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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Weekly Southeast Asia Radar: Japanese ska in Saigon, experimental music in Yangon

ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asia Radar features articles and posts about arts and culture in Southeast Asia, drawn from local and regional websites and publications – aggregated content from outside sources, so we are exposed to a multitude of voices in the region. In the weekly Southeast Asia Radar, we publish a round-up of content that have been scoured and sifted from a range of regional news websites, blogs and media platforms.

Here is this week’s Southeast Asia Radar:

And Then Came Spring by Parastoo Theatre (Photo: Parastoo Theatre)
Performing artists in Malaysia share their struggles of losing their stage amid Covid-19
Options The Edge, Malaysia

On the morning of March 16, Saleh Sepas, founder and director of Afghan refugee community theatre group Parastoo, and his actors were preparing to rehearse for their new show, And Then Came Spring, when they heard the bad news. It was not their usual practice time but they were expecting a media visit and interview later. However, news of a scheduled press conference came in before 11am with rumours of an imminent nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak. By evening, the show was cancelled.

“This would have been the biggest project produced by us,” says producer Amin Kamrani. “We had even sold out one of the shows.”

For now, the cast and crew are more worried about their welfare during the crisis. “It’s a hard situation for refugees in Malaysia as many have lost their jobs due to the closure of businesses. A lot of sacrifices were made for this project. None of us has been paid yet as we were waiting for ticket sales and sponsorships,” Amin explains.

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Deldoc talks about his work, the traits he finds are essential to writers, and life lessons he’s taken away from working in theater. Illustration by MARIA SARAH ORLINA
Playwright Eljay Deldoc: “Hindi palaging totoo na solitary ang pagsusulat”
CNN Philippines

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In these trying times, artists have become a source of comfort. We’ve seen local musicians like Bullet Dumas and Johnoy Danao serenade fans, live art classes for kids by artist and TV host “Kuya Robert” Alejandro, and online dance classes hosted by Galaw.Co and G-Force Dance Center — all over livestreaming on social media. Just recently, theater organizations Philstage, SPIT Manila, Third World Improv, the Theater Actor’s Guild, and Artist Welfare Project partnered with Ticket2Me to put up Open House, an online show series meant to raise funds for art workers and performers who’ve lost gigs due to the enhanced community lockdown.

On the second week of April, Open House hosted a live reading of Eljay Deldoc’s one-act play “Ang Goldfish ni Prof. Dimaandal,” complete with the original cast and director who staged the play first at the 2014 Virgin Labfest Festival (VLF). The story is about a disgruntled science teacher whose pet goldfish is allegedly murdered by three of her students. According to Deldoc, the online reading was a success — proof that theater can thrive online in these strange circumstances.

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Tisna painting in the Citarum River revitalization project in 2019. Image courtesy the artist.
In Isolation, Indonesia’s Artists Swing Between Gestures of Inspiration and Acts of Protest in the Absence of Government Aid
artnet

Here in Indonesia, artists have been among those affected amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government has not yet decided to provide any financial assistance. It seems that mapping and data collection of arts organizations and artists is still a significant obstacle for this country, so prosperous in cultural diversity.

Nevertheless, instead of waiting for the decision to be made, Indonesian contemporary artists continue to work in response to the pandemic and to spread inspiration. Some work on studio art at home. Others create works rooted in activities and practices that are shared through photos on Instagram or spread through WhatsApp groups.

Bandung-based artists Tisna Sanjaya falls into the first category. Sanjaya is a senior lecturer in the Visual Art Program at the Bandung Institute of Technology, where he teaches printmaking, and the campus is now closed. Ordinarily, he makes etchings, drawings, and paintings, although he is also known for his participatory art projects.

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Artists are now facing a ferocious enemy, the biggest foe they have ever fought and it is called COVID-19. Via Khmer Times.
Local Art Heroes in Battles with COVID-19
Khmer Times

Due the prolonged civil war and a “cultural revolution” of a genocidal regime, many forms of arts in Cambodia, especially the traditional ones, have always been on the brink of vanishing. There has not been much support, and many artists have given up their passion because of their financial struggles. However, several enthusiasts refused to see these artistic legacies disappear and thus have been keeping their noses to preserve them. However, they are now facing a ferocious enemy, the biggest foe they have ever fought and it is called COVID-19. Are our heroes winning or losing? No one but time can tell, writes Taing Rinith.

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Via Prestige Online Thailand
5 Thai Films to Watch, Recommended by Leading Film Critic Kong Rithdee
Prestige Online Thailand

In light of Covid-19 closures and a tightening “stay home” vice, social distancing and staying in has become an unexpected, yet very real norm. As we find ways to cope with this newly imposed self-isolation, the digital sphere has reared its head — from online delivery services, to, of course, the even more prominent rise of online streaming. Yet, time spent at home is still your time, and with so many options to choose from, it can be tough deciding which movies are worth watching while you self-quarantine. We spoke to Thailand’s leading film critic Kong Rithdee, who shares his top five Thai film recommendations to watch during self-isolation.

True to Kong Rithdee, each recommended film comes with unique nuances that result in fascinating works of art — think personal takes on socio-political issues, to delicate interpretations of existing cultural and societal topics. From independents and bittersweet rom-coms, to Thailand’s first animation ever made, here are the films you should be streaming while you quarantine.

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Via Bandcamp
The Experimental Music Scene in Yangon, Myanmar is Eclectic and Resourceful
Bandcamp

For Myanmar’s experimental musicians, the city of Yangon is both a constant source of inspiration and a predictable wellspring of frustration.

The scene is comprised of a group of artists who have been collaborating, performing, and releasing ambient and noise music from Myanmar’s capital city since 2017. It is new and wildly eclectic—drone duos play together with hardcore punk bands, and song themes include an ode to a taxi driver who witnessed a political assassination.

Musically, they’re deliriously creative, breaking apart traditional Burmese sounds and reflecting the dissonant noises of Yangon streetscapes through harsh noise and drone. Operationally, they’re forced to be a combination of clever entrepreneurs, performance artists, and “guerilla musicians”—taking inspiration from the Indonesian “noise-bombers” in the Javanese city of Yogyakarta, who steal public electricity to power their amplifiers.

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Photo by Alberto Prieto via Saigoneer
Hem Hem Lights up Saigon With the Electrifying Riffs of Japanese Ska
Saigoneer

A few months ago, Saigon residents and visitors from all over the world gathered for Hem Hem Saigon’s live ska music performance, losing themselves in the music and the energy. Some feet were inevitably stepped on multiple times, and everyone was soaked in sweat, but they couldn’t care less. People who couldn’t fit into the indoor stage were still rocking and dancing to the music together at the outside sitting area.

To this day I still count my first experience of attending a Hem Hem concert as one of the most memorable things I did while staying in Saigon. The time I spent with Hem Hem, a Japanese ska band based in the city, was truly something different from any of my past music performances. It was mind-blowing, to say the least, to see so many people who come from all walks of life — with different occupations, nationalities, age, and styles of fashion — just congregate and unite in that moment with the medium of happy ska music.

The Saigoneer team met the band one night in early March at a local community center where they were having a practice session.

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Via Popspoken
Fariz Jabba and OmarKENOBI Let Loose in Wacky Collaboration “Kalah”
Popspoken

Ever since Fariz Jabba met OmarKENOBI at an event through a mutual friend, they shared an instant connection and the rest is history. The wacky East-siders are collaborating for the first time on a synth-based track “Kalah” (Malay for “lose”) and will be releasing it on the eponymous Def Jam label. Except in this case, the message is clear in their fresh new drop. They stay at the top of their game with snazzy suits, smart quips and “never lose”.

Conceptualised in Fariz’s home studio and filmed by Jasper Tan of vadbibes which pokes fun at the Singapore kiasu (“scared to lose”) mindset, the infectious, satire rap track is the second solo release for omarKENOBI who has been featured on tracks by Sam Rui and other local artistes.

As for his co-creator, the 23-year old rapper whose stage name Fariz Jabba is a reference to hip-hop dance crew “Jabbawockeez” or the Arabic word, “jabbar” (almighty). Fariz has broken a couple of viral hits, and this track will build upon his previous viral successes, sharpening his vision and intention to create music.

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ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asia Radar is compiled every week. All sources and credit belong to the original publishers and writers. Click here for past editions of Southeast Asia Radar.

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