Dikir Barat

Category: Performing Arts

Dikir barat is a performance art involving a chorus (awok-awok) of about 12 - 16 singers, a lead vocalist (tok juara), a jester (tukang karut) and a percussion ensemble consisting of rebana ibu (large frame-drum), rebana anak (small frame-drum), gong, canang (tuned gong-chime), maracas and sometimes seruling (bamboo flute).

Dikir BaratAwok-awok of the group Sutera Madura accompanying Juwita Samat, the Tukang Karut, during a performance of "Karut Pattani". Intangible Cultural Heritage Survey Project, National Heritage Board.

The art form can be traced to Kelantan, Malaysia, where performances used to be organised during rural harvest festivals. Dikir barat is believed to have been introduced to Singapore in the 1980s, and it has since taken on a unique form. Though the art form is traditionally performed exclusively by men and boys, it is common to find women and girls participating in dikir barat performances or forming their own groups in Singapore.

Dikir barat in Singapore has also mostly been performed at competitions and celebrations, as compared to parts of Malaysia where it is performed at informal gatherings. As such, it is less common to see spontaneous improvisation in performances in Singapore, and the tok jaura and tukang karut would usually rely on pre-composed lyrics and melodies.

In addition, dikir barat performances in Singapore tend to focus on themes such as cultural pride, cultural preservation and even civic virtues such as racial harmony. They have also incorporated elements from English, Malay and Hindi pop songs, as well as the use of modern instruments.

Dikir barat is also occasionally performed in English for non-Malay speaking people, and this is an example of how the art form has continued to evolve to become a practice unique to Singapore.


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