At 26, percussionist Riduan Zalani travels the world over, flying the Singapore flag high as he spreads the gospel of drums and percussion music to audiences worldwide. Affectionately known as “Uan” among his band mates and students, the musician’s passion and determination has made him a member of at least five different bands and brought him to perform all over the world.
But things weren’t always so smooth-sailing for one of Singapore’s leading percussionists, a finalist in the Yahoo! Singapore 9 campaign.
Uan’s childhood was filled with hardship and poverty, but instead of feeling bitter, the musician oozes optimism and gratitude.
During a recent e-mail interview from a hectic multi-city tour in Germany, where he is currently touring with Batucada Sound Machine, a New Zealand fusion percussion band, Uan revealed that his dad left home at a very early stage.
As the eldest of five siblings, Uan was forced into the father-figure role and took over his family’s financial burdens. He and his family continued living in their cramped one-room flat for more than 12 years, saving up bit-by-bit over the years for a bigger home.
“I had to make difficult decisions such as staying away from home for close to seven years in order to practise, work and study to provide for my family. I’ve done so many kinds of jobs, including being a cleaner,” he said.
In spite of all this, Uan’s belief in his dreams led him to take a huge risk in becoming a percussionist.
Uan’s initial exposure to music and drums came when he was just seven years old. While immersing himself in the world of Malay music and arts, he envisaged himself using different approaches to transform traditional music and immediately knew what he wanted.
Explaining why he took the off-the-beaten track to become a drummer, he said, “I have a strong desire to bring our Southeast Asian heritage and practices to the masses and to the world.”
He added, “I love the spirit of the drums and the life it evokes. I love how it haunts me, bringing joy to me and others who listen to it. I believe that it's the only instrument in the world that cannot bring sadness.”
Without a drumming instructor to guide him, Uan set out to study and understand music from all over the world.
“I started listening to Middle-eastern, African, Cuban, Oriental and Brazilian music in order to be sensitive to the origins, practices and traditions of the particular instrument and style,” he said. “But my understanding of the music form was just on the surface and I knew that I had to do more.”
With that, Uan decided to drop his engineering studies in Singapore Polytechnic to pursue World Music (Ethnomusicology) in LASALLE College of the Arts.
Without the ability to read musical notations, Uan was offered a place in LASALLE, purely based on his performance experiences.
“I didn’t want to waste the opportunity or the trust given so I started pushing myself and expanded my listening material,” said the humble musician.
Uan’s hardwork definitely paid off and in the final year of his studies, he was awarded the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award.
Acknowledging how his difficult childhood shaped his character, he added, “I think the only reason why I’ve always given my all in whatever I do is because of the lessons I’ve learnt in life. I truly believe that what I am today is a product of my yesterday.”
Now, the LASALLE graduate can be seen performing with his bands such as Wicked Aura Batucada, OrkeStar Trio and SONOFA.
Uan’s musical journey has seen him perform in Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
He has also starred in major international music festivals such include WOMAD, Sri Lanka Festival of Drums and collaborated with internationally-acclaimed jazz pianists Jeremy Monteiro and Michael Veerapan.
SPREADING THE JOY OF DRUMS
True to his vision of bringing percussion music to the masses, Uan is also an instructor to aspiring percussionists such as Sambiesta, a Singapore-based Afro-Brazilian band and Singapore Management University’s percussion band, Samba Masala.
Crystal Wong, a member of Sambiesta said, “Uan is a very enthusiastic instructor whose passion for rhythms and music really exudes while teaching us. He’s a very encouraging instructor whom we really respect.”
Wong continued, “He truly loves what he does and that inspires us and reminds us to work hard and pursue whatever we can excel in.”
Another of his students, Nicholas Tan, music director of Samba Masala said, “Uan embodies the spirit of passion, dedication and perseverance. Sometimes, he would even spend a few years on a particular instrument in order to master it.”
Uan’s passion in reaching out to other percussionists in the community won over the hearts of Yahoo! Singapore 9 judges, Michel Lu, Adrian Pang and Elim Chew, prompting them to choose him as one of the three finalists in the entertainment category.
Pang, who explained the judges were looking out for nominees who reached out to the community with their work, highlighted the example of Uan, who nurtures and mentors other aspiring percussionists.
When told about what the judges had said, Uan was deeply humbled and surprised at the same time.
“Being nominated is unimaginable. I’m flabbergasted! Being in the top 9 is a true blessing. It shows trust, belief and respect in the artiste and will allow me to further excel,” he said.
When asked about what he felt about the opportunities as a musician and artiste in Singapore, Uan describes the city as “a small growing scene, full of potential and great role models”.
“We have to accept that we’re still a young society and there’s more steps to take to become a recognised industry in the eyes of the world. But we're getting there with the emergence of trailblazers and instigators.”
VOTE FOR RIDUAN ZALANI IN THE ENTERTAINMENT CATEGORY HERE.
Young S’pore percussionist spreads joy of drums to audiences worldwideBy Melissa Law | Singapore 9 – Mon, Jul 30, 2012
As part of this year's National Day celebrations, we are honouring 9 outstanding Singaporeans under the age of 35 who've made their mark in the area of Business, Social Enterrprise or Entertainment. Role models and visionaries, they are the future leaders of Singapore.
See the best photos from our wrap-up party as we announce the winners in each category.
See the slideshow