Boost for local gambus-making industry

Halidan learnt the art of making gambus by observing his uncle Pak Hassan. — Bernama

BATU PAHAT: No one is more excited than Halidan Ithnin following the recognition of the Johor gambus as a unique product of the district of Batu Pahat by the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO).

Halidan, 54, who is well known here for the Johor ‘hadramaut’ gambus that he makes, is confident the recent inclusion of Batu Pahat district in MyIPO’s geographical indications (GI) register would augur well for the local gambus-making industry.

The gambus is a short-necked, pear-shaped stringed instrument that is widely used in ghazal music, a popular genre in Johor.

GIs are any type of symbol or mark that are used to identify the country, region or area from which certain goods originate. Only producers carrying out their activities in the geographical area specified in MyIPO’s GI register have the right to use a registered GI in the course of trade.

MyIPO’s recognition of Batu Pahat, in particular its gambus industry, will enable this traditional musical instrument to garner more attention. Its GI status, accorded in December 2019, does not come as a surprise as the gambus makers in this district have proven expertise in this field and continue to adhere to traditional methods of making the instrument.

To promote the gambus that he makes as a local identity, Halidan, who has been making the instrument since 2000, only uses locally-sourced wood such as from rengas and merawan trees or soursop and ciku (sapodilla) fruit trees.

The gambus originated from Yemen and was brought to Johor by Arab traders in the past.

“I want to give the gambus a Malay touch, enhance its local characteristics and give it its own identity, ” said Halidan, whose late uncle Hassan Othman, better known as Pak Hassan, was a famous gambus maker during the 1970s.

“The wood I use is close to my heart. Spruce and mahogany wood are already well known worldwide, so why should we not promote the specialities of our own local wood?”

The Johor gambus used to feature motifs bearing Arab influence but Halidan wants to change this. He said he wants to bring the traditional instrument closer to this country by adorning it with designs of Malaysian fauna and flora, as well as black pepper which reflects Johor’s identity.

But when it comes to making the gambus, the father of three, who used to be a part-time lecturer at the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage, prefers the traditional methods and still makes it by hand.

He learnt the art of making the instrument by just observing his uncle Pak Hassan, who he lived with from the age of three.

“During the time Pak Hassan was involved in making the gambus, I used to make two types of gendang (drum). I would watch him and ask questions. “That is how I developed an interest in making the instrument, ” said Halidan, whose workshop is in his house in Senggarang here.

Halidan is not adept at playing the gambus but he has his own technique to ensure that the sound made by his instrument is of good quality.

He also makes it a point to get feedback from gambus musicians.

“People who are involved in the world of gambus are able to get the techniques and the ‘soul’ (of the instrument) right, ” he added.

A handmade gambus can last up to 20 years but its durability depends on the quality of the wood and glue that are used in making the instrument.

“Certain types of glue used overseas may not be suitable for our climate and weather.

“The glue we use plays an important part and the gambus we make can last longer if we use the correct type of glue, ” he said, adding that it can take two weeks or even up to three months to make each piece.

Halidan, meanwhile, aspires to produce a book on the making of the gambus. He already has the materials for the book but lacks writing skills.

“I feel there is a need for a book that can teach the public how to make the instrument, ” he said, adding that more research was needed on its historical background. – Bernama

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