Drum­ming for a good cause

A May­bank arts ini­tia­tive paves the way for Hands Per­cus­sion to work with Syr­ian refugees in Bri­tain.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Arts - By YVONNE TAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

IT was a cold, crisp morn­ing last month at the Newark Flowserve, a lo­cal foot­ball club lo­cated just about a 30-minute’s drive away from Not­ting­ham in England.

A group of us were hud­dled in a cosy room, mostly to shield our­selves from the strong winds out­side. We were await­ing our spe­cial guests. They ar­rive soon af­ter, all noisy and chatty, and fol­low­ing a round of brief in­tro­duc­tions, train­ing starts.

To­day’s ac­tiv­ity is a drum train­ing ses­sion con­ducted by Hands Per­cus­sion, a big name in Malaysia’s per­form­ing arts scene, and the guests are none other than Syr­ian refugee chil­dren and teens, some freshly ar­rived from their war-torn coun­try.

Everyone in the room has come to­gether from all cor­ners of the world for what May­bank Heart, which is May­bank’s social-fundrais­ing plat­form, calls the Drum For Hope campaign.

“When the global refugee cri­sis erupted, there was a feel­ing of help­less­ness, and we decided that per­haps there was some­thing that we could do to help al­le­vi­ate the men­tal and emo­tional impact of the refugees be­ing dis­placed,” says Ami Moris, May­bank Kim Eng COO.

May­bank then decided to bring Hands Per­cus­sion to Bri­tain to work with Mercy Malaysia UK, and teach drum­ming to refugee chil­dren in Not­ting­ham. The fund­ing of the campaign was raised via May­bank Heart.

Within the group, there’s Fa­tima, a shy, sweet lit­tle girl who by the end of the day had warmed up to us and no longer found hold­ing drum sticks a con­cept to­tally alien to her. Then there’s the ram­bunc­tious seven-year-old Gae­nam, who like any other child his age has a short at­ten­tion span and finds it hard to fo­cus. Omar is the ob­vi­ous leader of the group. He’s the old­est at 18 and quickly set­tles into the role of “drum leader”.

Bernard Goh, Hands Per­cus­sion’s founder, to­gether with his team mem­bers, spends the next many hours teach­ing the group sev­eral rou­tines, start­ing them off with a warm-up ses­sion in­volv­ing all kinds of body move­ments. Goh is relentless in his teach­ing and makes sure that everyone gives their all.

Even Gae­nam, who has adopted a full-on play­ful mode barely five min­utes into the train­ing, is not spared.

Moris says the campaign aims to “bring heal­ing through drum­ming to the refugees in Bri­tain, ul­ti­mately pro­vid­ing them with a new skill that can be lever­aged to cre­ate com­mer­cial value to sus­tain the com­mu­nity.”

This ob­jec­tive, she says is in line with May­bank Kim Eng’s flag­ship Asean arts ini­tia­tive, KataKatha, where it aims to show­case Asean arts and lever­age the arts to do good.

Over in the train­ing cor­ner, Omar and his peers proof that they are quick to learn and a cou­ple of hours later, a ta­pes­try of loud, rhyth­mic sounds vi­brate from the thin walls.

The chil­dren play with gusto, some pep­per their beats with ad­di­tional stunts only chil­dren are ca­pa­ble of, earn­ing laugh­ter from the floor.

“The drum is the most prim­i­tive in­stru­ment in the world, ev­ery tribe has drums, peo­ple con­nect with drums,” says Goh.

Goh, whose per­for­mances of­ten draw in­spi­ra­tion from Malaysia’s rich cul­tural back­ground, is no stranger to teach­ing drum­ming to young chil­dren, hav­ing taught in schools all over the Klang Val­ley.

“If you ask me what I ex­pect from all of this, I will only say that I want to en­joy my­self teach­ing these chil­dren, I have no ex­pec­ta­tions from them, I am just be­ing my­self and want to con­nect with them.”

“I don’t look at this as a job, it’s more of an op­por­tu­nity.”

The group is fi­nally ready to call it a day at about 5pm in the evening. It’s not been an easy day but it’s been ful­fill­ing for everyone.

There’s more train­ing the next day but for now, it’s time for some well-earned rest.

Moris says the Drum for Hope campaign is tar­geted to run for about three months.

“Even on the first day it­self, the re­sults were amaz­ing.

“Just within the short, de­mand­ing sched­ule of three to four hours, the chil­dren were al­ready able to pick up a few se­quences, they are clearly driven by their open­ness and their de­sire to learn,” says Moris.

She says May­bank is con­sid­er­ing ex­pand­ing the campaign to other parts of the world by ex­pand­ing its net­work of col­lab­o­ra­tion with other non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

— Photos: JACKIE YONG

Fa­tima (in pink) and her friends get­ting into the groove with Hands Per­cus­sion main man Goh’s help. ‘If you ask me what I ex­pect from all of this, I will only say that I want to en­joy my­self teach­ing these chil­dren, I have no ex­pec­ta­tions from them, I am just be­ing my­self and want to con­nect with them,’ says Goh.

Goh (in red) teach­ing one of the chil­dren the right way to han­dle drum sticks.

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