Tuesday, April 13

Beating the drum for the ‘rebana’


PASIR SALAK: Four years ago, Kassim Ibrahim, 43, a plumber, got involved in rebana-making because he could not bear to see the  tradition die.

Kassim enjoys singing songs with Arabic lyrics inspired by the stories of the Prophet, while accompanied by the beats of a rebana.

Kassim shows a handmade rebana – one of many in his collection.

However, the traditional Malay membranophone makers are becoming ‘extinct’ with just two left, he believes, compared with the five who lived in the Perak Tengah District about 15 to 20 years ago.

“I feel that it would be a major loss should the rebana be forgotten by the younger generation. I play and teach the rebana, so I want the best quality sound.

“That is why, though not taught, I tried my hands at making it with whatever knowledge that I had,” the father-of-four told Bernama at his home in Kampung Pulau Gajah, Pasir Panjang Ulu.

Kassim, who has mastered making four types of rebana – the ‘penengkah’, the ‘penyelang’, the ‘pembandung’ and the ‘pelalu’ – said the process would begin with carving out a round piece of wood to a specific diameter, followed by the ‘bingkat’ or ‘melarik’ (circumferential grooves), then attaching and buffing the cowhide (from a bull over the age of three years), and lastly, spiffing it up.

“I buy the cowhide in bulk for RM100 apiece, while the ‘kayu halban’ (a wood species) comes from the forest here.

“Drying the cowhide can take up to two months,” he added.

Kassim, his wife and their daughter play the rebana at their house. — Bernama photos

Kassim said he would need six months to make a ‘rebana penengkah’, which had a bigger sound, because the hide must be stretched properly, while the other instruments would take just two weeks.

He said the rebana would only sound good if played together, or in pairs; therefore a set consisting of 10 ‘pelalu’, a ‘penengkah’, ‘penyelang’ and ‘pembandung’ could cost between RM2,700 and RM3,000.

“Not everyone has what it takes to make the rebana because it requires a great amount of passion, patience and precision. And despite all the efforts, time and cost, you have a low profit margin,” said Kassim.

On the future of the rebana, Kassim said the people in charge must make sure that the Malay heritage would not disappear.

“There are still many rebana groups, but maybe just a few rebana makers. I hope we could give this more attention.

“Before this, leaders joined the community in playing the rebana and it inspired harmony. After several years, I still remember the time former Perak Menteri Besar, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib, played the rebana with the ‘rakyat’ (people),” said Kassim. — Bernama