Singer-songwriter takes spirit of traditional Malay music to the US
Dikir barat singer-songwriter from Kelantan, Halim Yazid with top American blues musician Billy Branch in Chicago. Pic by Ihsan Halim Yazid
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AMERICANS in Mississippi may be big fans of blues music, but that doesn't mean they aren't appreciative of other genres.
Just ask dikir barat singer-songwriter Halim Yazid, who drew huge applause from music lovers in the city of Jackson, in the United States recently.
Halim, from Kelantan, said it was one of the biggest highlights during his three-week tour of several American cities from Nov 30, last year.
"I was overwhelmed by the rousing applause from the audience soon after finishing my set in the club," Halim said, where he was invited to make a guest appearance.
Halim said he sensed that Americans were so passionate about music that they could appreciate other genres such as dikir barat which they were not even familiar with.
"I sang my song called 'Al-Fatihah Untuk Ayah', which was backed by a band of blues musicians," he said in an interview.
Kuala Lumpur-based Halim, 52, said he also had jam sessions of his dikir barat songs with different sets of top musicians, including renowned blues harmonica player and singer Billy Branch and King Edward.
He added that the jam sessions were put together more for fun and experimentation and conducted at the homes of his American hosts and other small venues.
"I came away with an understanding that dikir barat and blues music do share similarities, most notably the origins of both forms of music and their lyrical contents seem to follow nearly the same sentiments," said Halim.
A dikir barat artiste of more than 30 years, Halim has recorded six albums, a few compilation releases and music videos, which have been largely marketed in Kelantan.
The cultural officer at Universiti Malaya said his trip was sponsored by the US government, which had provided an officer to guide him, set appointments, draw tour itineraries and schedules.
For him, the trip was a personal self-discovery and a means of taking the "spirit of dikir barat" to a wider audience in the US.
"I also wanted to learn and deepen my understanding of blues music by going to the the place where it was born."
Just like dikir barat, Halim said, blues took root among the underclass -- rural folk in Kelantan and African-American farmers living in the southern states in the US.
"We both use our music to express longing and inner feelings of our existence."
Other than Mississippi, Halim made stops in Illinois, Chicago; Memphis, Tennessee; and, New York to meet experts, historians and museum curators specialising in the blues genre.
Halim said the only instrument he took along during the trip was a rebana ibu, a traditional handheld drum which is the mainstay in a dikir-barat performance.
"Townsfolk and those who were educated did not invent dikir barat, which was a creation of village folk, just as blues was invented by African-Americans working in the cotton fields."
On another note, Halim said he could not meet with B.B. King as the legendary blues musician was reported to be unwell in Los Angeles, where he resides.
"I only visited his (King's) birthplace, called Indianola in Mississippi."
His jam sessions, performances and other activities were recorded by a crew from TV3, which produced an hour-long documentary which aired on Majalah Tiga last night.