Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Music Within

My mother once told me that every culture in every part of the world has its own form of music, in their own tongue.

I suppose that comes from humans' need to express emotions and feelings. Nowadays, South Koreans have been making waves with their K-Pop songs, matching their music with clever dance routines. Meanwhile, America has seen its music grow from the likes of Motown hits and 70's rock to today's mainstream Pop, largely dominated by artists such as Beyonce and Justin Bieber (talent is questionable).

Music is just as deeply engraved in aboriginal culture as it is in urban culture.

In certain African tribes, songs are very important to villagers, especially during crucial transitions of their lives. Pregnant African women meditate until they believe that they have heard their unborn children's songs.

Each unique melody would become part of every child's life. That is, when a child grows throughout his adolescence, his transition to manhood, his marriage and eventually his death. It will be sung to him by his loved ones. It seems as if music is embedded in their very being, in their lives - that it represents who they are and their individual souls.

A performance of the Kadazans' traditional Sumazau dance.

For the Maasai tribe of Kenya, music is the centre of their Eunoto ceremony, where young people who've come of age dance (read: flirt) to the beat of the songs. Men line and chant, while the women stand in front of them, singing in response. A musical dialogue takes place between the two sexes, as their voices create harmony.

This is similar to the Malaysian Kadazans' Sumazau dance which require couples and groups to dance to the symphony of "tagung"s and "sompoton"s, which are traditional musical instruments.

They also sing during rice festivals, just like how you sing in the shower, for personal entertainment.
In "The Aborigines Who've Walked for 40,000 Years", an article written by David Vanne, an Australian aborigine tells him about how some songs by his tribe are actually tunes laced with moral values and warnings for women, reminding them to be cautious not to lose their children or defy their husbands.

These tribal songs serve different purposes, and mean different things to different tribes of aborigines of the world.

Earlier in March, I had the privilege of meeting Antares, who was a bandmember of Akar Umbi, a band famous for its indigenous music. A few tracks from their album, "Songs of the Dragon" were used in the Portraits of Perseverance documentary. Singing those songs was none other than a Temuan grandmama, Mak Minah Angong.

According to, Mak Minah’s songs portray the love the Temuan people have for great nature. But the music goes deeper. It is not just about mere love songs to the environment, but to their ancestral land, and to their ancestors who are believed to have lived, and continue to live on in the landscape.

Mak Minah Angong (Credits to Magick River, photography by Peter Lau)

When logging and rock blasting began as part of the Sungai Selangor dam project, the Temuan families living in Pertak and Gerachi had not been properly resettled, many retreating further into the forest, so it seems. And in songs such as "Sungai Makao", Mak Minah's voice is reminiscient of better times where the land was still pristine.

In a way, the songs seem to echo memories of what used to be. 

It will not only be perfect for storytelling-time for the younger Temuans, it will also allow non-Temuan listeners to come to know about the land that is slowly being taken away from them.

The beautiful lullabies stand for the Temuan identity, voicing their intimate relationship with the environment. They represent a tapestry of the Temuans' lives.

Now that trees are being cut and jungles are getting smaller, the Temuans find it more and more difficult to live the 'old ways', even more so now that they have been relocated, and a large part of their ancestral land has been flooded to build the Sungai Selangor dam.

The late Mak Minah on a beach in Batu Ferringhi (Credits to Magick River, photography by Rafique Rashid)

According to Antares, they are beseiged by changes around them. Most of the children in Kampung Pertak - Mak Minah's village - do not finish secondary school as there is a lack of the "studying for certificate" culture at the home front. Girls marry young to become homemakers. Men do low-level odd jobs. When they need money, they go out to find work.  

Many of the villagers are lost. They are trying to pick up modern city culture - its language, music, the way city folk dress and their behavior. By doing so, they are beginning to lose what they used to have. And they don't realize how much they have lost in order to blend into modernity, by wearing a pair of jeans, or by listening to music with a heavy background of the electric guitar and drums, or by eating a slice of pizza given by a local tourist.

Mak Minah and her sister, Indah. (Credits to Magick River, photography by Antares)

Mak Minah's lullabies are no longer sung by the women in her tribe. Only her sister has learned a few lullabies from her. But even so, her sister has no one to sing to because young mothers now put on a tape player for music.

Their music is getting lost in times.
Maybe, just maybe, the world will find room, permanently, for their lullabies.


By Junmey

1 comment:

  1. It took me 3 months to find my way here but I'm very happy I did drop by, Junmey :-) Some of your blog followers may be interested to know that I have decided to put the entire AKAR UMBI album (Songs of the Dragon) online.