Nading Rhapsody, a young band from Kuching/Malaysia will be one of the highlights at the Tong Tong Festival in The Hague, performing and giving workshops on the weekend of 4th to 5th June. Founded in 2012, the seven musicians mix traditional music with modern Western rhythms and sounds. They made quiet an impact on some of Malaysia’s most renowned festivals, such as the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival, the Rainforest World Music Festival and the Penang World Music Festival and released their first single “Umbas” in 2015. MALAYSIA INSIGHTS spoke to their female singer Opah.
Opah, when I contacted you yesterday to ask for this interview you were in the studio with your band mates. What were you working on?
We were doing a few last runs through our performance plan, getting ready for the Tong Tong Fair.
Will it be your first time playing in Europe?
Yes, and not only Nading Rhapsody’s first time playing in Europe but also the first time outside of Malaysia.
That’s quite a big step then. How was this connection being established?
Well, actually we were invited by Arnaud Kokosky, an Artistic Director of the Tong Tong Festival. We met him about 3 years ago at the Borneo Music Expo in Sarawak, Malaysia. In 2014, he saw us performed for Rainforest World Music Festival held in Sarawak, Malaysia. The invitation came in soon after that. And from there, blessings just happened for us.
For our trip to the Tong Tong Fair in The Hague, The Netherlands, we are so grateful that we were supported by The Royal Arts Gala Fund, an initiative by My Performing Arts Agency, their collaboration with Jabatan Kesenian dan Kebudayaan Negara Malaysia, and Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture of Malaysia.
The group was founded in 2012 and you were one of the founders. Can you give us a short overview of how the band evolved?
I have known Keevin, Adrian & Randy for at least 11 years and we have been playing music together since 2005. In 2011, we met Royston & Christ. Finally, Petyson joined us in 2013. The thing about Nading Rhapsody is that, we are more like a family than just, a typical band.
The band was almost immediately very successful, so there must be something special about you. In your opinion, what could that be?
Although we are a music band by name, we don’t do just music. Our music, our songs, each lines & words, each dances are messages. Messages from the ethnic group, messages from the ancestors & forefathers, and our message to the world. Each one of our songs reflects the roots where we came from. That’s why it is different.
Malaysia is one of the very few countries in the world where many different ethnic groups manage to live together quite peacefully, although there are also frictions and tensions beneath the surface. Are the members of your band also from different ethnics?
Yes, among the 7 of us, there are 7 ethnic groups namely Bidayuh Jagoi, Melanau, Iban Balau, Iban Sebuyau, Iban Saribas, Iban Rajang & Malay.
How important is the cultural heritage within your band, and how is it being reflected in your music?
When we are on stage we will be who we are, youths who are continuing the old traditions. We are fully aware that the old tradition or practices from the ancestors & forefathers are somehow no longer being continued and some are even already forgotten due to religious beliefs. Which is why we feel the need to represent who we really are inside of us. We grew up in a world where everything is modern, the things we wear, the songs we hear, the influences. We are carrying bits & pieces of what was left to us, and discovering it in our own way.
Was this a part of the band’s concept from the beginning or did it evolve?
To tell you the truth, when we started, our music was radical, funky and upbeat because we were focusing on the music, and not so much on stories or history. But as the years passed by, our songs became more personal, more related to our own family history & tradition. We started doing research, meeting the elders, listening to the ‘cry’ of what’s really happening in the world. We started ‘listening’ to what we are playing & what it wants to convey.
We still do radical things, experimental stuff and cross-culture. Now, we are combining ourselves with the rest of the world because there are other ethnics in other parts of the world whose stories are like ours.
As an example, one of our songs is called ‘Umbas’, and its message is of global relevance. When we were growing up, we saw a lot of distress happening around us. We witnessed racism before our eyes, we learned of corruption and exploitation when our rights to our native land was violated, we learned of destruction (war/terrorism) every day when we switched on the TV or the radio.
‘Umbas’ translates “Enough”, and this song is quite important to you. You even released that song as a single…
Yes, we released it in June 2015. We had actually performed it a few times on stage before we recorded it as a single, and the feedback was good, local and international media wanted to know more because they felt connected to it.
Music has been in our blood & sweat for such a long time. It is inevitable that music has an empowering ability to send a message across the world.
And for Nading Rhapsody, the importance is being able to send out the right message. How you interpret it depends on what matters in your life, what is relevant in your life.
However, most of your songs are mostly in Bahasa, aren’t they? Wouldn’t it make more sense to sing in English if you want to spread a message to the world?
There are times when u don’t even need to say a word to send out messages. A simple hum or a cry, or the sounds of Sape’ strings can already give u a message.
Most of our other songs are in Malay and local dialect because we feel the need to reach to our own community too, so that there are more of our locals who are aware of these messages. And then, maybe then, there will be more locals especially youths who will be keen to also join our effort to give a ‘wake-up call’ to our society, and then, the world.
Our song “Umbas” is in English (90%), which is why we chose it to be our first single to be recorded & released globally.
You just mentioned the Sape’ which is a traditional string instrument. Now, are most of our European readers will not be aware of Malaysian traditional music and instruments. Can you try to describe how you incorporate this sounds into your music?
Sape’ is a traditional lute instrument which was originally from the Orang Ulu tribe in the Borneo highlands. Since the time of the forefathers, Sape’ has been used for two different occasions, used during a healing ceremony and used to accompany dances. Nowadays, Sape’ has evolved and it comes in different forms: 3 strings, 4 strings, or 6 strings, with pick-up or without pick-up. As for Nading Rhapsody, Sape’ is used in most of our songs, whether the mode is healing, mystic or fiesta.
In June, you will have 4 gigs at the Tong Tong Fair in The Hague. Can you give our readers a little teaser? How long will each set be and will you repeat the same set or rather present other songs every time?
When we perform for a festival or a showcase, usually our repertoire is treated as a journey. We love to bring audiences on a journey when we are performing, which is why we suggest them to see our performance from the beginning to the end.
At the Tong Tong Fair we will be playing 4 concerts, each one is estimated to be 45 minutes. We hope to bring something different for each set. The mode of each set will be a surprise.
On top, you will also be giving two workshops. What will the topic be, and will all of you be attending?
Yes, i suppose all of the band members will be involved. We’d like to incorporate folktales, chants, traditional beats & traditional dances.
What does it mean to you to be invited to Europe for the first time?
Nading Rhapsody has come a long way in a short period of time. We saw it grew right before our eyes. We started independent, and we still are. We are self-managed and we are not under any institutions or bodies, be it governmental or non-governmental. And for us to see ourselves being able to make it to Europe, this small band from a small town, being heard globally, it’s priceless. Blessings are upon us.