Lagu Ku: Discovering the hidden power of drums and voices


  • Arts
  • Thursday, 06 Aug 2015

Orang Orang Drum Theatre rehearsing for Lagu Ku. This production, opening at DPAC in Petaling Jaya tomorrow, combines drumming, physical performance and theatre. — YEE CHENG-HAW

Not just drums: Orang Orang Drum Theatre pushes boundaries in upcoming production Lagu Ku, exploring the synergy of drums and human voices in song. Lagu Ku starts Aug 6 at Damansara Performing Arts Centre, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Photos: Yee Cheng Haw


How do you take a sound so familiar to your ears, amplify it, and use it to tell a story? For Zyee Leow Sze Yee, who has been playing Chinese drums for more than 15 years, she describes the sound as “raw and primitive, as if we are listening to our own heartbeat”.

Together with artistic director Boyz Chew Soon Heng and leading member Damien Leow Hui Min, they founded Orang Orang Drum Theatre two years ago, in 2013. Combining drumming with physical performance and theatre, they aim to push limits on how far they can explore the use of drums.

“We seek to explore new possibilities in theatre through drums, and in doing so, redefine the artistic values of drumming,” says Leow.

Hidup Ini Senget, Orang Orang Drum Theatre’s inaugural full-length production last year, garnered multiple BOH Cameronian Arts Awards nominations and won for Best Group Performance and Best Music & Sound Design categories.

Orang Orang Drum Theatre pushes boundaries in upcoming production Lagu Ku, which builds on the ideas explored in community project Lagu Walk. This show combines drumming, physical performance and theatre...and other unusual instruments, like the didgeridoo. -- YEE CHENG HAW
The new show Lagu Ku combines drumming, theatre, puppetry, and human voices. Audiences can also expect unusual instruments, like the didgeridoo, played by artistic director Boyz Chew.

The group has since participated in various festivals locally (Short + Sweet Festival, Kakiseni Arts Festival, Pangkor Island Festival) as well as abroad (Taiwan Yunlin Arts Exchange program, Indonesia Arts Island Festival, Phuket String Puppet Festival). This year, it has been invited to two international festivals in Europe – Venice Open Stage 2015 and Danse en Ville in Belgium.

Starting Aug 6, the group presents its new creation Lagu Ku, which merges instrumental music with human voices, in an effort to narrow the gap between “drum” and “song”. It opens at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC), Petaling Jaya in Selangor.

Lagu Ku is a series of original compositions with drumming rhythms and vocals as the main elements. Drum might be purely sound, but the variation of drumming rhythms are limitless. Likewise, human vocals can create all kinds of melodies,” says Zyee.

Orang Orang Drum Theatre strives to tap into the “universal” song, stirring up a rhythmic collective memory of sorts that will resonate with everyone.

Chew hopes that the audience will adopt this “drum song” as their own, a wish that is reflected in the title choice (Lagu Ku translates as “my song”).

“This is the story of the most remarkable song in their lives, the song that everyone has. We always try to create music and performances that will touch the public,” he adds.

The hidden power of drums

The inspiration for Lagu Ku comes from "Lagu Walk", a community performance programme by Orang Orang Drum Theatre, which is a series of mini-creations (including drum music and physical theatre pieces) staged outside the conventional performing arts venues in the city. The group has toured to venues like Kampung Lin Tan in Rawang, Selangor, and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) in Tanjung Malim, Perak.

Kirigami, the Japanese art of cutting and folding paper into decorative forms, is incorporated la shadow puppetry into Lagu Ku’s choreography. -- YEE CHENG-HAW
Kirigami, the Japanese art of cutting and folding paper into decorative forms, will be incorporated into Lagu Ku as shadow play.

Expanding on the ideas and concepts explored in Lagu Walk, Lagu Ku focuses on further developing the musicality in each of Orang Orang Drum Theatre pieces in its exploration of “creating music through drums”.

In Lagu Ku, Orang Orang Drum Theatre is attempting something new and unusual for a drum performance – singing while the drumming is going on. At least two numbers will have singing incorporated into the package. “With Lagu Ku, it is not just about watching. Listening is the other important element we explore in this performance,” explains Leow.

Kirigami, the Japanese art of cutting and folding paper into decorative forms, is incorporated into Lagu Ku’s choreography to serve as the visual element of the performance piece.

“Since the creation of our first music piece, titled Bersama-Sama, we have embarked on an endless journey to test and seek out the meaning and the significance of the drums. It is the hidden power of ‘drum’ and the simple appeal of ‘song’ that drives us to share this performance with the audience,” concludes Chew.

Lagu Ku is on at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC), H-01, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, Petaling Jaya in Selangor from Aug 6 to 9 at 8.30pm. There are additional 3pm shows on Aug 8 and Aug 9. Show duration: 60 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are RM58. For students, senior citizens and the disabled, tickets are RM38. Group discount: Purchase four tickets for RM200 (applicable for the RM58 tickets only). For ticket purchase, visit www.dpac.com.my or call 03-4065 0001.

Orang Orang Drum Theatre rehearsing for Lagu Ku. This production, opening at DPAC in Petaling Jaya tomorrow, combines drumming, physical performance and theatre. — YEE CHENG-HAW
Members of Orang Orang Drum Theatre rehearsing for Lagu Ku.

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