Southeast Asia Adventures with Saleem, Jen, Asha and Kale travel blog

I just remembered one of the coolest cultural events we experienced thus far -- last Friday night on the Perhentian Islands (Malaysia), some locals at our restaurant put on an impromptu Tikit Barat performance, complete with drumming/singing/chanting circle, burning bonfire/pyre inferno, and child dancers (including Asha in her improvised headscarf - she wanted to wear one like all the local women!). It's a local music genre in northeast Malaysia, with mainly percussion (hand drums, clapping), and voice (male and female). Singing akin to the beautiful call to prayer that we would hear from the mosques (sadly, can no longer hear it as we've returned to Thailand now). We bought some CDs in Kota Bharu, but the beauty of the beachside performance was that it was so raw, elemental, ad hoc, participatory, unassuming, unabashed, and unpretentious. Struck me as a sort of Malaysian equivalent of gypsy flamenco from Andalucia - a spontaneous, hot-blooded raw and powerful form derived from passionate, sweaty performances in darkened venues, where the line between spectator and musician blurs, and performances extend into the wee hours.

There was no publicity to speak of, very few non-local spectators (2 of the last 3 parties left at the end had small children), and people were doing it for themselves (not as a tourist spectacle). We only realized that it was beginning when a huge 4 m pyre of fire went off behind our table! Some fo the waiters would casually take off their aprons and move into the singing circle. Midway through, a Malaysian woman visiting as a tourist from KL got up on stage and sang a bunch of well-liked classics really well. Pretty magical all around, and a nice ending to one fo our best days yet in Southeast Asia.

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