It was in 1997 when Bernard Goh, Founder and Artistic Director of Hands Percussion, decided to take a leap of faith and pursue his dream by setting up a troupe that would share his love of rhythm and music with the masses. Little did he know then that this decision would be the start of something truly special.
“When we first started out, we never imagined that we’d be here now with 35 productions, over 60 international appearances and a good number of awards! We were just a bunch of guys who wanted to make loud music on our drums, who needed to be creative and be heard,” Goh reminisces. “I am proud of my members as well as grateful to everyone who has helped us in any way to get to where we are today. That being said, there is still a long road ahead, with many things to learn and do.”
When asked if there was anything he would have changed if he could do it all over again, Goh reveals that his vision for Hands Percussion has always been crystal clear: “Maybe not how I was going to do it, but I knew I wanted to get it done. That’s how we work best, by figuring things out as we go along. I need to be true to myself and my team. What we do is experimental and something we feel strongly about. It is honest and raw. So, there are no regrets.”
It is perhaps this relentless drive to break boundaries by presenting something new and unconventional that has enabled Goh to transform Hands Percussion into the worldclass multi-disciplinary performing arts ensemble it is today. Just last year, the group celebrated a major milestone with Synthesis: A Repertoire of Resonance, which marked its first-ever performance at Kuala Lumpur’s premier concert hall, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas. During this special showcase, the audience was treated to several pieces selected from the troupe’s numerous performances in the past, which included the award-winning Tchaikovsky on Gamelan from 2014.
According to Goh, while each production is different, his latest rhythmic tour de force, Percussion Paradise, which is part of this year’s DiverseCity, holds a special place in his heart: “It is a gift that expresses our past 20 years of performing as an ensemble, and also celebrates the group’s varying productions that have resulted from our extensive travelling and collaborations with various artists.
“Percussion Paradise is also a reflection of how we have grown as performers – not only from everything that we have experienced as a group, but also through the different types of physical and percussion training that we’ve endured along the way. Our teachers and instructors will also be joining us on stage for this performance, and we have choreographed and composed pieces just for them, which was one of the main challenges of this production.”
Of course, none of this would have ever been possible without the support of those who have followed the group’s journey from the very beginning. As Goh thankfully states: “We wouldn’t be here without our fans and critics, our family members and friends in the media as well as the industry. Many of them have stood by us over the years – through our highs and lows as well as non-typical experimental productions like Souls in Love, Lafaz Gema, Tchaikovsky on Gamelan and OPIUM.
“If anything, I would like to tell them to take any inspiration that they get from our productions or the other things we do, and use it to make good choices and nurture positive communication with the people they care about. This can be through community work, teaching or just about anything that stirs their soul. It’s all about supporting and being there for one another.”
He adds: “How an audience member interprets a show is based not only on what they see and hear, but also on the kind of person they are, which is linked to their values, experiences, expectations and so forth. For Percussion Paradise, I can only hope that the audience will come with an open mind and no expectations.”
As for the future, Goh reveals that he has pondered over what he would like to achieve within the next decade: “Hopefully, by then, Hands Percussion will be financially independent, which will give us the freedom to do whatever we like on our own terms. This can be for both artistic reasons as well as the benefit of the performing arts community and society through establishing positive initiatives suitable for all ages. We’re also looking into the possibility of launching our very own multi-purpose performing arts centre that will focus on progressive percussion – a space where artists and others interested in this discipline can converge, learn and share with one another.”
UPDATED: Percussion Paradise has been rescheduled to 30 September and will now take place at the Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre at 3PM and 830PM. For tickets, visit diversecity.my
TEXT MAYA MICHAEL
PHOTOGRAPHY ROBIN LIEW
ART DIRECTION PENNY CHEW