24 Festive Drums celebrate 24th anniversary with pride
MALAYSIAN HERITAGE:Group which began in Johor has seen its art of drumming promoted by more than 300 troupes around the world including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore
IT all started in 1988 when Tan Chai Puan and Tan Hooi Song were tasked with organising a performance for the Ninth National Dance Festival here.
These cultural activists shared the vision in using drums that traditionally echo the rhythm of life, to create a festive mood. While Chai Puan, a businessman, talented poet and cartoonist, wrote the poetry, Hooi Song the musician composed the music.
To enhance the presentation with a blend of drumming, music, poetry and dance, they sought the help of Yu Sing Kong, a master in the art of Chinese cross-talk and Charlie Tan Cheng Swee, a choreographer.
This unique collaboration became fondly known as Three Tans and One Yu. They agreed that it should be a multiple drum performance but couldn't decide on how many drums until Chai Puan read a poem by a Taiwanese poet who described the beauty of the four seasons in a set of 24 poems.
This was the inspiration for the creation of a performance based on the 24 seasons in the lunar calendar, traditionally marked by festivals, that has guided the lives of the ancient Chinese agricultural community for thousands of years.
They chose to use the Cantonese drums and depended on donations and sponsors to buy them from China.
The first set of drums was acquired through the goodwill of generous sponsors and contributions from the Johor Baru Tiong-Hua Association and the five Chinese clans representing the Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hokkien and Hakka communities in Johor Baru.
Each drum was painted with two bold Chinese characters that represent each of the 24 seasons. The music and choreography are arranged to harmonise gracefully into a performing art that depicts the cycles of the 24 seasons in music, calligraphy and the rhythm of life.
The 24 Festive or Season Drums was to perform only for the opening ceremony, but the performance so enthralled the audience that the troupe was asked to perform again the next day.
Some 2,000 tickets priced at RM50 each were sold and the two-day festival was so successful that it was extended another day. The drum show created a great impact and this positive response was a strong encouragement for everyone involved.
On June 12, 1988, the 24 Festive Drums was officially recognised in a ceremony held at the forecourt of Johor Gu Miao or ancient temple.
It was an auspicious event attended by the presidents of the Johor Baru Tiong-Hua Association and the five Chinese clans as well as Datuk Kuek Ho Yau and the calligraphy masters who wrote the Chinese characters of the 24 seasons on the drums.
Recently, just two days ahead of the drums' 24th anniversary on June 12, representatives of the Johor Baru Tiong-Hua Association, the five Chinese clans and Stulang assemblyman Mok Chek Hou met to commemorate the special event at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk.
"While the drums are a cultural element from China, the 24 Festive Drums has its origins here," said Chai Puan because many are not aware that this performing art is truly a Malaysian heritage.
Hooi Song received the Warisan Orang Hidup award from the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry, a week before he lost the battle to cancer in July 2008.
On Feb 14, 2009, the same ministry listed the 24 Festive Drums as a national cultural heritage.
As a memento of this performing art's humble beginnings, each representative received a framed photo of the original troupe taken at the temple 24 years ago.
During the celebration, the sound of the 24 Festive Drums resonated from the front of the Red House through the heart of old Johor Baru.
A tall tray of traditional Chinese peach-shaped birthday buns was arranged on a Chinese drum, surrounded by 24 lit red candles
"I never imagined it would gain such popularity," said Chai Puan, reminiscing on the creation of the Festive Drums and how this art of drumming has grown to more than 300 troupes worldwide.
There are now professional troupes in Singapore, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Switzerland and the United States.
From 2003, universities in China started forming their drum troupes and, in 2005, the Hu Nan province of China incorporated the 24 Festive Drums into their cultural ceremony to pay respects to ancient Chinese national ancestors.
In 2008, Malaysian students Ben Loh Weng Kheong, Yeo Chee Kiong, Leu Guan Shyong and Tang Choon, in Oklahoma State University, started the first 24 Festive Drums troupe in the United States.
It was a proud experience for this drum troupe who had the honour to perform at half-time for the NBA games in Oklahoma City in 2010.