When did you first discover the joy of playing music and specifically drumming?
I started very early, from about the age of 6. The older generation in my family are very musical, with my dad playing the drums, so he taught me from a young age and it grew from there really. At school, I also discovered our traditional music and instruments in music class, such as the gulingtangan (the Malay horizontal gongs), which was great. I soon discovered that music is not just music when you are passionate – it’s a way of life. When I was older and on my travels, I was intrigued by buskers who played the djembe (a traditional African goblet drum) and was really interested to find out if it was something I could play – so I bought my first one in Singapore in the late 1990s and started learning it.
You won’t achieve anything if you just sit around and think about it. Get out there and make that progressive change with action.
How did you progress to starting a group and performing?
Actually at first, I was in a local Heavy Metal band called ‘H8’ at that time. We were heavily influenced by the late 1980s scene, though I was also into Pop too – there were so many great artists and groups during that period. I also learned guitar and did some singing, but percussion has always been my main thing. There are always adverts for guitarists or lead vocalists, but most people forget that a drummer is the backbone of any group! So I started on the idea of getting a percussion group together – the first time there were about eleven of us and it was not so varied because we all had Metal music backgrounds and interests. Fast forward 10 years and this year we had a more varied selection of drummers and percussionists at the “Hundred Beats” festival we held in Jerudong Park, where we were overwhelmed by the amazing response from the crowd who came to see us.
Tell us about the current music scene in Brunei and your role in the Department of Culture, Youth and Sports?
I actually work in Youth Entrepreneurship, but the Department as a whole is trying to develop the talent industry here in Brunei, through a number of initiatives. Currently, we are in the planning stages to develop a program to teach basic music skills, especially for local instruments. The gulingtangan is almost an 8-piece orchestra in itself and takes time to master. We have also opened a music studio for anyone to come and rehearse and record at the Pusat Belia youth centre. Together with the Department of Education, there are music competitions for students to showcase their skills at playing our traditional music and instruments, plus there are a few musicians now mixing up traditional and modern music styles. Of course we must preserve our heritage, but music is also about the evolution from one generation to the next, so these new styles are exciting to listen to.
What are your personal aspirations for the future and performing?
Playing music is always a learning path, that’s what we do at Hundred Beats – learning from each other, whether it is new styles, techniques or musical genres. That’s what makes it so great. If you’re not a percussionist, it seems simple to play, but I tell you it’s not! I hope that many more percussionists can join us and we can bring in more international performers and have a concert that’s a yearly fixture on the calendar for Brunei. It would also boost tourism I am sure and if we could make it as well known as say the Borneo Jazz Festival, then it would be a dream come true. Our future plan for the group is to tour around Japan, KL, South Korea and Philippines, so far our agent in KL has been working on the tour to Japan and KL. This is one way for the group to spread their wings and create more exposure for local musicians and to also support ASEAN’s “People-to-People Exchange” through music.