Once a form of village entertainment, dikir barat is now a national art form. Pauline Fan writes of its legendary artiste, Daud Bukit Abal
IN the warm dense night, scores of young men sit huddled in a circle. They raise their voices in unison and throw their hands up with fluid gestures. The air is thick with song and rhythm. Soon, a convoy of cars pulls up along the curb. A thickset man emerges from one of them and escorted by a small posse, saunters towards the chorus. This is the legendary Daud Bukit Abal — the Godfather of Dikir Barat.
The chorus greets Pak Daud with respect and reverence. He listens for a while, then takes the microphone and unleashes his sonorous, charismatic voice. He gives a stirring rendition of one of his most popular songs, Azura.
Daud Bukit Abal
That was my first dikir barat in a Kelantan village 10 years ago. Pusaka Founder-Director Eddin Khoo and I were introduced to Pak Daud by the late great Wayang Kulit Dalang, Abdullah Ibrahim, better known as Dollah Baju Merah.
Through Pusaka, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting the viability of traditional Malaysian art forms — we worked closely with Pak Daud, his family and their dikir barat group for several years to document and support the tradition at the community level in Kelantan.
Pak Daud passed away in 2011, a day before he was due to perform in Kuala Lumpur for Malaysia Day celebrations. It was a tremendous loss to the dikir barat community in Kelantan and throughout Malaysia.
THE CHANT OF KELANTAN
Dikir Barat is a popular Kelantanese performance form involving singing, spontaneous verse debate and chorus chanting. It is usually performed by two teams of male participants in competition. A dikir barat team consists of a juara or jogho (leader), a tukang karut (improvised lyric composer), and the awok-awok (chorus and clappers).
The chant of Kelantan.Picture courtesy of pusaka
The tukang karut often performs as an invited guest and not as a regular member of the team.
The dikir barat is a lively and exciting performance. The juara sings popular songs or songs he composed himself, while the tukang karut improvises versed responses to the other team’s call. As the juara and tukang karut take the lead, the chorus repeats after them, resounding in rhythmic chanting and clapping.
The dikir barat, says Pak Daud’s son, Arman, originates from Malay communities in South Thailand. It was first brought to, and popularised, in Kelantan by Pak Leh Tapei (Mat Salle Ahmad) in 1943.
Also known as dikir hulu, the name dikir barat comes from the word barat which the Kelantanese used to refer to South Thailand.
Originally, the dikir barat was a form of village entertainment with songs, satire and comedy performed during harvest season. It has now attained such popularity that countless schools and universities throughout the country have their own dikir barat groups and it is regarded as a national art form.
It is worth noting that the widespread popularity of the dikir barat was one of the factors that prevented the art from being proscribed, along with other Kelantanese traditions (wayang kulit, mak yong, manora, and Main Puteri) in 1991 by the PAS State government.
Arman credits the four dikir barat legends of Kelantan — Jusoh Kelong, Arifin Ana, Salleh Jambu, and his father Daud Bukit Abal — with raising the status of the art form to what it is today.
The dikir barat is a lively and captivating performance.Picture courtesy of pusaka
A STAR’S ASCENT
Born Mat Daud Che Mat in Kampung Banggol Jenereh, Pasir Puteh, Kelantan in 1940, Pak Daud was educated at Sekolah Pondok Bukit Abal. Among his teachers were Tok Guru Daud Bukit Abal dan Tok Guru Abd Mutalik Bukit Abal.
According to his son Arman, Pak Daud showed early interest in the vocal arts. At school, he learnt the art of reciting the Quran and even entered several competitions where he emerged champion.
Pak Daud embarked upon his journey with dikir barat at 20 when he joined the group from Bukit Abal in 1960. He started out as one of the awok-awok boys (chorus and clappers).
Arman recounts how, at that time, the Bukit Abal Dikir Barat group used to lose all dikir duels and competitions. However, the young Daud’s melodious voice soon caught the attention of the group leader, who trained him to take the role of the tok jogho (lead singer). With Daud as the main voice, the Bukit Abal group’s fate turned around and they began winning competitions. By 1962, the name Daud Bukit Abal was known throughout Kelantan. From the 1960s to the 1980s, he was the great dikir barat master.
Pak Daud’s reputation lay not only in his powerful and alluring voice, but also in his songwriting talent as well as his creativity and willingness to experiment. He always kept himself up to date with current affairs, which he often incorporated into his dikir barat songs.
His talent as a lyricist and his treatment of contemporary issues can be seen in his song, Gila Judi (The Gambler):
... Keluar malam kadang tidak pulang
Sering terjadi dah berulang-ulang
Walau isteri cuba menghalang
Si gila judi tak dengar bilang ....
(... He goes out at night and doesn’t come home
It always happens, again and again
Even though his wife tries to stop him
The obsessed gambler listens to no one...)
Unlike many dikir barat singers, Daud Bukit Abal distinguished himself as an all-encompassing master who could sing various styles, compose music and lyrics and even take on the role of tukang karut.
Pak Daud Bukit Abal twice emerged champion in national dikir barat competitions. He was also bestowed with the State Artist Of Kelantan award.
Daud is considered one of the four dikir barat legends of Kelantan, along with the tukang karut Seman Wau Bulan (the composer of the famous dikir song, Wau Bulan).
Pak Daud also spent much time and energy teaching dikir barat to younger generations. His students include well-known dikir barat singers such as Halim Yazid, Zainuddin Anak Manja and Ismail Gunung Ganang. His legacy also survives in his sons, Arman and Amran, who are now actively performing and advancing the art, while keeping alive the memory of their father.
Starting them young, students (from left) Ricnish Ruban, Mohd Haqeem Ediyal, Ivan Fong and Kiruben Jaybalan during a Dikir Barat Competition for primary schools in 2013.
TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND
On March 23, Pusaka is presenting The Godfather of Dikir Barat - A Tribute to Daud Bukit Abal, featuring his extraordinarily gifted sons Arman DBA and Amran DBA. They will perform Pak Daud’s most beloved songs from the 1960s and 1970s, including Azura, Anida, Gembira, Rumi dan Juli, and Demo Jando Kawe Tak Dok Bini.
The special Tribute to Daud Bukit Abal at The Stage at Publika’s Square will be in the traditional style of dikir tewas (dikir duel), with two groups challenging each other in a lively and playful manner. An 80 to 100-man awok-awok team will take part to mark the festive occasion.
Pauline Fan NST Sunday Life and Times 16/03/2014