Konsert Tanah Airku: A universal spirituality in a modern tribute to tradition

On the 18th November, Konsert Tanah Airku at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas stole our hearts in more ways than one.

There’s a lot to say about restoration of traditional music into different platforms. Some people question the purity of its form, while others ask the very purpose of bringing back the ‘outdated’. “Shouldn’t we focus on current trends?” is the slogan from these people. However, Konsert Tanah Airku manages to incorporate both camps into one stream – acting as a splendid tribute to tradition and modernization with the amazing talent of Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MPYO) and Orkestra Tradisional Malaysia (OTM).

The performance was seamless in its beauty. There was never a moment of incoherence, even when sape meets the violin (with the vibrant and infectious persona of sape player, Lesli Anak Eli), or the calls of the tok dalang to the gentle shimmers of the harp and the cello. Truthfully, Konsert Tanah Airku, was like one huge celebration of all things Malaysian; the limelight proportionally shared by the sitar. Everything was expertly led and arranged by Ahmad Muriz Che Rose and Mohd Yazid Zakaria. There has rarely ever been an orchestral performance where we would bop our heads to the familiar sounds of Serampang Laut and Sri Mersing yet there were members of the audience barely restraining themselves from clapping and nodding their heads.

Lesli Anak Eli captures the crowd with his sape virtuosity and personality
Lesli Anak Eli captures the crowd with his sape virtuosity and personality

The orchestra also brings out the best in the singers too, with Norihan Saif‘s vocal performance, including his duet with Kasjamiah Abdul Rahman for Dondang Sayang, marrying the elements of cheekiness so integral to the form but without sacrificing the bigger ambience of the string section accompanying them.

Norihan Saif truly takes up one of the hardest roles in the concert, as he attempts to channel the irreplaceable spirit of the late Tan Sri SM Salim with Datuk Ramli Sarip in Lagu Zaman. In that beautiful moment, Ramli Sarip gives a short story about the conversations he had with Tan Sri in the composition of Lagu Zaman, thus making it a sort of self-aware narration to the overall intention of the staging – to symbolize that tradition will never die as long as it is passed on.

Ramli Sarip’s performance almost deserves an entire segment of it’s own. In the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Datuk brings his on-stage charisma with such amplitude that the atmosphere of the hall turns vaguely into a rock concert. Inasmuch as his individuality shines along with his famous

Norihan shines with gentle grace
Norihan shines with gentle grace

vocal prowess (even though he is now 65 years old), the musical ensemble did not fade to black at all during his performances of epic songs like Teratai and Syair Laila dan Majnun. The electric guitar injects itself into the soundscape with full-blown rock kapak essence of Ramli Sarip’s Sweet Charity day, elevated by the sound of all the other instruments too. Sometimes it feels like a warzone but at times Datuk Ramli brings the stage to a slow, with piercing devotional songs like Kau Yang Satu. Religious anthems like that have never felt more universal and honest at the same time.

Konsert Tanah Airku stands out as an amazing orchestral concert of 2017, with its ability to remind you that not all fusion has to be bland or overtly experimental. It can be about bring together the softest of harmonies from each cultural element, while conveying it with utmost heart.

All pictures are credited to Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

1 comment

  1. Dear Zim,

    Thank you so much for you comments and appreciation towards the concert. We rarely have people who could really give a fair comment on music this time around in the country and for that on behalf of the team I would like to convey our gratitude for supporting our cause in elevating Malaysian traditional music to a new height. Do let us know should there be any gaps or rooms for improvement should there b a sequel (or prequel) in time to come 🙂

    All the very best to your future endeavor.



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