Traditional Malay music and dance forms are the foundation of Asian culture, and more importantly, Malaysian culture. Festivals, nation-wide programmes and celebrations are never complete without these two cultural wonders. In Malaysia, music and dance are almost inseparable. You rarely see one without the other. Where music is, dance is close by. These two art forms have evolved from basic entertainment to mesmerizing and spell-binding elements of Malaysian culture.
In Malaysia, traditional music is centred on the Gamelan, an ensemble of percussive and stringed instruments from Indonesia with a soft, ethereal sound. The lilting, hypnotic beats of Malaysian drums, accompanying the melody of the Gamelan, provide the background music for court dances.
The country’s earliest rhythms were closely associated with communication and announcements. For instance, the Rebana Ubi, or giant drums, were used to communicate from hill to hill across long distances, while a variety of drum beats were used for wedding announcements and warnings of danger. Today, the Rebana Ubi are used as ceremonial instruments, particularly during the Giant Drum Festival held in Kelantan in May or June.
True to Malaysia’s heritage, dances vary widely and are heavily influenced by several cultural practices and traditional components such as martial arts, story-telling, and humour.
Among the many different traditional theatres of the Malays, which combine dance, drama, and music, no other dance drama has a more captivating appeal than Mak Yong. This ancient classic court entertainment combines romantic stories, operatic singing, and humour.
The Joget, Malaysia’s most popular traditional dance, is a lively dance with an upbeat tempo. Performed by couples who combine graceful movements with good humour, the Joget finds its origins in the Portuguese folk dance which was introduced to Malacca during the spice trade era.
Silat, an elegant Malaysian dance form originated as a deadly martial art. Based on weaponless self-defense, Silat is common at weddings and festivals. In this dance form, the dancer performs sparring yet beautiful routines to drums and other musical instruments.
The candle dance is one of Malaysia’s most breathtakingly beautiful dance forms. Candles on small plates are held in each hand as the dancer performs. As the performer dances gracefully and artistically, the delicate candle flames become hypnotic traces.
Steeped in tradition and history, Malaysia’s cultural heritage is one that is truly unique to the country.
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