11 November 2015
This is the story of my encounter with the traditional musical percussion and how I eventually fell in love with – the kompang.
I was intrigued by the rhythm of the kompang, the acoustic magic accomplished by alternatively slapping your palms on the center and on the circumference of the elongated piece of skin.
Kompang beats are one of wonder, transpires from the repeated wavelengths of sound resonating into the realms of the soul – the pace of a drumbeat, yet softer, the marching tempo that knocks the walls of the heart, yet tender.
I learned playing kompang when I was in my second semester in UPM, thinking that this is another co-curricular activity that can land me an easy A. And I did get my A eventually, but the knowledge and experience that I gained from playing kompang itself makes all of it more worthwhile.
From learning basic beats of the kompang, to integrating kompang into singing, and finally playing kompang in a(n almost) concert, I did it all with a certain pride of accomplishment.
Kompangs are beaten by the players in unison, called the direct beats, led by the distinct sound patriarch of them all – the one person beating the kompang in the dominating menganak beats, and the spice of the play, the one called ‘menyilang’. The integration of these three crucial elements is what we know as the kompang beats. The direct beats and menganak nonetheless are the quintessence, which the absence of any one of them renders a kompang group useless.
I learned the direct beats first, and I am always too confused to lead in menganak domination. Then I learned the songs of the kompang, which is so colourful it makes learning playing kompang while singing as a totally different lesson in itself.
We started learning the easy songs first, which means playing simple beats accompanying the singing like Tepek Inai di Jari, before moving forward to trickier songs such as Bunga Rampai, and difficult songs which demands a powerful vocal technique as well as the kompang play skill itself, such as Kenek kenek Udang. In Kenek-kenek Udang, there are parts where you have to literally shout with a tricky kompang play in alternating tempos – fast, slow, stop, SHOUT! Normal tempo, then “hoo, ah, hoo ah, hoo!” fast beats, faster beats and stop! Normal tempo again.
Most of the time, trying to catch up gives me panic, which would tickle my laughter glands. I did lots of mistakes at first, but almost reached perfection at the end of the course.
The fourth week learning kompang, my instructor already sent me to play at wedding feasts. It was crazy to think back how excited we were, and we managed to turn the feasts as our own concert. We beat the drum like it was nobody’s business, very hard that we had to restrain ourselves from playing kompang for like two weeks to heal our hand. It was that hardcore.
If you’d ask me, which one would I enjoy more? Playing kompang in a closed environment or in the open? Without missing a beat, (pun intended) I would answer “In enclosed space!”
I remember playing for a wedding feast in FBMK hall, from berarak (the marching of the bride), to serenading the newlyweds with our kompang + singing performance, the aural quality from the kompang beats reverberating with the echoes from every corner of the hall made us sounded like we’re breaking every person’s eardrums within the vicinity. It was loud, but pitch-wise, it was perfect with almost zero errors, while the echoes created an atmosphere of acoustic perfection, and the audience clearly was captivated by the sound that it makes the whole wedding ceremony even more memorable.
We received a big round of applause, and we get to eat as well.
At the end of the day, we received RM10 per person. It was well beyond my expectation. At the end of the semester, I represented my college along with my friends in Festival Kompang. We didn’t win, as expected, but it was far beyond what I thought I could reach when I registered kompang as my second co-curricular class in UPM.
I never thought I would love playing kompang, let alone envisioning myself in a wedding kenduri as a performer. But hey that’s what I love about life, particularly in UPM, that extraordinary is an expected norm. Kompang taught me lots of lessons, like how only with cooperation would you become whole – like the pukulan menganak and the direct beats integration. And how making mistakes will jeopardise your team, that even a simple mistake by a person would produce a bad sound to the audience.
It’s a bit sad nonetheless having to leave the semester altogether with the knowledge of the kompang. I never played kompang again to this day, and I would jump at the first chance to do that.