Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 18, 2010 15:07 PM

Dondang Sayang 1Malaysia-style In Melaka

By Mohamad Bakri Darus

MELAKA, Feb 18 (Bernama) -- In Melaka, it is amazing to see people from various ethnic groups including the Malays, Baba Nyonya, Portuguese and Chitty performing the 'dondang sayang'.

Dondang sayang, which means 'love song', originated in Melaka in the 16th century and is influenced by the traditional Portuguese folk music. It is a traditional Malay form of entertainment where the singers exchange the Malay pantun extemporaneously in a lighthearted and sometimes humorous style.

Dondang sayang was believed to have existed since the Melaka Sultanate and during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah, dondang sayang was performed for the guests and merchants who came to the ancient port.

In the performance, the singers are normally accompanied by a violin, rebana (Malay drums), and tetawak (gong). These instruments are often supplemented by other available instruments, most notably, accordions, flutes, violin and also the tabla (Indian drum).

Last Feb 4, singers from various races performed the dondang sayang at the the "1Malaysia Programme With Melaka People' event at Dataran Klebang here. The event was jointly organised by the Melaka State Government and Information Communication and Culture Ministry.


Dondang sayang personality Abas Katan, 63, said the unique feature of dondang sayang is the ability of performers to trade the pantun spontaneously and in a humorous manner.

"The strength in dondang sayang is the pantun," he told Bernama.

Abas, the three-time state-level champion and once a runner-up at the national level, said only the four-line pantun is used and he has more than 300 such poems at his finger tips.

"Dondang sayang does not follow the old songs, only that its tune is old. Now we have the new tune, the rhythm is based on the lagu asli but we have added the elements of the inang, zapin, mambo and joget," he said.

He said dondang sayang is also performed by people in Singapore and Indonesia particularly in Sumatra, but what separates that dondang sayang from the Melaka style is the way they perform and sing it.

Abas, who is active in performing dondang sayang since the age of 20, heads a dondang sayang troupe known as Kumpulan Dondang Sayang Hiasan Budaya. He recalls of having performed together with the Baba Nyonya and Chitty on the same stage.

"We (Malays) were singing with the Baba and Chitty at a function, performing the dondang sayang, them with their slang while us with ours (slang)", he said.

Dondang sayang performance used to grace wedding functions, sometimes right after the 'Maghrib' time until dawn. Abas himself had participated in a round-the-clock dondang sayang performance held at Pantai Puteri near here in 2007. There were eight dondang sayang troupes that took part.


For 60-year-old Nyonya Tan Abdullah, dondang sayang has been synonymous with the Baba Nyonya.

Since taking the 'plunge' into the world of dondang sayang at the age of 19, Nyonya Tan has been the dondang sayang personality among the lovers of this performance particularly during the golden era of dondang sayang in the 1970s and 1980s.

This POS Malaysia retiree had won the national-level Dendang Rakyat competition and a familiar figure in the winners' list in state-level competitions.

She was also named the 'Tokoh Penggerak Budaya Negeri Melaka (2003), Anugerah Penyanyi Sepanjang Zaman from Persatuan Penyanyi-penyanyi Tanah Air (Papita/2006). Nyonya Tan was also bestowed state honours for her effort.

Nyonya Tan performed for two weeks from April 4, 2008 for Unesco delegates who met in Paris, when Melaka lobbied for the recognition as the World Heritage Site.

"I am the Baba Nyonya dondang sayang ethnic representative for Melaka...dondang sayang is a heritage of Melaka," she said.


The recognition of Melaka and Penang's George town as the World Heritage Site by Unesco was made in July, 2008 after 21 Unesco countries met at the 32nd World Heritage Members Meeting held in Quebec City, Canada.

For Nyonya Tan, she began her love affair with dondang sayang after watching the veteran dondang sayang performers at that time who were good at dishing out extremponeous and humourous pantun.

"During my younger days, it was fun to watch the veteran performers sing, making spontaneous pantun that tickled the audience. It was very entertaining as their pantun can poke fun at people, can make people fall in love and that pantun enticed the crowd to come and watch the performance again," she said.

Over time, the tune and tempo of the dondang sayang changed with the incorporation of mambo, inang and joget but still retaining the 'melody'.

"This has drawn the younger generation to dondang sayang. We do not want that one day, the dondang sayang heritage of Melaka, is left as only a memory", she said.

Nyonya Tan's talents are inherited by her children, Hairul Asraf Abu Hussain, 27, and Hidayu Murni, 24. The two siblings had won several national and state-level dondang sayang competitions.


According to K.Arunasalam Pillay, 50, dondang sayang is nothing new for the Chitty community in Melaka and the names of performers from that ethnic group like Meenachi is familiar with dondang sayang fans.

Arunasalam, the seventh generation of the Melaka Chitty's, along with his wife K.Vimala Devi, 42, son Pavithran Pillay, 12, and daugher Savithrii Pillay, 7, are now active in dondang sayang performances.

Arunasalam said his family's roots were from Indian traders who came from Koromandel, south India.

"The Chitty's are of the Hindu faith but practices the daily life of the Malays such as the way they dress, their food and others," he said when met at Kampung Chetti, Jalan Gajah Berang here.

There are 30 Chitty families residing at the village that has existed since the 15th century. The chittys practice the Malay traditions and speaks the Malay language fluently. But they are followers of the Hindu faith.

Arunasalam, who is a trader, and his wife would continue to actively promote the dondang sayang to prevent this 'culture' from diminishing and disappearing.


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