Tuesday, November 30

The magic of gambus music

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KUALA LUMPUR: Soothing, is the best word to describe the beautiful and easy rhythms coming from the gambus when the writer attended a show at the capital city recently.

Gambus that is very similar to the ‘Oud’ from the Arab land hitherto has been synonymous with ghazal and zamrah music, and Johor’s Zapin dance.

Its unique pear like shape made from fine wood and its golden brown finish highlights its unique identity.

When the strings are plucked, the melody from this musical instrument not only entertains but also heals the body and mind.

Yet, many are in the dark over the healing elements of the captivating gambus rhythm.

The gambus music’s healing attributes can be traced back to the 9th century.

According to the chairman of the National Conservatory of Arts’ (NCA) Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Mohamed Ghouse Nassuruddin, the use of the gambus in healing is nothing new.

The gambus rhythm provides therapeutic effects beneficial to the body and mind.

“Traditional music using instruments like gambus can help unleash the internal energy that helps in depression treatment, pain management and healing other psychological problems and at times it is proven to be highly effective,” he said.

“In the early days, it was observed that each music scale (gambus music scale equivalent to C major or G minor in the Western music) unleashes different emotional responses.

“As for example, the ‘rast’ scale exudes a feel of happiness, the ‘neva’ scale unleashes excitement and satisfaction, the ‘huseyin’ scale creates tranquility while the ‘saba’ scale unleashes the exuberant feel”, he added.

Meanwhile, the gambus rhythm has been widely used in the therapeutic realm in the Western and the Arab world since the early days but not in Malaysia.

To learn of the music’s effectiveness in the healing process, University Sains Malaysia’s Neuro Science Studies Department has pioneered efforts to decipher the music’s therapeutic attributes.

The study was conducted using special children – those suffering from cerebral palsy and autism.

The research was aimed at activating and circulating the internal energy by extending the motor neuron function range and enhance the cognitive faculty, and stimulate a sense of achievement, especially self achievement.

About 30 special children (17-12 years of age) from the Penang Spastic Centre were chosen for the study using gambus and other traditional music instruments like the gamelan and rebab during the therapy sessions.

The notes and the resulting frequency from the rhythm runs parallel with the brain wave frequency and the internal energy in humans.

The end result is that its unleashes physiological and emotional response that helps in the recovery process.

Dr Mohamed Ghouse who is also the project’s supervisor noted that during the four year trial the children responded positively with marked improvements.

According to Mohamed, there were improvements in the motor functions that enabled better coordination of the limbs and they were able to carry out tasks faster than previously.

“Previously they faced difficulty to correct their body posture and even their correct posture could only last up to five minutes, but after the therapy sessions they were able to maintain their posture from 30 minutes to an hour”.

They also displayed marked improvement in basic movements like walking and jumping.

There was also good improvement in their memory power and concentration.

Other than its use in medicine, the gambus rhythm has enriched Malaysia’s music landscape.

According to Dr Mohamed Ghouse, the sound of the gambus was once exclusive to ghazal and the zapin dance but now it has made its way to mainstream music.

“The gambus rhythm has been transformed and it now accompanies modern music like seen in Egypt, Iran and Turkey with some adjustment to the pitch to go along with the Western music”.

“Originally the gambus is know for its two signature pitches – the Arab and Turkey pitch”.

“Though the musical instrument has been transformed by tuning its pitch, the Arab rhythm has been maintained with the 1/4 and 1/8 tone as expressed in its scale”.

This was something admitted by Raja Zulkarnain Raja Yusof, a lecturer with National Conservatory of Arts who is also a protégé of the King of Gambus, the late Fadzil Ahmad.

Raja Zulkarnain noted that in the context of the traditional songs in Malaysia, changes have been made with the songs produced with a modern touch.

“The vocals have been synchronized with the contemporary tune that brings along rich gambus notes compared with the original style previously”. — Bernama