‘Wayang kulit’ maestro feted in inaugural cultural preservation award

Raja Nazrin Shah presents the Abdullah Ibrahim Memorial Award for Cultural Preservation to Abdul Rahman Dollah. — Pic by Choo Choo May
Raja Nazrin Shah presents the Abdullah Ibrahim Memorial Award for Cultural Preservation to Abdul Rahman Dollah. — Pic by Choo Choo May

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24 — Master musician Abdul Rahman Abdullah, a practitioner of “wayang kulit” (shadow puppetry), was honoured today with a cultural preservation award for ensuring the continuation of the traditional art.

Born in 1957 and hailing from Kelantan, Abdul Rahman was awarded the Abdullah Ibrahim Memorial Award for Cultural Preservation by Pusaka, a non-profit organisation researching and archiving traditional arts in Malaysia.

Abdul Rahman, 56, who was clad in black “baju Melayu” and matching “samping” embroidered with silver songket, was handed the award by Pusaka's patron, Regent of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah.

His award included RM10,000 of cash, a medallion specially crafted by a Kelantan silversmith, and scroll block-printed by The Royal Press of Malacca, the nation's oldest letterpress printer.

The award was named after the late “wayang kulit” prodigy puppeteer, or “dalang”, Abdullah Ibrahim, who was popularly known as Dollah Baju Merah (Dollah of the Red Jersey) in his hometown of Kelantan.

Abdul Rahman was introduced to the music of “wayang kulit” since he was nine, and ended up specialising as a master of the gedombak (single-headed drum) and geduk (double-headed drum).

Apprenticing under Abdullah, for whom the award was named, Abdul Rahman became Abdullah troupe's lead musician and later manager.

He continued to perform under Abdullah's disciple and successor Saupi Iso after the former's death in 2005, including a series of performances in the celebrated Festival L'imaginaire 2007 in France.

Since his retirement as an ambulance driver, Abdul Rahman has been spending his time training a new generation of performers between the age of 16 and 21, including his son Eshark Abdul Rahman, 15.

Abdul Rahman now serves as Pusaka's community manager, and had recently contributed towards a permanent home for the organisation in Machang, Kelantan.

Together with the inaugural award, Pusaka also held its first Lecture on Cultural Life with guest Goenawan Mohamad, eminent poet, essayist and journalist from Jakarta, Indonesia.

Goenawan is famously known as the founder-editor of influential Indonesian weekly Tempo, which was forced to close under the regime of President Suharto.

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