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Regarded as the father of modern Malay drama in Singapore, Bani Buang is a noted director and producer who began his artistic career in theatre at the age of 17. He went on to direct and produce numerous Malay plays, introducing contemporary and unconventional elements such as realistic sets, staging and dialogue to Malay theatre. He also co-founded Malay theatre group Perkumpulan Seni, nurturing many young theatre talents. He also was an illustrious television director and producer with Radio Television Singapore (which became the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation), heading the Malay Drama Unit and helming 1970s Malay television series Sandiwara. In 1979, he received the inaugural Cultural Medallion for his contributions to theatre in Singapore.
Bani Buang was born in 1929 in Singapore. He received his early education at the Sepoy Lines Malay School, Monk’s Hill School and studied English at the Anglo-Malay Evening School.
His foray into theatre started as early as 1944 in Kampung Agas, Pasir Panjang. With the help of a Japanese officer during the Japanese Occupation, Bani and a few other friends built a makeshift outdoor theatre using an oil drum and wooden planks in the housing compound of a villager named Pak Tambi. There, he produced his first play, the improvisational piece Ahmad Berbudi.
After the war, Bani joined the Cahaya Timur Sandiwara, which staged theatre productions by Indonesian playwrights such as Adlin Affandi (Gadis Modern) and Surapati (Corak Dunia). In 1946, at the age of 17, he joined Singapore’s first Malay theatre group, Pemuda Baru Sandiwara, which was formed during the Japanese Occupation by a group of sawmill workers at Kampong Agas in Bukit Chermin. The following year, Bani was given the opportunity to direct Gadis Modern (Modern Girl) to raise funds for the Anglo-Malay Evening School.
Starting out in theatre in the '40s meant that Bani's development as a theatre practitioner was markedly influenced by the popularity of bangsawan and sandiwara, two contrasting theatre styles commonly performed in Singapore and Malaysia that would usher in the birth of modern Malay theatre.
Bangsawan—a style of entertainment perhaps best described as Malay opera for the masses—featured the sometimes loose and unscripted dramatisation of fantastical or mythical stories through acting, singing, orchestra music, and dancing. Sandiwara was introduced to Singapore by visiting Indonesian drama troupes at a time when bangsawan was losing its appeal. Originally a form of traditional dance-drama from West Java, it developed a repertory of original scripts, often with a focus on social issues, as well as leanings towards realism and naturalism.
Bani's earliest plays, particularly from the '40s, displayed influences from both bangsawan and sandiwara. They incorporated elements such as scriptless, improvisational dramatisation and loose narratives as well as simple, linear, contemporary stories, with a focus on realism in acting, costume and setting. His amateur play Helang Hitam (Black Eagle), a modest effort performed on the verandah of a house, became Singapore’s first modern Malay play.
In 1954, he directed Anak Tiri Boyan at the Victoria Theatre to raise funds for the Singapore Bawean Association. The next year, Bani's chance to be involved in professional theatre arrived when he was employed by Victoria Theatre. It was there that he honed his skills, working as a clerk for the theatre until 1969, eventually moving on to become the manager of the National Theatre.
On 8 July 1956, Bani and a few friends, including reporter and playwright Hussein Jahidin, composer Zubir Said and poet Usman Awang, founded Perkumpulan Seni, which would become one of the three prominent Malay theatre groups of the period, together with Persatuan Persuratuan Pemuda Pemudi Melayu (4PM) and Sriwana.
With Perkumpulan Seni, Bani established his reputation as a theatre director, helming most of the plays staged by the group. Through the decades, he produced and directed Malay plays, introducing elements from other theatrical forms and styles to Malay theatre such as a revolving stage for his play Rashomon. He also staged Singapore’s first Malay-language musical in the '70s with Gema Seni (Artistic Echoes).
In 1973, Bani left the National Theatre and joined Radio Television Singapore as a producer and director. For the company and its subsequent incarnations as the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, Bani headed the Malay Drama Unit and produced and directed several television series including Sandiwara. He also produced several Malay television programmes throughout the '80s and '90s with the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Drama Unit.
For his contributions to Malay-language theatre, Bani received recognition in the form of the Sri Budiman Award from Sriwana and the Jasawan Seni Award from Perkumpulan Seni. In 1979, he received the inaugural Cultural Medallion for his contributions to theatre in Singapore.
In 1996, Bani Buang passed away at age 67 in Singapore.
Born in Singapore
Joined Pemuda Baru Sandiwara, Singapore's first Malay theatre group.
Director, Gadis Moden (Modern Girl).
Director, various productions including Lela Satria, Malam Jahanam (The Cursed Night), Sumbangseh (The Gift), Awal dan Mira (Awal and Mira), Ribut Pagi (The Morning Storm), Pak Awang Temberang, Retna Dewi, Sang Rajuna Tapa, musical Gema Seni (Artistic Echoes), and Singapore’s first modern Malay play Helang Hitam (Black Eagle).
Director, Anak Tiri Boyan, Victoria Theatre.
Clerk, Victoria Theatre.
Founding member, Perkumpulan Seni.
Director, Ribut (The Storm).
Manager, National Theatre.
Director and producer, Malay Drama Unit, Radio Television Singapore (later Singapore Broadcasting Corporation).
Received inaugural Cultural Medallion for theatre for contributions to theatre in Singapore.
Producer and director, Rindu, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Director, Puncak, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Producer, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation:
-Bila Melangkah Keluar
-Panasnya Air Kopi
-Hanya Satu Jalan Kembali
-Dua Hati Seribu Wajah
Producer, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation:
-Rahsia Milik Semua
-Dada Retak Jantung Bergoyang
-Bulan Tak Bermadu
-Merpati Terbang Tinggi
-Tiada Bayang Putih
-Yang Ku Cari
Passed away at age 67 in Singapore.
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Perkumpulan Seni's first committee. Bani Buang (standing, far left) with Zubir Said (standing, far right) and Abdul Ghani Hamid (crouching, far left). 1956.
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Bani Buang (left) and Zulkassim Daud (right) speaking at a Perkampungan Seni event in Sembawang, Singapore. 1987.
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Bani Buang (left) with former Singapore Broadcasting Corporation colleague Salleh Sariman. 1990. Image courtesy of Salleh Sariman.
TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.
In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.