Malaysian and African drummers put together a show

by - 15:06

Olivier Tarpaga might be a dancer, choreographer and musician, but he also paints pictures. Not necessarily the brush on canvas kind, but definitely the stuff that half-forgotten memories and dreams are made of.

When he talks about his upcoming collaboration with homegrown percussion group Hands Percussion in Wind Of Nomads, a concert featuring several new works on African and Asian percussion, the imagery comes fast and furious.

“It is about traversing the desert in an old train, it is wide open spaces as far as the eye can see. Think about riding a camel in the desert in the rain. In the desert, everyone smiles when there is rain. What does that sound like, what does it feel like?” he offers by way of explanation when asked about the production.

Wind Of Nomads plays at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur, starting Aug 4.

At its core, Wind Of Nomads delves into human and cultural migration, drawing on the energy that emanates from many lifetimes of searching, exploring, finding oneself. It reflects a journey of discovery, a yearning to find out what lies beyond the horizon.

Hands Percussion and Dafra Drum

‘The instruments can all stand alone in their beauty, but in Wind of Nomads, they come together so well, to complement each other,’ says Olivier Tarpaga. Photo: Ban Teng Ruen

“It is about that spirit of adventure, one that you find not just within yourself, but in the soul of the great deserts in Africa and Asia,” muses Tarpaga.

One can almost feel the wind in your hair when he talks this way. Your feet might be weary on this journey, but a heart full of song and hope will get you far.

The award-winning founder and artistic director of West African drum and dance ensemble Dafra Drum is currently based in the United States and is a senior lecturer in Dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and a lecturer in the Department of Dance of Princeton University.

Tarpaga, born in Burkina Faso, plays numerous traditional instruments and is an expert of the djembe drum.

Tarpaga, together with two other members of Dafra Drum, are joining forces with Hands Percussion in Wind Of Nomads. This is the first time these two groups will be taking to the stage together. Marimba player Tan Su Yin will also be performing, while dancer/choreographer Wong Jyh Shyong (JS) is also on board with the choreography direction.

Wind Of Nomads, the culmination of almost three years of collaborative work, makes use of more than a dozen instruments in its storytelling, including the Chinese shigu, Taiwanese drum, Peking drum, er hu, hang drum, and traditional instruments from halfway across the world like the kora, djembe, calabash, lolo, balafon and dun dun.

Hands Percussion and Dafra Drum

US-based Dafra Drum is a multicultural group that performs dance and drumming from the Djeli/Griot tradition of West Africa. Photo: Lilian Wu

“A project like this needs space to breathe, and the best part was watching us complete each other. It is just so beautiful to bring faraway styles together to create a sort of hybrid. The instruments can all stand alone in their beauty, but in Wind Of Nomads, they come together so well, to complement each other. The result is beautifully complex, so emotional and powerful. It is truly spectacular,” says Tarpaga.

The high-octane drumming performances that Hands Percussion is so well-known for will be an integral part of this show, but Wind Of Nomads is not afraid to explore its softer side as well.

“The concert, featuring 15 musicians, is made up of quiet moments as much as the energetic ones, a reflection of the journey we all share,” says Bernard Goh, Hands Percussion co-founder and artistic director.

“We really hope that the love and passion that we put into Wind of Nomads will shine through and that what we do touches the audience in some way,” he adds.

Wind Of Nomads also kicks off Hands Percussion’s 20th anniversary celebrations this year.

In September, the Hands-produced DeafBeat 10th Anniversary Concert, featuring eight hearing-impaired youths, who were first coached by Goh in 2007, will be staged at DPac.

Also in September, Hands’ 20th anniversary concert Percussion Paradise will be held as part of the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (DiverseCity 2017).

“We remain as committed as ever in spreading the drum culture which has become such a big part of all our lives for so many years,” says Goh.

For the Wind Of Nomads adventure, Goh is most pleased with the fluid nature of the collaboration.

Hands Percussion and Dafra Drum

The Wind Of Nomads show is the culmination of almost three years of collaborative work between Hands Percussion and Dafra Drum. It makes use of more than a dozen instruments in its storytelling. Photo: The Star/M. Azhar Arif

“Olivier and I might be from what seems to be very different backgrounds – he’s from Burkina Faso and is now based in Philly and I am from Seremban – but when working with each other, we realise that we have many similar ideas and opinions that are able to feed off each other,” says Goh.

As the interview ends, Tarpaga, evidently, can’t speak any more highly of the process of exploration and discovery.

“I would like people to come and leave with the new. Let yourself fly with us, let yourself free. Join us on this journey of discovery, and I promise you, you will go home richer than before the concert,” he concludes.

Wind Of Nomads is on at Lambang Sari, Istana Budaya in KL on Aug 4-6 and Aug 11-13 (8.30pm, with additional 3pm weekend matinees). Tickets range between RM78 and RM168. Ticket purchase and enquiries:, or call 012-502 6883 / 012-779 8009. FB: Hands Percussion.

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