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Penang Beats As One with World Music

A music aficionado’s musical journey brings an unusual ‘worldly’ melodic traverse that opens up her horizons beyond the coastlines of Penang.

Words & Photography: Ellyse Ng

Diverse styles, richly talented and musically inclined – these are the things this writer sadly isn’t, but when one can’t beat them, one can definitely still enjoy them. The music lover in me refuses to succumb to the inexistence of bestowed musical talents, but armed with a fierce determination and an ear for great music, my curious musical explorations brought me to a weekend on “The Pearl” for the Penang World Music Festival 2012 to enjoy 18 amazing acts in the span of 3 nights. 

An eye-opening weekend as the world came together for the love of music and Mother Earth (Earth Day happened during then too).

Beoga’s Songs of Ireland

According the Niamh Dunne, the only girl in the quintet, most of them grew up travelling with their musician family whilst spreading their brand of folk music across Ireland. Every song Beoga plays tells a story, mostly about the Irish’s immigration, lost love or political turmoil. Niamh’s echoing a capella voice singing “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shores” transported me on an incredible journey with her as she boards the ship bound for New York, bidding goodbye to her beloved homeland while the ship takes off from the desolate port.

     Though they are known for their drinking songs, the Irish are also known for their “Trooper and Maiden” songs, usually about a soldier or a sailor with their bonnie lass waiting for their return, only to end tragically. Instead of the usual dreary ending, the quintet performed “Mary and the Soldier”, a twist of the original genre where the bold-hearted Mary gave up everything she owned to protect her soldier and found her happy ending at last, much to the delight of the hopeless romantic in me.

Spinning tales of their beloved Ireland, Beoga charms the night with their brand of folk music.

 Loyko’s Russian Roulette

Opening the doors to Russia’s tightly guarded musical kremlin is the exciting String Triplet Loyko. The good-natured trio entertained us with their soulful ensemble of a roller-coaster ride through exciting pizzicatos (art of plucking the strings) and their unique bow techniques. With talents and art passed down through classical education and family heritage, the trio proudly showed off their unique gypsy musical styles fused seamlessly with Latino American, Flamenco and Classical Jazz influences.

     Amidst the fast-paced repertoire displayed by the trio was the song “Mato”, a love song with much Russian vigour which started as a soulful love call and progressed to a polka-styled rhythm with speed plucking, using volume and dynamics differently to produce woodwind reed sounds. Their speed and amazing skills really blew my mind!

The Russian maestros are pure artists on the stringed instruments.

The Exotic Gus Teja

Renowned flutist Agus Teja brought over from the exotic island of Bali, Indonesia his beautiful whimsical sounds with his smooth flute melodies that touched the very core of your soul. I closed my eyes and let his music take me to mystical lands with mesmerizing sunsets and magic in the air. Extremely complex and vibrant, the ethnic band showcased their rich heritage with heavy Hindu Javanese influence.

     The highlight of Gus Teja’s session was the performance of the song “Feel With Love”, where the centuries-old music heritage and Bali’s art of wayang (theatre) were displayed through a beautiful dance-music performance with a dancer donning an Indonesian topeng (mask) and moving gracefully to the captivating music.  

Balinese music is good for the soul – it opens up your mind, ignites your senses and piques childlike curiosity.

 Will Crummer and the Rarotongans

He’s a living Pacific treasure – a master singer, musician and the father of New Zealand’s singing star Annie Crummer. As if the heat wasn’t enough, the lively band brought the height of summer in their indigenous New Zealand musical styling.

     Will Crummer and the Rarotongans entertained the night with his catchy island beats complete with a very skilled ukulele player, with songs sung in his mother tongue. He even gave a mesmerizing rendition of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, his soulful voice tempted me to grab a random stranger for a slow romantic dance under the enchanting moonlight. If only my pride had not stood in the way.

The Rarotongans swayed and sashayed to friendly island beats, sweet harmonies and a sample of the Maori Haka dance.

Explore The World’s Music

Despite coming from the archipelagic nation of the volcanic origin, Kalja Riddim Klan from Vanuatu displayed a sunny disposition with distinct reggae style infused with traditional island music. Think Bob Marley, dreadlocks and flower power! Energetic drum beats and tropical rhythms had me sashaying and dancing to the band’s songs sung in their many native languages. 

The positive note of the Kalja Riddim Klan was certainly infectious.

     Dutch trumpet player Maite Hontele has travelled from Colombia with her salsa group and brought her brand of Bossa Nova music, with a little Big Band touch (unavoidable with her many brass players in the entourage). Imagine doing the salsa under magical fairy lights on a warm balmy Spanish night, straight from a scene of “Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights”

Maite Hontele and band had the crowd moving their hips! Let’s do the cha-cha-cha!

     The small country in Southeast Asia Vietnam has much to offer musically, as its traditional trio Phong Nguyen Ensemble opened my eyes for the first time to the vast diverse styles of Vietnamese traditional music. Combining many native and foreign influences, including Chinese, Korea, Japanese and Korean, the troop came from the ancient town of Hội An in Da Nang, Vietnam. 

A full traditional set list accompanied by traditional instruments from the ancient town of Hội An.

     Forget K-pop, South Korea’s traditional music comes with much finesse and less elaborate costumes. The Tori Ensemble hailing from Kimchi-land wowed the crowd with their traditional instruments, infused with some modern touches. Piri is the oboe lookalike that provides the loudest sound in the Korean Orchestra, and Janggu is the traditional drum used during the King’s royal procession, along with a vocal performance of Shijo, a poetic form of art during the Joseon Period.

Hailing from South Korea, the Tori Ensemble enthralled the crowd with their serene yet majestic traditional music.

     The island felt truly alive, and whilst it was once synonymous to gastronomical adventures, Penang is now an arena for World Music as the beckoning sounds of the music maestros from all over the world filled the air with resonating talents. This music lover is guaranteed to be back the next time the beautiful Pearl of the Orient is standing again in the eyes of the world.

  • Anonymous

    Nice music