George Town Festival to open with a showcase of Kelantan this year

Kelantan is GTF’s opening show this year. — Picture courtesy of GTF
Kelantan is GTF’s opening show this year. — Picture courtesy of GTF

GEORGE TOWN, July 10 — Big drums figure prominently in quite a few cultures, from Burundi to Japan and several other countries in between, and Malaysia is no exception.

George Town Festival (GTF) this year will open with a showcase of Malaysia’s own traditional big drums, the rebana ubi, from Kelantan.

Titled Kelantan: A Living Heritage, the show will be a celebration of the many components that make up the Malay culture in the state.

Festival director Joe Sidek is co-directing with Kamal Sabran.

“This is our pride piece, a showcase of our Malaysian tradition because this year we are going to have a lot of foreign audience,” Joe said in an interview with Malay Mail.

They did not get any strong proposals for a Malay performance that could be the opening show for GTF. “I needed a Malaysian show and since I was already doing Sarawak for the Rainforest Fringe Festival, I thought, why not I do Kelantan too,” he said.

This resulted in Joe putting together the traditional rebana ubi, royal court dance Asyik, dance drama Mak Yong, mesmerising Dikir Barat and Wayang Kulit, all in journey of Kelantan’s musical and performing arts tradition.

New York-based dancer and choreographer Raziman Sarbini together with dancers from the ASK Dance Company will be featured in the show while Kelantanese Zamzuriah Zahari will bring the Mak Yong to life on stage.

Joe said the different musical and dance components of the show are part of a journey of discovery as seen through the eyes of young puppeteer Kamarul Baihaqi.

“This show is in collaboration with ASK Dance Company, the National Arts Culture and Heritage Academy and the National Department for Culture and Arts (JKKN),” he said.

Kelantan will open the annual festival that will showcase more than 100 performances and visual art presentations.

Joe said the focus this year is more on community programmes such as street shows and free exhibitions.

“We have lessened the big international shows, although we still do have those but it’s not on the size and scale that we had in previous years,” he said.

He said this is the festival’s way of being more in touch with what the community wants.

“I think it’s my failure, thinking people would come for the international shows but I think it will take a few more years,” he said.

On the last weekend of the month-long festival, Joe said there will be a series of open street events at different locations in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board and JKKN.

He said these open street events work really well with he public especially when it is free and in open spaces.

“Maybe people don’t feel that they want to buy tickets and sit in a hall so street shows are the way to go, because people are comfortable,” he said.

Appeal for sponsors

GTF gets an allocation of RM4.5 million from the Penang state government each year but this is not nearly enough.

Joe said this year the festival did not receive any sponsorships from the private sector.

“This could be due to the elections earlier but now, we are still not getting any private sponsorships and we are running out of time so we are appealing to corporations for sponsorships,” he said.

He said corporations can also sponsor tickets for students and the community.

“We really need all the help that we can get,” he said.

Family package

This year, GTF has a special family package for families with children.

Joe said children should be exposed to the arts from young to cultivate an appreciation for culture and arts.

In the new family package, any purchase of two adult tickets worth RM85 and above each will get two children’s tickets for free.

This package only applies after July 15.

Joe hopes this will encourage more parents to bring their children to GTF’s shows which starts from August 4.

Find out more about GTF at