Esplanade Presents | A Tapestry of Sacred Music
Zafin - Devotion and Celebration
Zafin is a centuries-old dance form that means “footwork”, and it’s no wonder how it got its name. The genre is noteworthy for its deft footwork and the spring in each dancer’s step, whether the song is fast and energetic, or slow and relaxing.
This dance form, which is always accompanied by music and singing, is believed to have originated in Persia and Arabia and then introduced to Malaysia, Indonesia, then Singapore by Arab traders and Muslim missionaries in the 15th century. Once it took root in these countries, regional versions were born, inspired by the culture and lifestyles of each region.
Originally intended as a way to further the spread of Islam, only males could perform zafin, and in the presence of religious teachers who explained the meaning of the verses being sung. It was how religious knowledge was being passed on to the audience. Historically, zafin was danced during important occasions in the religious calendar such as Eid al-Fitr at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and Eid al-Adha after the Hajj pilgrimage.
There are no fixed rules to the number of dancers that can perform together, but because zafin is interactive, it is usually performed in pairs. This gives each couple the opportunity to tease and challenge each other as they keep to the rhythms.
The gambus (a lute-like stringed instrument), accordion, violin, marwas (bongos) and the rebana (hand drum) are all mandatory instruments used to create the signature full-bodied zafin sound that inspires merry-making and participating.
Today, Arabic zafin is still mainly performed by men, although it has later influenced genres of Southeast Asian secular dance such as zapin Melayu where both men and women are able to participate.
Firqah Alwehdah presents a musical invitation into the culture, sounds and movements of zafin.
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Esplanade is a charity and not-for-profit organisation, and free programmes such as A Tapestry of Sacred Music are made possible by donation. You can help keep this festival free by making a contribution at donation boxes placed around the centre, or give online.
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