The Malay Heritage Foundation

Zubir Abdullah: Hadiah Warisan Recipient 2023

Zubir Abdullah: The Maestro’s Journey Through Time, Melody, and Malay Musical Heritage

In a resounding celebration of cultural legacy at the recently concluded Hari Warisan 2023, we had the pleasure of conversing with Zubir Abdullah, a distinguished figure recognised as our Hadiah Warisan Recipient. The event, held on January 20, 2024, at the enchanting Persada Budaya, Wisma Geylang Serai, was a collaborative effort by the Malay Heritage Foundation and the Malay Heritage Centre. Zubir, a local luminary, emerged as a beacon of artistic prowess, bringing a rich tapestry of traditional Malay music to life for over three decades. His tireless dedication to the craft has solidified his standing as a full-time composer and producer and positioned him as an esteemed arts ambassador.

Zubir Abdullah’s commitment to preserving and promoting traditional Malay music transcends time, making him a revered figure in the cultural landscape. As a recipient of the Hadiah Warisan, Zubir’s journey reflects a lifelong dedication to the art form, embodying the essence of Malay heritage through his compositions. The event served as a testament to Zubir’s enduring impact, underscoring the importance of recognising and celebrating individuals like him who, through their artistry, become custodians of cultural treasures and bridge the past with the present. Let’s hear more from the icon.

🎶 Celebrating the Legacy: Zubir Abdullah’s contributions to the rich tapestry of Malay artistry resonate through generations. 🎨🌟 (📸 Credit: Zubir Abdullah)

Q: Congratulations on receiving the Hadiah Warisan! How does this recognition resonate with your journey of over 30 years in practising and promoting traditional Malay music?

I perceive this award as a celebration of homegrown talent, specifically within our community, and I graciously embrace it as validation of each individual’s dedication and contribution. It stands as a testament to our ongoing quest to unearth and safeguard the rich reservoir of artists deeply entrenched in traditional Malay arts.

Q: As a full-time composer, producer, and arts ambassador, how do you see your role in shaping and preserving the heritage of traditional Malay music for future generations?

Everyone assumes the mantle of a dedicated artist committed to safeguarding, nurturing, and perpetuating the vitality of art through the relentless orchestration of programs designed to resonate with the community. Central to this endeavour is the revelation that history, art, customs, and etiquette transcend mere artistic expression, permeating every facet of our existence. Many initiatives, spearheaded by passionate art aficionados, including Heritage Art endeavours, serve as a clarion call, amplifying the significance of art within the tapestry of Malay life.

🌟 Musical Ambassador: Zubir Abdullah proudly represents Singapore alongside friends in Greece. 🎶✈️(📸 Credit: Zubir Abdullah)

Q: Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that fueled your passion for traditional Malay music and set you on this remarkable path as a practitioner and advocate?

In truth, numerous experiences catalyse my creative endeavours. One such instance was my inaugural composition: crafting music for dance performances at the Seri Warisan Festival in Johor, where I delved into the intricate etiquette and symbolic nuances of traditional Malay dances, including the revered betel nut tray dance. Another pivotal moment was the creation of “Zapin Teluk Belanga“, a composition that resonated profoundly when it debuted at the Music Festival in Bintan. Its profound impact stemmed from its ability to encapsulate the rich history of Pulau Belakang Mati and beyond, garnering widespread acclaim and sparking deeper cultural conversations.

Q: What changes have you observed in the appreciation and practice of traditional Malay music over the course of your extensive career, and how do you envision its future trajectory?

During my lectures, I frequently discuss various aspects of change. The crucial factor lies in the initiator of change rather than the specifics of what is altered. A prime illustration of this concept is observed in the evolution of the Kompang performance at Malay weddings. There’s a notable infusion of elements like Latin rhythms into the traditional Kompang performance. This development raises concerns as it signifies a departure from the fundamental principles and essence of Kompang performance within the realm of Malay music.

🎉 A momentous occasion as Zubir Abdullah (left) is recognised with the prestigious Hadiah Warisan 2023 Award, presented by Mr. Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law, with Dr. Norshahril Saat (right), MHF Chairman, in attendance. 🌟🏅: (📸 Credit: Zubir Abdullah)

Q: Your contributions extend beyond local borders. How do you integrate traditional Malay music on a global stage, and what impact do you hope it has on cross-cultural understanding?

Through my involvement in festivals beyond Singapore’s borders, I’ve crafted songs that transcend geographical boundaries. I’ve shared my scripts and creations at these events, exploring instrumentation, composition, and language aspects. Alhamdulillah, my music has resonated, and it’s heartening to see my works embraced not solely as Zubir Abdullah’s creations but as representative of the rich tapestry of traditional music. I take pride in the warm reception my works have garnered.

Q: As someone deeply rooted in the cultural landscape, how do you balance preserving the authenticity of traditional Malay music while infusing contemporary elements to keep it relevant?

Frequently, I reflect on the abundance of individuals gifted in traditional music, especially within Malay traditions. While talent is abundant, the true essence lies in synergising it with diverse knowledge. We must document Malay music to ensure its preservation and facilitate its transmission for future generations to teach and learn from.

🌟 Sharing the soulful melodies of Singapore: Zubir Abdullah enchants the crowd at MELA Festival in Edinburgh, UK. 🎵 (📸 Credit: Zubir Abdullah)

Q: The Hadiah Warisan is a testament to a lifetime of dedication. Could you share the story behind one of your notable compositions that holds a special place in your heart?

I’m confident that many are acquainted with the remarkable creations of Zubir Abdullah, and this Heritage Award has elevated the essence of Malay heritage. Through the composition of “Zapin Teluk Belanga“, we shed light on the enduring history of Singapore, a narrative that must remain etched in memory. I deliberately select works rooted in our local history, spanning 100 or 200 years, destined to become enduring legacies. Among them lies the tale of Teluk Belanga, intertwining with the rich history of Pulau Belakang Mati, ensuring that today’s Malay youth are deeply connected to their roots.

Q: In your role as an arts ambassador, what initiatives or collaborations have you undertaken to introduce traditional Malay music to diverse audiences, both locally and internationally?

The mode I craft is more than just a song—it’s a legacy intended to be cherished and safeguarded as a timeless reference. Now is the moment to elevate our artistry to the pinnacle of sophistication. As a Faculty of Malay Music lecturer at NTU/NIE, I’ve consistently advocated for five fundamental principles. First, the power of language; second, the importance of etiquette and tradition; third, the intricacies of musical artistry; fourth, the grace of traditional Malay dance; and finally, the profound discipline of Malay martial arts. By embracing these principles, we enrich our appreciation of traditional Malay music and honour its profound cultural significance.

Q: With your extensive experience, what advice would you give aspiring musicians and composers interested in delving into traditional Malay music?

I’ve observed a rising trend of numerous emerging artists pursuing music education at Lasalle. Yet, amidst this surge, let’s not overlook the wealth of talent nestled within our longstanding Malay community. Contemplating an initiative, I envision crafting a unique workshop tailored to these local artisans, igniting a profound connection to the soulful essence of Malay arts within their creative endeavours.

🎶✨ Musical Maestro: Zubir Abdullah captivates the audience with his performance at the Malay Heritage Centre. 🌳🎻 (📸 Credit: Zubir Abdullah)

Q: As you receive the Hadiah Warisan, what are your aspirations for the future of traditional Malay music, and how do you see yourself continuing to contribute to its legacy?

I accept this heritage award with gratitude as a testament to our cultural legacy. I hope to see an abundance of locally driven initiatives emerge dedicated to the preservation and celebration of traditional Malay music.

Q: Describe yourself in three words.

Simple – Practical – Emotional.

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