Halidan and uncle keep the art of making Malay lute alive in Johor


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 21 Jul 2011

BATU PAHAT: The gambus, the pear-shaped Malay lute used in ghazal and zapin music, continues to be a vibrant part of the local scene with people like Halidan Ithnin making sure the art of making the instrument stays alive.

The gambus maker admits he was initially reluctant to get involved in this traditional craft as it was a tedious chore since most parts of the wooden instrument have to be manually made and fixed.

There are essentially five components, named after body parts - muka (face), badan (body), leher (neck), telinga (ears) and bontot (back) - with different types of wood used for each part.

Originating from the Middle East, the Malaysian gambus is closely related to the qanbus of Yemen, the gabbus of Zanzibar, the gabbus of Oman, the qabus of Saudi Arabia, and the kabosa of Madagascar.

Halidan's uncle, Hassan Othman, 85, is among the few gambus makers left in Johor, and probably in the country, and he wanted his nephew to take up the craft so that it would stay in the family.

Despite Hassan's persistent offer to teach his nephew the craft, Halidan, 45, refused until he met music researcher and instructor Nik Mustapha Nik Salleh.

Nik Mustapha, who was attached to the former Cultural, Arts and Tourism Ministry, had taught and produced many academic papers on traditional Malay music.

In 1997, he presented a paper on Hassan's gambus-making during a Unesco meeting in Tokyo and Hassan's effort was recognised by the UN body.

Two years later, the Johor Arts, Culture and Tourism Department awarded Hassan the Penggerak Budaya Johor award, for his efforts in promoting Malay arts and culture.

Meeting Nik Mustapha and learning about his work encouraged Halidan to learn more about the craft and the two eventually became good friends.

In 1983, Halidan decided to give it a shot and he has not looked back since.

He now makes two types of gambus an Arab-type that has 11 or 13 strings and the seven-string gambus Melayu.

He said his customers have praised the standard of his gambus and have told him the instruments were as good as the ones made by his uncle.

“If not for his (Nik Mustapha's) persuasive power, I'd not be making gambus now,” Halidan told The Star at his house-cum-workshop at Parit Hailam in Senggarang, near here.

“I kept giving excuses of not having a passion in gambus-making but deep down in my heart, I wanted to keep the art alive.”

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