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TLDR: The long and short of hadrah and kompang music

Two popular styles of Malay folk music with singing and drumming


Published: 8 Apr 2024

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#1 | Origins of the hadrah and kompang

Other than the gambus, the spread of Islam in the 9th century brought about another set of musical instruments into the Malay Archipelago, the daf, a single-headed frame drum with bells, rings and cymbals. Over time, this hand drum evolved to be what is now known as the rebana, which comes in many different types, sizes and uses.

Just as the Muslim Arab traders beat their drums to attract customers to their wares, these percussive instruments are commonly used in performances and socio-religious ceremonies where a crowd is called to gather.

This call to assemble is how hadrah, a performance tradition of singing and drumming that is rooted in Islamic teachings, derives its name. In the Malay world, when encountering the hadrah, one would also learn about the kompang. While the hadrah was derived from the Arab and Malay word hadir (to be present), it is believed that kompang has onomatopoeic derivations, from the impressions of the sound made when beating this hand-drum.

Hadrah and kompang in Singapore

According to published rebana historian Ahmad Azmi, hadrah and kompang music came to Singapore in the early part of the 20th century through the Riau Islands and was popular till before the Japanese Occupation. The burgeoning number of groups that can be found between 1920s till 1941 ceased to exist when the war ended and continued to not be in practice as members and teachers focused on post-war rehabilitation.

However, once livelihoods were stabilised, there was a slow increase in the number of hadrah and kompang groups that came to be formed. The art form regained a staggering popularity within the Malay community. In 1988, after much campaigning from Majlis Pusat Singapura and Singapore Hadrah and Kompang Association (PEHAKS), People’s Association created a dedicated space for hadrah and kompang to provide access for the community to engage with and advance the performing art forms.

Hadrah and kompang are usually performed at Malay weddings to announce the arrival of the groom at the bride’s house and during the bersanding (sitting in state) when the bride and groom are on the pelamin (dais) for their relatives and friends to give their blessings. It is also common for these music forms to be heard at formal occasions like openings of conferences, inauguration of buildings, and other cultural-religious events such as Mawlid, an annual Islamic holiday that celebrates the birth of the prophet Muhammad.


Although hadrah and kompang music share many similarities, they each use different hand drums. Take a listen and spot the difference.

#2 | Instrument and music

Hadrah and kompang are Islamic choral singing forms each accompanied by a frame drum ensemble, performed in praise of God (Allah) and Muhammad, a prophet of Islam.

The spread of these musical forms throughout the Malay world has resulted in various regional adaptations, with differences in drum usage, musical arrangements and movements. While these adaptations maintain aspects of the original forms such as mode, construction, tuning, playing techniques, and even their names, they have become more tailored to local cultures.

The hand drums used in hadrah and kompang ensembles belong to the rebana family of drums.

The different types of drums in the <em>rebana</em> family


Check out the following videos to watch and listen to how the different rebana drums sound.

1. How the different rebana drums are used in traditional Malay music, including hadrah and kompang.

2. Basic playing of the rebana hadrah hand drum

3. Basic playing of the rebana kompang hand drum


Follow Munah Bagharib as she learns about the kompang from the president of the Singapore Hadrah and Kompang Association, Mr Jamaludin Idris.

#3 | Deciphering the building blocks

What are the components that make up these two musical forms? What are some similarities or differences?

Performance styles


While there are other styles that the hadrah is associated with, the performance style that is practised in Singapore is the Hadrah Melayu Selat.


Similar to the hadrah, kompang music is associated with many other performance styles. However, in Singapore, only Kompang Melayu is practised widely.

Structure of performance


In a hadrah ensemble, the team leader, also known as the Apek Lempang, takes on the role of the music director. The music director will determine which player will play which beat as well as determine the start (mula), the crescendo (naik), the transition (tukar) and the end (mati) of the song.


In a kompang ensemble, the team leader or khalifah will usually take on the Paluan Tingkah which is played above the Paluan Dasar (basic beat) as an upbeat. The khalifah will also determine the start and end of the performance. Each kompang song is segmented to the start (mula), crescendo (naik), song change (tukar lagu), call (hadi), response(jawab) and end (mati).

Associated dance forms (Tarian)

While there are no dance forms associated with the hadrah, the kompang is associated with several dance forms such as Tarian Lenggok, Gelipang, Rhodat and Zapin.

Songwriting and lyrics

Traditionally, songs used in both hadrah and kompang performances are taken from Islamic scriptures of Dewan Hadrah and Barzanzi. They are performed in Arabic in the style of a chant and sung over interlocking rhythms classified as the lead, basic and rhythm beats.

However, to keep up with times and local culture, new songs are also written in Malay and are about social values for the personal and communal good.


Hadrah songs are similar to qasidah (a form of Islamic poetry). The songs are usually sung light and gracefully. Lyrics are usually from the Islamic scripture, Dewanu Hadrah.


Songs are sung to a fast beat, similar to the beating of the instrument. Lyrics are from the Islamic scripture, Berzanji.

The instruments


Rebana hadrah comes in a range of sizes and typically has a diameter of 8–12 inches, with three pairs of cymbals around its circumference. When hit, the beat is accompanied by the sound of the cymbals.


Rebana kompang too comes in a range of sizes. Rebana hadrah has a diameter of 12–30 inches. Unlike the rebana hadrah, the rebana kompang does not have any cymbals. When hit, it produces a sharp beat.

How to play


Playing on the rebana hadrah does not require excessive force as long as the sound produced is powerful, crisp and precise.


To produce a resonant sound from the rebana kompang, precise strikes on its surface are important; otherwise, the sound produced may be hollowed.

To play the effectively, the palm of the hand is divided into two parts: the bottom part must make contact with the edge of the surface, while the top part is responsible for striking the surface of the rebana kompang. This produces two distinct types of sounds: bunyi cerang (clear) and bunyi lentong (accented).

Associated rituals

Before any training or performance, performers in a hadrah and kompang ensemble are encouraged to carry out the following rituals:

1. Say a prayer
2. Give salam (greeting) to the Prophet Muhammad.
3. To set intentions based on the song and theme that will be played.


In 2023, more than 700 kompang players gathered to form the largest kompang procession and performance. This was organised by Wisma Geylang Serai, a community centre that promotes and presents Malay arts.

#4 | The who's who

The history of hadrah and kompang in Singapore is largely undocumented. Most of the information on the practice and personalities differ from one group to another as history is passed down by word of mouth. Here, we highlight a couple of the longer running groups that have been a mainstay in the local arts scene.

Firqatul Wannazam 1921

Firqatul Wannazam 1921 was established in 1921 at Geylang Lorong 16 by Syed Ahmad bin Syed Amir, a trader from Palembang. It was initially known as Firqatul Hadrah Wanazam, which translates to 'the hadrah and poetry group'. Although the group’s first decade was largely undocumented, the beginning of the group was written in brief on the front page of the group’s copy of Dewan Hadrah, which was gifted to Syed Ahmad by his friend who was passing through Singapore. 

The group suspended its activities when World War II started and resumed again in 1947. When it resumed its activities, the group was led by Syed Ahmad bin Syed Amir’s son, Haji Abdul Rahman bin Baso’ (also known as Pak Mo’). The group played for weddings and community events.

The longest serving leader of the group was the great-grandson of its founding father, Haji Othman Bin Haji Abdul Rahman, affectionately  known as Abah or Abang Man to many. He started with the group as early as seven years old and in 1964, at a tender age of 18, took over the leadership of the group from his own father. He taught his group all of the songs found in the Dewan Hadrah and with his daughter, they have managed to adapt and transcreate some of the Arabic songs to original Malay numbers and vice versa. 

He led the group until his passing in 2022 after which he was succeeded for a short period of time by his daughter Fadilah Hj Othman. She passed a few months after him.

The group is still active today.

Intangible Cultural Heritage: In Conversation with Fadilah Othman

Fadilah Othman was the director of Firqatul Wannazam 1921, which was established in 1921 at Geylang Lor 16. The traditional Malay percussion group was featured in a Shaw Brothers film, Madu Tiga and two Cathay-Keris film productions, Tun Fatimah and Laila Majnun. Fadilah unfortunately passed away in 2022, but her legacy lives on.

This video is produced by Malay Heritage Centre (MHC) as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage conversation series which shines a spotlight on the remarkable talents who shape our cultural landscape. Reproduced with permission from MHC.

Hadrah and Kompang Association of Singapore (PEHAKS)

Established in 1978, the Hadrah and Kompang Association of Singapore or more commonly known as PEHAKS, has been the community leader for the hadrah and kompang groups in Singapore. They organise competitions, workshops and advocate in the interest of the practice and the groups affiliated to the association.

Currently, the group is led by Jamaludin Idris.

Taken in 1983 when Persatuan Hadrah Kompang Singapura (PEHAKS) played at the Prophet Muhammad Birthday celebration hosted by the Central Islamic Missionary Committee at Toa Payoh Sports Complex. Image credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.


Listen to Seni Ibunda by the Singapore Hadrah and Kompang Association. This song is played on the kompang.

Contributed by:

Fezhah Maznan

Fezhah Maznan is a creative producer and performance dramaturg. Part of her work centres around creating opportunities for new development and presentation of Malay arts and artists in Singapore and abroad.


Ahmad Azmi Haji Mohamed Ishak & Riduan Zalani

This article would not have been possible without the research and documentation done by Ahmad Azmi Haji Mohamed Ishak. Other than his books, he has also compiled photos and archive videos on his YouTube channel

Many thanks too to Riduan Zalani for sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience, and research to make sense of this less documented history of Singapore Malay art forms.


1. Music SG: Musical Practice of Malay ‘traditional’ forms by National Library Board
2. Ahmad Azmi bin Mohamed Ishak, The Basics of Hadrah and Kompang in Singapore, pp.118-123, p.118, in Joseph E.E. Peters, Evolving Traditions, papers given at the 2nd Asean Composers Forum on Traditional Music, 11-24 April 1993, Singapore. 
3. Rentak rebana: sejarah dan perkembangannya di Singapura by Ahmad Azmi Haji Mohamed Ishak
4.The beat goes on
5. Playing to the beat of the kompang with Munah, AsiaOne Tries: Arts & Culture
6. Kompang Jidor: Rhythm of Nusantara
7. Fariani, Hadrah Kesenian Religi Masyarakat Melayu. Banda Aceh: Balai Pelestarian Nilai Budaya Aceh, 2017.
8. #kamiseratus (Ep1) - Sejarah (History) by Firqatul Wannazam

TLDR: The Long and Short of...
Discover the essence of different traditional art forms in Singapore. Delve into the practices and cultural significance of each unique form, its practitioners, and the stories behind them.
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