The Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House in Tanjung Puteri in Johor Baru is set to welcome percussion ensemble Drum Up JB! as part of its new arts programme season this year.
The group, fresh from a series of rehearsals, will take to the stage this weekend (Jan 7 and 8).
This is set to be the first of many stagings as this Drum Up JB! production is a permanent show at the venue (known for its diamond-edged exterior which its nickname ("Jewel Of South").
Two shows will be slated there for every month, giving locals and visitors a chance to experience the arts and culture scene in Johor Baru.
Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House, which opened in early 2020, has the capacity to seat an audience of 600.
The opera house is expected to run a full arts programme this year, with Drum Up JB! kicking off proceedings.
A collaboration between JB Drums and KL-based collective Orang Orang Drum Theatre, Drum Up JB! features over 24 drummers and combines drumming, physical movements and other theatre elements to create a powerful, rousing experience.
“Drum Up JB! is inspired by the energy and vibrancy of Johor Baru and the multiple facets of the Malaysian identity. This show blends the heritage music of the 24 Festive Drums performance which originated from Johor Baru 35 years ago, with diverse musical instruments of Malaysian cultures," says Lim Yi Kai, the president of JB Drums.
"Emerging from the pandemic last year, we wanted to create a commercially sustainable model that could support the cultural scene in Johor Baru, while creating a platform to showcase the rich heritage of this city to visitors. Our hope is for Drum Up JB! to be internationally recognised as a must-visit tourist attraction in Johor Baru,” he adds.
This 90-minute show (plus a 15-minute intermission), is divided into two parts.
Celebrating 24 Festive Drums
The first half, presented by JB Drums, introduces the birth and evolution of the 24 Festive Drums, which will allow audiences to learn more about the history of this cultural art form.
Originating in Johor Baru in the late 1980s, this drumming style was created by cultural activist and poet Tan Chai Puan and the late composer-musician Tan Hooi Song (who died in 2008).
In 2009, 24 Festive Drums was recognised as a Malaysian National Intangible Cultural Heritage, and has since been embraced across five continents, with over 400 troupes around the world.
“In this performance, we are featuring one of our significant pieces, ‘Rhythm of the Drunken Souls’, which was born about 10 years after 24 Festive Drums was created in 1988. It was an important evolution of the art form during that time. The drummers’ movements (and choreography) are inspired by the ‘drunken fist’ martial arts,” says Lim.
The second half, which will see the Orang Orang Drum Theatre collective take to the stage, focuses on the multi-racial percussive instruments of Malaysia, as well as folk songs in different mother tongues.
Themed LaguKu, it showcases a range of musical instruments, including Chinese drums, kulintangan, gendang, kompang, shigu and xylophone.
“The different instruments have unique sounds of their own, but when blended together, they create a beautiful ‘rojak’ of sounds and cultures, like our country Malaysia. This tells a story of the Malaysian identity – one that is neither singular nor reductive. Rather, similar to this performance, it is layered and interwoven with an inexplicable combination of shared values, cultures and experiences,” says Zyee Leow, co-founder of Orang Orang Drum Theatre.
Drum Up JB!’s finale gathers both teams in a composition called The Memories, created by Orang Orang Drum Theatre co-founder Boyz Chew and his students.
“This song is inspired by the history of Malaysian Chinese ancestors migrating southward in search of a way out, wishing to gain survival on foreign land. This echoes with the Johorean lifestyle today, a constant state of chaotic movement across borders and cities in the pursuit of a collective memory,” adds Leow.
This presentation is similar to the version showcased during Orang Orang Drum Theatre’s tour in France in 2017.
“The audience can expect a powerful and dynamic drum performance with high-tech lighting and sound equipment to enhance the visual and auditory experience. Everyone is invited to enjoy this multi-cultural experience of energy, percussion and music.
"It will also be a great experience if the whole family could come together to enjoy and discuss the performance after a rich cultural experience,” Lim concludes.
Drum Up JB! is an initiative under the Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme: Arts, Heritage and Culture, a collaboration between Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) and Think City, supported by Majlis Bandaraya Johor Baru (MBJB). It is also supported by R&F Development and Malaysia Digital Districts.
Drum Up JB! is on at Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House in Johor Baru on Jan 7 (8pm) and Jan 8 (3pm). More info here.