Imagining National Culture: Lessons From Bangsawan

By Tan Sooi Beng

March 2023 FEATURE
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Eng Tai goes into the tomb to be with Sam Pek in a Chinese love story. Sam Pek Eng Tai, directed by Cikgu Baha, State Chinese Peranakan Association, 2000. Photo by: Tan Sooi Beng.
IN THE FIRST half of the 20th century, Bangsawan, or Malay opera, started incorporating the latest Anglo-American dances and music into its already cosmopolitan repertoire, inspired by touring commercial theatre troupes and new media technologies such as the gramophone, cinema and radio broadcasting. It engendered the first Orkes Melayu (Malay orchestra), an adaptation of the European dance band, using Western instruments such as the violin, piano, double bass, drum, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, maracas and claves. For a local touch,...

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Tan Sooi Beng

(Ph.D) is the Professor of Ethnomusicology at the School of the Arts, USM. Inspired by her Bangsawan teachers, she actively crosses borders in her research.