Best@ Malaysia: The Kompang

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By Suriati Ridzuan

In our continuing coverage of Malaysia for the latest instalment in the BEST@ series, BEST@ Malaysia, we will be examining one of the most ubiquitous traditional musical instruments of the region, the Kompang. 

We’ve covered the peaks of our geography, iconic architecture, handicrafts, coconut-infused kuih, and various forms of traditional dance, as part of our closer look at the vast range of influences that make up the tapestry of Malaysian culture.

The kompang is traditionally played with one hand and in groups, with complementary patterns and alternating movements between performers to produce various composite rhythms accompanied by choral singing.

The kompang, generally translated to mean "to hit" or "to beat", is often heard before it is seen. At celebratory events around the country, the kompang makes its presence known in groups, with a dramatic arrangement of overlayed beats and taps –  occasionally as a staple element of Malay classical music performance, but more often, at the head of a bridal procession.

The kompang is from the same category of percussive instruments as the kendang (two-headed drum), with a parchment as a striking surface and shaped like a shallow dish. The kompang is originally from the Middle East and is believed to have been brought to Malaysia by Arab traders during the era of the Malacca Sultanate or by Arab traders through Java Island around the 13th century.

1. Official ceremonies

PIC FOR RAJASEKARAN: Kompang performers having a group photograph with Tabjung Umno members before the official  oppening of Tanjung Umno Division meeting at Cititel Hotel in Penang yesterday.  Star Pic by: ZAINUDIN AHAD / The Star / 06 AUG 2017

A group of kompang performers will often make up part of the welcoming committee for dignitaries attending government and royal ceremonies. The drum beats may form part of a classical performance before the arrival of VIPs, but the kompang will come to the forefront to herald important arrivals such as high-ranking government officials and members of royalty.

2. Religious events

JOHOR BAHRU, 15 Jun -- Menteri Pertanian dan Industri Asas Tani yang juga Anggota Parlimen Pulai, Datuk Salahuddin Ayub (tengah) turut memalu kompang ketika hadir pada Majlis Sambutan Hari Raya Aidilfitri Parlimen Pulai di Dewan Kempas di Dewan Raya Kempas Baru, hari ini. --fotoBERNAMA (2019) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA

Being an musical instrument originating from the Arabian peninsula, the kompang also relates closely to recitals or important religious events – such as Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif (the birthday of Prophet Muhammad), as well as during the Eid festivals such as Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadhan) and the Eid al-Adha (the festival of sacrifice).

3. Weddings

Ramadan preview at JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur yesterday. AZMAN GHANI / The Star

It is custom for Malay weddings to be celebrated with a group of performers playing the kompang – especially during the bride and groom’ processions and as they sit on the dais during the 'bersanding' ceremony. 


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