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Theatre Music

Drumming up an epic theatrical storm

Five traditional drums to know


Published: 14 Jun 2019

Time taken : ~10mins

Five traditional Malay drums starring in Fatih – The Prince & The Drum

They set the heart racing and get the feet moving at time-honoured community events such as weddings. Malay percussion instruments—very much the soul of music in this region—get a much bigger stage in Fatih – The Prince & The Drum. Staged in June 2019, it is the first large-scale commission of a theatre production by Esplanade at Pesta Raya – Malay Festival of Arts.

A collaboration by noted artists and creatives from Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, Fatih – The Prince & The Drum is the brainchild of Malay drumming whiz Riduan Zalani, the co-founder and artistic director of Malay percussion ensemble NADI Singapura.

In Fatih – The Prince & The Drum, over 100 drums of all shapes and sizes—transposed onto the massive Esplanade Theatre stage—tell a mythical coming-of-age tale of a seafaring prince from the fictional kingdom of Sritanmira. The prince, Fatih, makes new friends and enemies, uncovering secrets of a forgotten past and discovering a lot more about himself in the process.

Featuring performers such as Singapore dance and drumming artist Nizar Fauzie (who plays Fatih) and Indonesia’s leading contemporary dance company Nan Jombang, Fatih – The Prince & The Drum is a feast for the senses combining songs, poetry, storytelling and dance, directed by acclaimed Indonesian film auteur Garin Nugroho.

At its core, the production is a love letter to the drums.

Their incantatory rhythms evoke violence, heartbreak, passion and every other emotion in between. As director Garin notes, Fatih – The Prince & The Drum is about the interplay between “three areas … with different colours, different perspectives and different music” – the regal and orderly Sritanmira kingdom into which Fatih is born, the coastal and free-spirited Maialena village which he embraces, and the savage Tohmah pirates with whom he clashes. Each community speaks a different language through its own kind of drums.

No mere percussion instruments, drums are key props and part of the choreography – a performer may do a headstand on a drum, dance with it or ride atop a barrel-shaped drum as it transforms into a boat, spiriting him away.

Cover photo by Bernie Ng

Going beyond the rebana and gong, instruments more commonly associated with Malay percussion music, here are five other traditional Malay drums to know, with fun facts on the role each one plays in the theatrical epic.



A barrel drum and traditional communication tool, this is the instrument used in mosques to initiate the call of prayer. In Singapore, the housing estate of Bedok got its name from this iconic instrument.

Fun fact

For Fatih – The Prince & The Drum, NADI Singapura has created the tambur singa , inspired by the actual wooden beduk but made of oil barrels and weighs only a third of the original, which is more than 150kg.

This tambur singa is pivotal in more ways than one – the Nan Jombang dancers actually dance on the drum, and it is also assembled into a ship used by Prince Fatih to sail the high seas.

Drumming Up 01



A large, barrel-like double-headed drum, this is mid to low in pitch and often played with drumsticks or mallets.

In Fatih – The Prince & The Drum, this instrument is closely identified with the Tohmah pirates and the troops of Sritanmira, marshalling both sides as they go into battle.

Fun fact

In the production, the royal guard of Sritanmira rallies the troops of the kingdom by playing with great dexterity on five jidur that have been arranged in a row, a departure from the traditional way in which it is played, with one musician to one jidur.   

Drumming Up 02



A double-headed drum that is tied to a hollow wooden frame with leather, rattan strings or ropes. The kendang is capable of creating a variation of sounds. 

Used in many cultures such as Sundanese, Javanese and Balinese cultures, it can be played with the hands, drumsticks or mallets. Alternately spelled as gendang or kendhang.

Fun fact

Historically used in royal courts during important ceremonies, the kendang is a key instrument for the troops of Sritanmira, who wield them in their battle with the Tohmah pirates.

Drumming Up 03



A small double-headed drum believed to have been brought over to the Malay archipelago by the Arabs from Yemen. It is always played in groups, by striking the drums in an interlocking manner.

Fun fact

The Arabic-sounding rhythms of the marwas give the Maialena villagers their distinctive, ‘exotic’-sounding character. These drums also provide one of the more dramatic moments of the production, when a tree with 70 hanging marwas is flown onto the stage.

Drumming Up 04



This hand-held, single-headed frame drum makes its presence felt on joyous occasions such as festivals and weddings with its interlocking rhythms. Requiring a lot of teamwork to play, they can be said to be a musical display of gotong royong (communal culture). In Indonesia, it is also called rebana.

Fun fact

One of NADI Singapura's creations for Fatih – The Prince & The Drum is a supersized kompang called the maha kompang, twice the size of the usual kompang (which is about 35cm in diameter). This larger-than-life drum is used by the Maialena in battle, as a war instrument.

Drumming Up 05

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