The Malay Heritage Foundation

Syafiqah ‘Adha Sallehin: Tunas Warisan Recipient 2023

Resonating Traditions: Syafiqah ‘Adha Sallehin’s Musical Odyssey in Preserving Malay Heritage

In a moment of artistic celebration and cultural recognition, we had the privilege of engaging with Syafiqah ‘Adha Sallehin, our esteemed Tunas Warisan Recipient, during the vibrant Hari Warisan 2023, held on January 20, 2024, at Persada Budaya, Wisma Geylang Serai. The event was organised by the Malay Heritage Foundation and, in collaboration with the Malay Heritage Centre, provided a distinguished platform to honour Syafiqah’s outstanding contributions to music composition and her unwavering dedication to preserving and enriching the heritage of the Malay arts.

Syafiqah, who holds a Bachelor’s and Master of Music in composition from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, has seamlessly blended classical training with her role as a traditional arts practitioner. Notably, her short orchestral piece, “Bidasari“, inspired by the pan-Malay folktale, resonated with audiences when performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. As a recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award in 2010, Syafiqah’s achievements and musical aptitude have been recognised and celebrated, marking her as a key figure in Singapore’s cultural tapestry. The Hari Warisan 2023 gathering served as a moment to acknowledge and honour Syafiqah’s exceptional talents, contributing significantly to the narrative of Malay heritage and ensuring its continued vibrancy in contemporary society. Let’s hear more from the talented Syafiqah.

💫 The world of contemporary classical music is saturated with Western voices, so Syafiqah was driven to showcase the voice of a Malay-Muslim woman on this stage.🌟 (📸 Credit: Syafiqah ‘Adha)

Q: Your music seamlessly blends classical training with traditional Malay sounds, creating a unique voice. What initially drew you to this artistic fusion, and how do you navigate between these seemingly disparate worlds?

When I was a student composer at YST, I was pushed and encouraged by my teachers to find my own voice as a composer. The world of contemporary classical music is saturated with Western voices, so I was driven to showcase the voice of a Malay-Muslim woman on this stage. As I was also delving into traditional Malay music practice at the time, it was quite natural for me to draw musical inspiration and elements from traditional Malay music as well as my cultural heritage in my works. I think being sensitive and paying great attention to the sounds, nuances and practices of non-Western musical cultures have enabled me to venture into works that require this fusion process. 

Q: Your piece “Bidasari” on the national stage is a testament to your talent. How did you bring this classic folktale to life through music, and what was it like collaborating with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra?

Bidasari” is actually an orchestrated version of the music that was used in “Ikan Girl”, the theatrical dance musical that I worked on together with Bhumi Collective, which premiered at the 2nd Singapore International Festival of Music in 2016. It was conductor Darrel Ang, the festival director, who requested me to create this short orchestral version. He then proposed it to the SSO for its inaugural National Day Concert in 2018, which he conducted himself. Working with the SSO for the first time was one of the greatest highlights of my life. Conductor Darrel Ang and the orchestra breathed life into my music with vigour and immaculate attention to detail.

🎼 The Harmony of Talent: Syafiqah and her fellow musicians create magic on stage during their performance at The Istana. 🎹 (📸 Credit: Syafiqah ‘Adha)

Q: “Ikan Girl” and your collaboration with Bhumi Collective showcase your passion for interdisciplinary collaborations. What do you find most enriching about working with artists from different fields, and how does it influence your

It is always a pleasure to work with fellow collaborators in interdisciplinary work. I enjoy learning from their experiences, expertise, and the points of view that they derive from their own fields of work. It is amazing what comes about through the dynamics of our interactions and the intersection of our ideas. Our process work influences my compositions, fluidly shaped by what is sonically needed from my music in the collaborative work and what emerges organically from our interactions.

Q: As a recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award, you’ve shown immense dedication to your craft. What motivates you to keep pushing boundaries and exploring new musical avenues?

Since becoming a recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award in 2010, I made a promise to contribute and enrich the arts sector in Singapore. I keep on going to fulfill this promise as I believe that I am meant to share the gifts that God has blessed me with. I’m also thankful to have a handful of people whom I can rely on as my support system, who fully believe in me and the work that I do. This gives me the courage and strength to tread on unventured paths and to keep moving forward.

🎶 A Moment of Recognition: Syafiqah is honoured with the Tunas Warisan Award by Mr. Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law, as Dr. Norshahril Saat, MHF Chairman, looks on. 🌟 (📸 Credit: Syafiqah ‘Adha)

Q: You mentioned advocating for traditional Malay music. Have you faced any
challenges in this pursuit, and how do you envision fostering awareness and
appreciation for this art form among younger generations?

My biggest challenge in advocating for traditional Malay music is with my ensemble Gendang Akustika. As an ensemble, it is a vessel that I use to raise awareness about traditional Malay music through our social media and the performances and programmes that we do, such as “Dendang Warisan – Pasir Ris” for the National Arts Council’s Arts in the Neighbourhood. However, since the pandemic, the ensemble constantly struggles with sustainability as well as not having the right space and environment to conduct practices and activities. As I navigate these struggles, on my own accord, I try to promote awareness about traditional Malay music through my social media, public performances as a solo musician or in collaborations, and also through infotainment presentations or workshops that I sometimes conduct in schools.

Q: Your work with Gendang Akustika and teaching at SOTA demonstrate your commitment to education and cultural transmission. What inspires you to share your knowledge and nurture future generations of artists?

I think as cultural arts practitioners, we have the responsibility to pass down the torch to our younger torchbearers so that the artform continues to thrive. With this mindset, I am driven to the work of sharing my knowledge with future generations in my capacity and as best as I can. I hope to facilitate and fix the gaps that exist in the pedagogy of traditional Malay music through my work as an educator, as it is often the case that many talented practitioners in the community do not necessarily know how to teach.

🌱 Nurturing the Essence: I’m mindful that innovation, without a strong foundation, risks diluting the authenticity of the artform. 🎶: (📸 Credit: Syafiqah ‘Adha)

Q: As a Tunas Warisan recipient, what message do you have for aspiring composers and musicians, particularly those exploring their cultural heritage through their art?

Keep going forward with your good work! Know that your work is indeed important and valuable to the community. The journey may be challenging, so if you ever feel beaten, remember or rediscover your love for the artform and revisit your intentions.

Q: “Rentas” and your accordion masterclass highlight your interest in innovation within traditional Malay music. Do you see yourself contributing to the evolution of this artform further, and if so, in what ways?

I am both a proponent of preserving traditions and exploring innovations. Both are equally important. I believe that innovation must stem from the solid foundation of the fundamentals of the artform. Otherwise, innovation can hurt the artform by diluting its true essence. New works that I produce in this context can go in different ways in which a work could be felt leaning towards the more traditional or the more innovative, but I would ensure that the core essence of the artform would still be palpable.

Q: Open Score Project showcased your passion for creating a “Singaporean sound”. What do you think defines this emerging musical identity, and how do you see your future contributions to it?

The concept of a “Singaporean sound” is something that is constantly debated within the Singapore music scene. I don’t think there is such a thing as just one Singaporean musical identity because music is so diverse, and the same can be said of Singapore’s heritage and culture. My work with the Open Score Project is an exploration of what happens when musicians of various musical backgrounds in Singapore collaborate together in the here and now, reflecting a snapshot of what Singapore is. A “Singaporean sound” could also simply mean any works by a Singaporean composer that may reflect his/her experience of Singapore. For me, I will continue to contribute to the notion of the Singaporean sound just by creating new works and embarking on collaborations with fellow musician friends in hybrid ensembles.

🎵 Elevating Tradition: Syafiqah’s performance during Hari Warisan embodies the essence of cultural celebration and artistic expression. 🌟 (📸 Credit: Syafiqah ‘Adha)

Q: Finally, receiving the Tunas Warisan award signifies recognition for your artistic achievements and future potential. What does this honour mean to you, and how will it inspire you to continue your creative journey?

This honour is a nod to the promise that I’ve tried to fulfill since 2010. I am profoundly encouraged by the acknowledgement, as this journey can sometimes be arduous when plagued with naysayers or people who undervalue my work. I will continue to do my best to uphold and contribute to my heritage and culture.

Q: Describe yourself in three words.

Adventurous – Imaginative – Determined.

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