DAYAK music has come a long way since its first regular radio broadcasts hit the airwaves in Sarawak way back in 1939.
Despite being around for over 70 years, Dayak tunes and tempo have not been making much impact on the national music scene mainly because they were confined to the Dayak community in Sarawak.
Today, with growing support from the younger generation, modern Dayak music and songs are becoming more popular and being heard by a wider audience.
Moreover, Dayak musicians are now getting the necessary exposure on the national stage — thanks to the Dayak Artistes and Musicians Association (Dama).
The man behind it all is Dama chairman and Balai Ringin state assemblyman Snowdan Lawan who brought several Dayak artistes from the Iban, Orang Ulu and Bidayuh communities to perform live on the TV3 MHI (Malaysia Hari Ini) segment.
“I think this is a good idea because through it, we can expose the tunes of our Dayak artistes and musicians to listeners throughout the country,” said Snowdan who wants the TV3 show as a prelude to the Dayak Music Award (Anugerah Muzik Dayak) on Nov 6.
The Chief Minister is expected to officiate at this function at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching.
Snowdan is confident with the MHI exposure, the whole of Malaysia will get to know Dayak music outside the traditional genre but on par with contemporary pop tunes.
“This channel (MHI) provides a better platform. Before this, West Malaysians may not have known about Dayak contemporary tunes or pop songs,” Snowdon said after the performance by four young Dayak artistes was aired live over TV3 on October 20.
According to him, the perception of people from the peninsula is that Dayak artistes perform only in traditional garbs and with gongs and drums.
Dismissing such a notion, he said basically, modern Dayak artistes were no different from their counterparts in Semananjung Malaysia.
During the show, Rickie Andrewson Ngalai, son of a popular Dayak singer, gave his rendition of Nyabak Sebulan (A Month of Tears) followed by petite Bidayuh songtress Lydia Mike with hers — Uwab Nyna Buran (Waiting for Moonlight) — and Orang Ulu singer Diana Nini’s Lagu Liveng Kui (My Favourite Song). The repertoire ended with Jerry Kamit’s solo sape instrumental number, Kayo-Kayo.
“I was excited because it was my first live TV performance,” enthused Rickie who remembers his dad, Andrewson, also performed live on a TV3 programme — Musik Musik — in 1993.
Now that I’m selected to perform, it’s really carrying on the family tradition and I feel honoured,” he said.
According to Rickie, the aim of the show was to open “the eyes, if not ears” of the other communities to the fact that Dayak musicians and artistes can also perform modern musical tunes to suit the taste of younger listeners.
Given early exposure to Dayak modern songs by his father, Rickie has recorded eight albums since 2002, excluding various compilations with other artistes.
He also received the Anugerah Juara Rentak Ruai (AJARR) Best of the Year Award for his Nyabak Sebulan album.
As for Lydia, she wants Bidayuh songs to be heard all over Malaysia.
“As such, Dama is a good platform for Dayak artistes to get national exposure. Bidayuhs wishing to pursue a career in music can join DAMA as it supports the Dayak music industry,” she said.
Meanwhile, Diana Nini performed her song quite well despite her TV debut.
“I hope Malaysians can accept my songs even though they might not understand the lyrics,” she said.
Diana has released three albums and the fourth will be out in November.
She feels confident that given the right approach and the right compositions, Dayak music can go far.
“My hope is for more musicians to come up with good tunes and composers to produce better songs for the singers,” said Diana who won a Dama award in 2008 with Lagu Liveng Kui.
Internationally recognised sape player Jerry Kamit was in his element when he performed on stage in MHI.
Based at the Sarawak Cultural Village for the past 14 years, he has received numerous awards, including AJARR, Lagu Tebilang Iban Miri FM, MTV Ben Heller 1998 and Breakthrough Award (group or band).
“My latest award was for the World Championship of Performing Arts last year. Under the group category, we received the Gold Awards. For my solo performance, I got another Gold Award and two Champion of the World plaques,” he said.
Jerry attributed his success to his family musical background.
Asked if the latest award had made him an international star, he replied: “Maybe. I came from a family of musicians. Before, I wasn’t so serious about being a performer and singing was a part-time thing. Now I’m devoting my time to composing music, especially with the sape.”
He has also released a solo album titled Akai Nyamai “with everything — trans’ music, disco, hip-hop and R&B — thrown in.”
Jerry has also complied sape instrumental tunes for easy listening.
He said his next project could be a collaboration with a Madagascar artiste he met while performing at the Rainforest World Music Festival in 2001.