Rhythm king

Ac­claimed Ke­lan­tan- born per­cus­sion­ist keeps tra­di­tion close to his heart.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By N. RAMA LO­HAN star2@ thes­tar. com. my

“I BE­GAN get­ting fan mail from the time I was in Form 1,” en­thused multi- in­stru­men­tal­ist Kam­rul Hussin. Re­ceiv­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion let­ters at 13 seems pretty di­a­bol­i­cal for a lo­cal mu­si­cian, but not all of us play the gen­dang, re­bab and serunai. In fact, it was this sort of cor­re­spon­dence that scored him his first date – with a gold­smith’s daugh­ter on a night out to the movies.

Of course, all the pres­tige and re­spect gained as a bud­ding mu­si­cian went down the chute when he fell flat on his be­hind, not know­ing how to tip the cinema seat down to sit on.

Pedi­gree was al­ways there, though. He was playing the re­bana and singing by seven, earn­ing the princely sum of RM1.50 for his first professional gig at 10. He was also the first stu­dent in pri­mary school to play in a dikir barat band.

How­ever, child­hood in­ter­est doesn’t al­ways blos­som into adult­hood pas­sion. But Kam­rul has come a long way since his early days in Bang­gol Ge­lang Mas, Pasir Mas in Ke­lan­tan.

In fact, the mu­si­cian, schooled in tra­di­tional Ke­lan­tanese mu­sic, has trav­elled far and wide, well past the com­fort of his quaint vil­lage. But those worldly ex­pe­ri­ences have all come from a firm ground­ing in his tra­di­tional up­bring­ing.

“I fol­lowed my dad, rid­ing pil­lion on his mo­tor­bike, to his per­for­mances around the area, even­tu­ally join­ing his troupe,” re­vealed the 38- year- old mu­si­cian.

“My sib­lings and I grew up with mu­sic. My dad not only played, but he made mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, too, so, we were very fa­mil­iar with all that was hap­pen­ing around us,” he added.

Kam­rul eased into the mu­sic world tak­ing the per­cus­sive route – playing canang at main pe­teri ( rit­ual heal­ing) cer­e­monies, then the gong. “It’s easier to be­gin by playing with per­cus­sive in­stru­ments,” he ex­plained, say­ing that ev­ery­one has rhythm, so the playing field is fairly level.

Given his sur­round­ings, Kam­rul al­most had no chance, but to be in­volved in the arts in some form or other.

“We had dif­fer­ent themed nights every week ... main pe­teri, si­lat, tar­ian inai, dikir barat and so on all the time in our vil­lage.”

Men­tors, were aplenty, too. With­out even hav­ing to leave his house, his first and fore­most in­flu­ence is his re­bab- playing, singing fa­ther, the revered Hussin Yu­soff.

The late Pak Hamzah Awang Amat, a Na­tional Lau­re­ate and Fukuoka Asian Cul­ture Prize Win­ner, and Pak Nasir Yu­soff, would play in­stru­men­tal roles in shap­ing his ap­proach to mu­sic.

His ed­u­ca­tion process would see Kam­rul learning var­i­ous per­cus­sion cul­tures, like In­dian from Kirubakaran Narayana, Chi­nese from Hands Per­cus­sion’s very own Bernard Goh and Latin from Steve Thorn­ton, among oth­ers.

And the course of his work has cap­tured him work­ing with the likes of Tan Sri SM Salim, Datuk Siti Nurhal­iza at her land­mark Royal Al­bert Hall con­cert in London in 2005, Zainal Abidin, M. Nasir, Ning Baizura, Ramli Sarip and many more. International col­lab­o­ra­tions num­ber highly, too, with his work with Sadao Watan­abe and Vishwa Mo­han Bhatt eas­ily de­serv­ing men­tion.

Kam­rul has reached some lofty heights, but he’s no mere dreamer, though. He is a doer, too. Prac­ti­cal knowl­edge has un­der­stand­ably led him to learn that the fu­sion of tra­di­tional sounds with west­ern mu­sic is the way for­ward in reach­ing a larger au­di­ence.

And he has a gameplan for it, as well, and it’s back­bone is very much about con­tem­po­ris­ing.

“We want to play tra­di­tional in­stru­ments dif­fer­ently ... do dif­fer­ent kinds of songs. For in­stance, I’ve played the Ti­tanic melody on a Chi­nese flute,” he shared.

“This ap­proach of colour­ing the mu­sic, makes it less dif­fi­cult to mar­ket shows,” he added.

He re­called how he got a taste for fu­sion through his mu­si­cal ex­ploits, in­ti­mat­ing that his first ( recog­nised in the Klang Val­ley) band was Aseana Per­cus­sion Unit ( APU), a band renowned for its good time- mu­sic and 1Malaysia- themed an­thems. Then he joined game­lan en­sem­ble Rhythm In Bronze.

How­ever, it was the professional train­ing he re­ceived at Hands Per­cus­sion – which grew from a hum­ble per­cus­sion troupe to the en­ter­tain­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion it has be­come today – which has un­der­scored his ca­reer in mu­sic.

Today, he proudly leads his fam­ily troupe, Geng Wak Long ( Wak Long taken from his af­fec­tion­ate nick­name) which had pre­vi­ously fea­tured his dad. Three brothers and a sis­ter- in- law ac­com­pany him.

Fam­ily- formed work units have not often thrived, but like any kind of hu­man re­la­tion­ship, there is al­ways an ebb and a flow.

“I don’t know them as well as I prob­a­bly thought. But them going and learning at Aswara ( Akademi Seni Ke­bangsaan) helped us gel to­gether bet­ter.

We have since de­vel­oped a good chem­istry,” said the Aswara grad­u­ate and cur­rent lec­turer in Malaysian tra­di­tional mu­sic at UiTM ( Univer­siti Te­knologi MARA).

Geng Wak Long has be­gun to gain trac­tion for its eclec­tic mu­si­cal flavours and unique­ness, but he ex­tracts great­est sat­is­fac­tion in hav­ing re­leased the group’s de­but al­bum, a col­lec­tion of tra­di­tional songs wo­ven from the mitt of tra­di­tion­al­ists and ar­ti­sans. Ev­ery­thing from the sparse, cheeky in­tro tune, Tok Se­lampit, which was tai­lored for the times to in­cul­cate the buy- orig­i­nal cul­ture, to the free- for- all jam on Med­ley Bertabuh, Part 1 of The New Au­then­tic Ke­lan­tanese Tra­di­tional Mu­sic Of Malaysia is an in­vig­o­rat­ing cul­tural im­mer­sion.

The al­bum, as a high­light, ac­cord­ing to Kam­rul, can only be equalled by the op­por­tu­nity of hav­ing taken the troupe to a highly pres­ti­gious fes­ti­val in Santiago, Spain.

“I’m very pleased that I man­aged to take them to Womex ( World Mu­sic Expo). That was a great ex­pe­ri­ence for all of us.” Kam­rul brings his mu­sic to Kalei­do­scope

4: Drum­ming Nation, the fourth edition of Hands Per­cus­sion’s International Drum­ming Fes­ti­val.

Drum­ming Nation takes place on Sept 10 at the Ple­nary Hall, KLCC, where he promises a unique ex­pe­ri­ence for the au­di­ence.

It is part of Di­ver­secity 2016, the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Fes­ti­val.

“It won’t be just about playing mu­sic, but will in­clude per­for­mance arts, too. There will be move­ment, the playing of char­ac­ters and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with tra­di­tional in­stru­ments.”

The im­pro­vi­sa­tional na­ture of the mu­sic, ac­cord­ing to him, won’t be un­like the spon­ta­neous jam ses­sions in drum cir­cles.

“It will in­clude drums played, not just as ac­com­pa­ni­ment, but fea­tur­ing solo spots as well,” he de­scribed the un­con­ven­tional ap­proach.

Hands Per­cus­sion’s Kalei­do­scope 4:

Drum­ming Nation plays at Ple­nary Hall, KLCC on Sept 10. Tick­ets, avail­able from www. airasiaredtix. com, par­tic­i­pat­ing Rock Cor­ner and Vic­to­ria Mu­sic out­lets, start at RM68. Show­time is 3pm and 8.30pm. Visit: fb.com/hands-per­cus­sion, or call 03- 6141 4480 / 012- 502 6883.

Kam­rul, a tra­di­tional mu­sic multi- in­strumet­al­ist and aca­demic, has forged a ca­reer in the main­stream and cul­tural cir­cles with his drum­ming and broad out­look on Malay folk and arts cul­ture. — KIM TEOH

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