Arts documentary revisits a plucky tale of drums, masks and pandemic life

It has been more than a year of cancelled drum classes and live performances for community arts group Orang Orang Drum Theatre, but it has been keeping busy behind closed doors.

Last year, it released a music album Lang4 X Lepak in September, and in conjunction with this, held a “sound installation” live show with a limited audience at the Black Box space in Publika, Kuala Lumpur.

The album project offers a diverse musical blend, spanning Chinese drums, didgeridoo, gamelan, gendang, gong, jidor, kulingtangan, sape and xylophone.

This project continues with a documentary film Lang4 X Lepak that will take viewers through the making of this album.

It will be screened online – on the Cloudtheatre platform – on June 17-20, at 9pm.

“This is a ‘homemade’ documentary film that shows how the Orang Orang Drum Theatre team worked during the pandemic. It revisits the creative process behind this recording... how things gradually took shape, from the rehearsals and the recording sessions. All the doubts, brainstorming and organisation behind this process have been caught on lens, ” says Zyee Leow, one of the co-founders of Orang Orang Drum Theatre.

The decision to put this documentary out is to give the masses a glimpse of how individuals in the arts scene have found ways to keep working during these challenging times.

The creative situation has not been ideal, but Orang Orang Drum Theatre’s raw take – hope, frustration, joy, anxiety – on what went on behind the scenes (for this album), is as honest as it gets.

“The video does not have perfect sound recording nor amazing post-production. It only shows us as ourselves. There are some visuals accompanying the music to bring the audience on a journey of song, and then we come back to ‘reality’ where we discuss, talk, think, ” says Boyz Chew, a fellow Orang Orang Drum Theatre co-founder.

The album was initially just a way for them to continue sharing their work with the public, despite the cancellation of live shows and public performances. But it has since been expanded into a multifaceted project, with this upcoming documentary.

“In the beginning, we thought that making a music album is something special and important to us. We never imagined that after one year, we are still in the same situation. While reviewing what we have done for the album, we thought it would be interesting to share how we ‘fought’ for our art last year, ” says Leow.

“It is also a way to stay connected with our audience and to let them know that we are still with them. We don’t know what the future holds but maybe ‘continue creating’ is the right spirit to adopt, as it will keep us going, ” says Chew.

The “Lang4” in the project’s title Lang4 X Lepak is a Chinese character that refers to “travelling” (from space to space).

“Everybody is welcome to watch the documentary. It is for people who would like to lepak with us, and also for people who would like to have a taste of the back stage process. If you own our CD, it will be very interesting to discover another perspective of this creation. For those who haven’t listened to our music, then maybe you can decide after watching the documentary. We really hope that the audience could use their earphones to breathe with us during the film, ” says Leow.

The 'In-Transit-ion' project takes commuters on an audiovisual journey through the different MRT stations. Photo: Orang Orang Drum TheatreThe 'In-Transit-ion' project takes commuters on an audiovisual journey through the different MRT stations. Photo: Orang Orang Drum Theatre

Meanwhile, Orang Orang Drum Theatre’s public performance art series titled In Transit-ion: A Poetic MRT Journey, which introduces a cultural adventure for MRT commuters in KL, has been temporarily postponed due to the lockdown.

In Transit-ion, a collaborative effort with 20 artists from various disciplines, started in March and is expected to continue until the end of the year once pandemic restrictions are loosened up. Another project in the works is The Hidden Tune, a collaboration with a German artist that has also been postponed.

Outside the Klang Valley, Orang Orang Drum Theatre has also started work on the Orang Orang Art Farm in Karak, Pahang.

The vision is to have this arts-based centre as a venue for artist residencies and performances, as well as serve as a rehearsal space. There are plans to set up a farm there as well.

“We have dreamt of having such a space for a long time and at the moment, this is what we imagine it to be. But we are open to all kinds of possibilities and suggestions while this Art Farm is being constructed, ” concludes Chew.

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