made an effort to help me understand these Chinese cultural events by providing the English translation from Mandarin so that I could write more accurately.


Thanks to the then JB Bureau Chief of The New Straits Times newspapers who published my stories on Johor culture and heritage in cover-page-centre-spread issues of the weekday pull-out Southern section called JBuzz, that was later rebranded as Johor Streets.


People enjoyed reading about themselves and this was a golden era for local news when readers bought the newspapers to see their stories and photographs published in the English print media.


Tan’s help with the English translation was important because the bulk of Chinese cultural activities here were only reported in Chinese publications so people who do not read Chinese, do not know about it.


The story of the 24 Festive Drums was featured in
My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now

So with Tan’s help, I was able to write about Johor Chinese cultural activities in English – published in Travel Times and Johor Streets – for readers who do not read Chinese, to finally read about these Chinese cultural activities, in English.


Tan also invited me to 24 Festive Drums events where I learnt that he and Tan Hooi Song were the co-founders of this dramatic art of drumming that had developed from a school drum troop in Johor into an international drumming phenomenon.


These events were (again!) mainly conducted in Chinese and it was Tan who made me feel welcome by providing the English translation for me to better understand and write accurately.


Tan Chai Puan performing the Handprint
Ceremony witnessed by Lee Ming Liang [Left]
and Xie Zehao [Right] of the R&F Group

Over the years, I had the privilege to enjoy many drum shows as well as witnessed the International Drum Festivals hosted in Johor Baru, and learnt more about Tan and the art of the 24 Festive Drums.


When I was working on the manuscript for the first My Johor Stories book, I included Tan Chai Puan, cultural activist, as an exclusive story under Portraits, featured with other Johor personalities whose lives have impacted others.


On the first week of its launch in July 2017, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, went to the Number One spot of the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list and stayed on the Bestsellers list for consecutive weeks and months, and at year-end, this book was counted among the Best of MPH2017.


Later on in 2017, Tan was recognized for his contributions as winner in the Arts & Culture (Individual) category at the prestigious 4th Iskandar Malaysia Social Heroes Awards (IMSHA), which aims to “Spot, Recognise and Empower” individuals and Non-Governmental Organisations who carry on their work in the community valiantly, voluntarily and unconditionally.


As he continued relentlessly, not only as a cultural activist but also as a cultural initiator and innovator, Tan was honoured to be acknowledged as a Living Cultural Heritage of Malaysia by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture in October 2018.


By then, I was familiar with the achievements of Tan and the 24 Festive Drums – a proudly Johor-born brand – and decided to include this among other brands that were established in Johor, expanded throughout the nation and even exported abroad, in My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, published in 2022.


As the economy gradually reopened in mid-2022, the team at JB Drums created a cultural attraction dubbed, Drum Up JB! that was successfully presented to audiences at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House throughout 2023.


With Tan Chai Puan in front of my
pop-up store at the lobby of the
Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House

It was my privilege to partner with JB Drums to set up a pop-up store at the lobby of the Opera House for the audience who enjoyed the dramatic drum show, to buy my books and read the stories on the Art of the 24 Festive Drums as well as, Tan Chai Puan, cultural activist, documented in My Johor Stories.


With his outstanding achievements in arts, culture and heritage, nationwide and abroad, his tireless efforts in nurturing young talents as well as promoting art and culture, Tan has earned wide recognition for his contributions to the arts scene both here and internationally. 


That morning, the event at the Sales Gallery aptly kicked off with an exciting performance of the 24 Festive Drums presented by the JB Drums troop.


In a simple ceremony to mark his appointment as Cultural Consultant, Tan was invited to perform a Handprint Ceremony where he pressed his palm on a frame of golden putty to create a handprint that symbolized his collaboration with the R&F Group Malaysia.


Chairman of the R&F Group Malaysia, Lee Ming Liang, presented Tan with a Letter of Appointment, witnessed by Vice General Manager, Xie Zehao.


Tan Chai Puan presenting his speech

In his acceptance speech, Tan thanked the R&F Group Malaysia for their trust and confidence in him to carry out his role as Cultural Consultant, to build a cultural bridge by promoting the art and culture of Johor to the world and to host more quality art and culture exchanges, here.


Tan said that the late Tan Hooi Song, his co-founder in the art of the 24 Festive Drums, had spent his entire life calling for the construction of a concert hall here, so Tan expressed his appreciation to the R&F Group for their initiative to build the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House as a gift to the arts and culture community here, who have longed for such a venue for the performing arts.


He also expressed his appreciation for the support of the R&F Group, as the Opera House was the venue for the highly acclaimed series of Drum Up JB! shows last year.


Tan was pleased that the Malaysian 24 Festive Drums Competition, inaugurated in 2010 and held bi-annually until 2018 but postponed for five years due to the global pandemic, will resume this year with preliminary competitions arranged in six regions nationwide.


Cultural Consultant, Tan Chai Puan

This year, for the first time, the finals for the National Competition and the International Drum Festival will be held in Kuala Lumpur to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China.


JB Drums president, Lim Yi Kai, was pleased to announce that the celebrations for the 36th Anniversary of the founding of the 24 Festive Drums, will be hosted at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House with afternoon and evening events on June 8.


He said the afternoon event will include the inauguration ceremony of the 24 Festive Drums Association Malaysia in Johor while the evening event will feature performances by JB Drums in collaboration with other professional drum troops in the nation.


Meanwhile, co-founder of Drum Up JB! Lee Sheah Liang, provided encouraging data derived from the analysis of the performances presented last year which included unprecedented milestones of achievement in the history of the drum shows.


Lee was proud that Drum Up JB! was the first ticketed drum show performed at the Opera House since the reopening of the economy after the global pandemic and it successfully presented 18 shows to some 6,500 people in 2023.


Drum Up JB! was ranked second nationwide
among the music shows staged in 2023

He was optimistic about establishing Drum Up JB! as a permanent cultural attraction in Johor Baru because data showed that the non-Chinese audience increased from 5% to 30% last year, while some even deliberately planned their travel to come here to watch this show.


Using charts, Lee unveiled the future plans for Drum Up JB! shows scheduled from this year onwards to 2026, along with encouraging information on the Top Ten Bestselling Music Shows in the nation, when Drum Up JB! ranked second, last year.


At the close of the event, I had the opportunity to chat with Cultural Consultant Tan, who declared, “I am honoured to be the pioneer to open the gate of the arts and culture scene here and step out from traditional small circles by playing the bridging role between Johor and the arts community in Singapore and beyond.”


He was referring to better connectivity with Singapore when the Rapid Transit System (RTS), scheduled for completion by end 2026, comes into operation. He was also optimistic about presenting quality shows at the Opera House while providing local artistes with opportunities to showcase their talents here and abroad.


As we look forward to a more vibrant arts scene in Johor, please accept my best wishes and congratulations, Tan Chai Puan, on your appointment as Cultural Consultant with the R&F Group Malaysia.  

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