“It’s our heritage and should therefore be preserved”

By Ajwad Amal

“It is our heritage. It flows in our blood and it has been passed down from old generation to our generation…”

Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan (ASWARA) which will soon be known as Universiti P. Ramlee has been in a very quiet mode when we visited the university on Sunday – which is a holiday and not many students could be seen walking around the campus.

Let me introduce what ASWARA is all about. ASWARA is the only institution in the field of high teaching art solely by supported by the Ministry of Culture; it provides learning, academic publishing and professional advice in the field of arts, culture and heritage.

With the mission to become a human resource capital development institution in the field of art, culture and heritage, ASWARA is responsible for producing graduates who are able to become scholars, advocates, fosters, perpetrators and practitioners of art, culture and heritage at diploma, degree and highest honours in the fields of theatre, dance, writing, animation, music, film and television as well as arts and cultural management.

Our short visit to the art academy, also known in English as ‘National Arts Culture and Heritage Academy’ located at Jalan Tun Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, has brought us to meet a humble and experienced senior. The purpose of our visit is to collect materials for our assignment on sociology. We wanted to study the values of traditional music and how the students appreciate culture.

We met Fariq, 27, in the middle of his business at honing wood for making traditional instrument named rebab in the carpentry workshop. He looked much focused in doing his job and later we had a good chat on traditional music. In fact, we could see many different wood blocks and wood-based musical instruments placed in the workshop.

Actually, Fariq has already completed both his diploma and degree in traditional music within six years. He occasionally came back to the academy to do some carpentry works as he still cannot move away from his study life. He makes rebab basically because he loves doing it and he was too prepared to share with us all the knowledge and experience he had.

In some moments, a look of disappointment could be seen on his face when our team members did not actually know what rebab really is and it did make us feel ashamed. Is rebab or traditional instrument / music really been forgotten?

“It’s not been forgotten. It is only small players involved on it,” Fariq said. There was sorrow in his voice. But he never regretted to open his mind to accept us as learners. Interestingly, many researchers have done studies on rebab and other traditional instruments. So how does rebab actually look like?

Rebab basically is a two-stringed fiddle instrument which is found in many Muslim countries.  It is generally being considered as a foreign instrument in Indonesian gamelan and popularly used for entertainment in Malaysia’s east-coast state of Kelantan. It has an almost heart-shaped body made of wood.

Fariq who originated from Kelantan said that the types of wood used to make rebab are usually taken from nangka , cempedak, sena, and angsana trees. All these types of woods are much stronger and long-lasting. It could be easily found in the jungle around the villages. However, popular instrument such as guitar used black wood which cannot be easily found in our country. We need to import from abroad to make it.

For information, carpentry is made as a compulsory elective in ASWARA for every student of traditional music in their last year of study. The students were trained not just to be able to play the instrument, but also able to know how to make it. There will be a lot of evaluation to assess students’ performance and it includes the neatness of the wood carving, the ability to play, and the sound of the instruments. Extra marks will be given to students who can play the instrument.

“It is no point if a foreman can repair a car but never know on how to drive it. It is the same like musical instrument,” Fariq gave an analogy.

“If we know how to play it, we can directly measure if there is any flaws or what goes wrong,” he added. Fariq not can play rebab, but he can also handle percussion instruments such as gendang and rebana.

Many Kelantanese furthered their study in ASWARA. It is almost half of the population from the east coast state. In fact, there were a number of experienced teachers in Kelantan who had move to the other states of Malaysia to teach traditional music at schools and universities. That’s why young people like Fariq who seriously wanted to learn traditional music have to migrate to other places such as ASWARA in Kuala Lumpur to seek knowledge.

“I had never known ASWARA before. My brother recommended it for me,” Fariq told us about his experience. At first, he had no interest at all to further his study and learn in a formal institution. His passion is only towards playing musical instruments. But still he has to learn in order to improve. It is a must as says a quote, “never stop learning because life never stops teaching”. Fariq got excellent grade on his study and passed all examinations.

In the middle of the conversation, Fariq was willing to demonstrate to us how to play rebab. We were happy to hear the sound of rebab which is very classical, rarely do we have a chance to hear in the mainstream music. I have tried to play it and indeed it is very hard! The sound that I produced was definitely horrible.

Rebab is a cello-type instrument which functions like a violin. It should be held vertically or slightly tilting forward. During playing, the player’s palm, which holds the bow, is facing upward.  The player’s third and fourth fingers should pull the hair of the bow, to create some tension. There is no finger board on the neck of this instrument.  The player’s fingers should press the strings lightly, and the string should not touch the neck.

Rebab will produce a classical and melodious sound. It is usually being played together with mak yong (traditional form of dance-drama from Kelantan). This instrument can certainly produce a fairly loud sound.

One of Fariq’s biggest survival in the institution was the money constraint itself. He got an amount of loan from ASWARA to survive six semesters of studies but it was very limited. He has to be independent in the sense he will attend and fulfil peoples’ invitation for stage performances in any event held all over the country with his group in ASWARA.

Fariq also did not come from a rich family. However, Fariq earned so much moral supports from his family to keep his career sustained. It was one of the factors that make Fariq never give up. With all the spirit, he wanted to preserve the traditional heritage specifically music.

“It is our heritage. It flows in our blood and it has been passed down from old generation to our generation,” stressed Fariq with full expression. It is true that our local traditional music and instruments have been slowly forgotten since there have been a lot of new technology-based sound that can be owned cheap and easy.

Fariq also mentioned that he could sell rebab at high price since there is no competition in the market like other instruments. Hence, it is our responsibility to make our traditional music and instruments more accessible and should be taught to younger generations who have interests in art and music. Last but not least, our cultural academies should also be cherished and supported by all parties.***


A humble journalist. Only wrote what he heard.

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