Malaysia to host first concert featuring talents of persons with disabilities


Special band: Zimi J comprises (clockwise from front) Ling, Lim, Johnson, Wong, and Wan Zareef. Photo: Cindy Vyner

Guitarist/vocalist Joshua Daniel Johnson, 30, leads a band called Zimi J, made up of five musicians, all of whom have high functioning autism.

Lately, they have been busy with rehearsals, gearing up for their online audition submission for the Unveiling Uniqueness (UU) concert. It is an event dedicated to celebrating the talents of disabled musicians.

“The deadline for our submission is on May 6. Our choice for the audition piece is We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel. We hope our submission will earn us a spot among the performers at the concert,” said Johnson during an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor recently.

Organised by the non-profit organisation Musicians for Musicians (MFM), the event is scheduled to take place on July 13 (10am-10pm) at Menara BAC in Petaling Jaya.

It will feature many activities, including a bazaar, workshops, drum circle sessions, and a panel discussion besides the main concert.

Alongside Johnson, the band comprises vocalist Salvador Ling, 23; pianist Maxx Lim, 22; drummer Ilyas Wong, 28; and bassist Wan Zareef Nuqman Wan Ahmad Kamal, 26.

By pursuing their passions, people with disabilities can contribute to art, culture, and various industries, enriching the world with their creativity. Photo: Filepic By pursuing their passions, people with disabilities can contribute to art, culture, and various industries, enriching the world with their creativity. Photo: Filepic

For Johnson, the concert represents more than just an opportunity to perform. It’s a chance to challenge misconceptions and demonstrate the limitless potential of individuals with special needs.

“Our disabilities do not define us; they inspire us to showcase our unique gifts and demonstrate that every stage is ours to own,“ explains Johnson, who has performed with the likes of Jaclyn Victor, Zainal Abidin and the Aseana Percussion Unit.

Notably, Johnson and his bandmates also serve as music teachers at Music Mart (MM), a music school in Petaling Jaya. At MM, they impart their musical knowledge to both neurotypical students and those with autism, teaching instruments such as drums, keyboards, and guitar.

Johnson’s commitment to empowering individuals with disabilities extends beyond the stage. In 2017, he and Ling received accolades at the Autistic Talent Gala in Hong Kong, clinching the Best Duet Award and the Appreciation Award.

These young men exemplify how, with proper support and encouragement, those with special needs can shine and excel at their unique talents.

‘Many people with special needs possess remarkable musical abilities, yet they often lack the chance to showcase them,’ says Nathaniel (right). Photo: Filepic‘Many people with special needs possess remarkable musical abilities, yet they often lack the chance to showcase them,’ says Nathaniel (right). Photo: Filepic

Speaking on the objectives of the concert, MFM vice president and MM founder Edwin Nathaniel, 63, emphasises its openness to disabled musicians from various backgrounds, including those who are deaf, blind, or have conditions such as cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.

“Last year, through a training workshop in Kuching, I discovered numerous talented musicians with special needs. There’s a misconception that disabled individuals cannot perform. The upcoming concert serves as a platform to challenge such perceptions.”

By enabling them to showcase their talents, Nathaniel wants to thrust them into the limelight, and help get them into the job market.

“We want to provide them with opportunities for sustainable employment. Many possess remarkable musical abilities, yet they often lack the chance to showcase them. By securing roles as lounge entertainers or performers in hotels and shopping malls, we can help them realise their full potential.“

Nathaniel is also the co-founder of the music band Aseana Percussion Unit (Apu). Among his circle of friends, the father of two is known for his dedication to teaching music to children with disabilities.

In 2000, Apu designed Rise – a music therapy syllabus for children with different types and varying levels of learning disabilities, including those with autism, cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome.

Rise focuses on the idea of making music using percussion instruments (or anything at hand, including mortar and pestle, frying pan and chopsticks) while having fun.

Tineshwaran Rachandran may be blind but he is a talented pianist, drummer and mimicry artist, making him an ideal candidate for the audition. Photo: FilepicTineshwaran Rachandran may be blind but he is a talented pianist, drummer and mimicry artist, making him an ideal candidate for the audition. Photo: Filepic

His teaching methods have also been shared with educators in New Delhi, Bangkok and Singapore. In collaboration with physics lecturer Dr Tan Swee Chuan, Nathaniel co-authored R.I.S.E. (Rhythm Interactive Special Enabler) in 2022, a music therapy book designed for people with special needs. The same year, he was a recipient of the 2022 Star Golden Hearts Award for his outstanding contribution to music education for children with special needs.

Together with music teacher Cindy Vyner, 50, Nathaniel will oversee the selection process for performers at the UU concert, prioritising talent, creativity and showmanship.

With inclusivity as its guiding principle, Nathaniel aims to provide a platform for all participants to showcase their talents and celebrate their unique abilities.

“The concert will run for three hours, with our goal being to attract a minimum of 20 applicants. Even for those who may not be chosen to take the stage during the concert itself, we’re committed to offering them an opportunity to perform at the accompanying bazaar. Inclusive participation is our aim, ensuring that everyone has a chance to showcase their talents at our event.”

Musicians with disabilities can send in their audition recordings to rhythminteractiverise@gmail.com by May 6. For more details, call 012-209 8849 (Edwin) or 011-6509 5881 (Cindy).


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