A Big Hand to Ju Percussion Group

Three percussionists tried to shoot the sun and the heavenly body responded in kind. It was a sky battle of rhythm and music as two sides fought a very engrossing back and forth. The performers — especially Wu Hsinhsuan — displayed a competitive edge to their music.

That was “Solar Myth” — a piece by Chang Chiung-ying that was performed by Ju Percussion Group (JPG) of Taiwan at Plenary Hall, KL Convention Centre last weekend and it was wonderful. All the hype by Hands Percussion Group artistic director Bernard Goh was warranted and it is easy to see why Hands wanted to bring JPG to Malaysia for this limited concert.

All throughout the concert, the mostly-filled hall was entertained by the music, the skills and sometimes the antics of JPG performers. Among the audience members were a few buses of schoolchildren whose presence was sponsored by generous benefactors including Hands themselves. The young ones seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Towards the end, there were sporadic standing ovations, prompting the very hardworking JPG to do two encores, but none of them were as great as their original pieces. “Solar Myth” was just one of nine scheduled pieces performed by JPG.

Another mesmerising piece was “ZhongKui Marrying His Sister Off” with guest performer Liu Ting-yu, an expert pipa musician, playing her instrument in a technically difficult piece. The programme said they even added paper clips to the pipa and required the player to play the instrument in a very painful technique.

The result, though, was astounding. The music of the pipa combined beautifully with the rhythm of the percussion told a story of high emotions.

“To The God of Rhythm” is the most minimalist piece, with only one player — crowd favourite Ho Hong-chi — playing the djembe. Ho and other male members of JPG performed their signature piece at the end — “Drumming Fest” — that featured mostly Chinese drums. Drum sticks were flying and despite a few dropped ones (they had spares), it was paying tribute to the foundations of JPG and Chinese drums.

Other pieces were also delightful. “Jose” by composer Aurel Hollo was a creative piece that marries Spanish, Arabic and Gypsy elements, using percussion, and then there’s “Neophilia” — a piece that incorporates unusual instruments such as boomwhackers pots and pans. It was like a mini “Stomp”.

Of course, there’s the crowd favourite “Malaysian Folk Song Suite” that had the group singing in perfectly enunciated Malay in the beginning. Their percussive take on “ Rasa Sayang ”, “Begawan Solo”, “BurungKakakTua” and other local folk songs such as “Chan Mali Chan” was a delight to hear. It was a fun piece that reflected a sign of respect from the group to the Malaysian audience.

The last time JPG performed was around two decades ago. We should be inviting them here more often, perhaps to perform with our own internationally acclaimed Hands Percussion Group. This has been one of the more enjoyable performing arts shows this year.