Category: Oral Traditions and Expressions; Performing Arts
Dondang sayang is a poetic and musical art form performed by the Chinese Peranakans in Singapore and Malaysia since the 19th century. The Peranakan dondang sayang involves the singing of pantun (rhyming quatrains) in spontaneous repartee. This exchange is accompanied by a band, which consists typically of a violin, two Malay rebana drums and a gong, as well as Malay dances such as joget (a lively and fast-paced dance).
Compared to its Southeast Asian counterparts, the Singaporean dondang sayang is slower in tempo and more repetitive. While similar to the Malay dondang sayang, the Peranakan version contains cultural references and uses the Baba Malay language, making it a key cultural marker for the Singaporean Peranakan community.
Filming of dondang sayang practitioners at Gunong Sayang Association in Singapore. Intangible Cultural Heritage Survey Project, National Heritage Board
Dondang sayang has declined from its heyday due to the increased interest in more modern forms of music arising from the influx of Western forms of entertainment. In addition, the younger generations of Singaporean Peranakans are not only less fluent in the Baba Malay language, but also less well-versed with Peranakan culture.
In Singapore, the Gunong Sayang Association seeks to preserve the tradition of dondang sayang, and notable practitioners of the art form include Mr Koh Hoon Teck (1878 – 1956, founding member of the association), Mr Gwee Peng Kwee (1897 - 1986), and Mr G T Lye (1938 - ). The association is also actively promoting the use of Baba Malay in Singapore.
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