When a Jazz violinist meets traditional Malay music | The A List
Jeffrey and his violin (Photo: Jeffrey Tan)

When a Jazz violinist meets traditional Malay music | The A List

It was an offer that might have left some feeling hesitant, but not jazz violinist Jeffrey Tan. He readily agreed when asked to collaborate on a music residency programme inspired by traditional Malay music, never mind that he had no prior experience working with that genre.

Tan, an aspiring composer, was part of Rentas, a collaborative residency programme that works with musicians to develop new creative works rooted in traditional Malay music. The programme is helmed by music mentor and the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award recipient Zulkifli Mohamed Amin.

Tan’s participation in the programme saw him working with the musicians-in-residence, Danial Ariffin Azman and Hardi Aris, to come up with creative compositions that challenge definitions of traditional music.

While a stranger to traditional Malay music, Tan is well-acquainted with the spirit of musical collaboration and discovery and working with folk music. He has played with the award-winning country artist Courtney Conway and with Flame of the Forest, an eclectic homegrown band that plays original fusion music.

Tan says he was keen to collaborate with the Rentas musicians-in-residence because it challenges him to stay open-minded and versatile as a musician. He adds: “There’s a wonderful music community here and it’s amazing when you look back and see how far you’ve come by jumping on board opportunities to explore and collaborate.”

And his verdict on the boundary-crossing, genre-bending music experience? It was nothing short of inspiring, he says, working in an environment where everyone is trying to push the boundaries of their tradition.

“As a composer, I’m always exploring the possibilities of sound. While we try to keep to tradition and incorporate it in our music, we don’t recreate it. Instead, we embrace it with our own interpretations while still respecting our roots. This is what makes original music fresh-sounding,” he says.

For him, the collaboration has also been a visceral experience of Singapore’s musical identity. “It epitomises how we are as a country having a heart for various races and being ‘rojak’.”

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