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Exploring the Beauty of Malay Music: Singing in Malay

Updated: May 21

Hi there! 

Elizabeth here with Overdressed. Most of you know that I am from Malaysia. So, since we are doing a world language theme for our first Simply Overdressed show on May 24 2024, AND it is during the AAPI month, I thought, why not include a Malay folk song from my childhood!

The folk song we will be sharing is called Wau Bulan, which literally translates to Kite Moon. 

Wau “kite” in general is a traditional kite that has a wing span of about 9 feet across, and 12 feet vertically. It is a big kite, and it usually takes a group of people to fly one. Now, what is so cool about this kite is that they are all hand woven with ornate weaving and have a bamboo frame.  There are 14 types of these giant kites across the country of Malaysia, and wau bulan is one of the 14. Each of these 14 comes from a different state in Malaysia, and wau bulan is from the Northern part of the peninsula, from a state called Kelantan. 

Wau Bulan or “Moon Kite” is a crescent shape kite. Wau Bulan is commonly recognized as a Malaysian Kite or a symbol of the Malay people. It has become a synonymous representation of the Malaysian community and its cultural heritage.

This blog post has a really cool write up about the history of it:

*There are also normal sized kites in Malaysia, and they are called "layang-layang".

This song is usually performed in a style called ‘dikir barat’. This is a style of performing where a choir would sit in rows, and sing this song with hand and upper torso choreography. But here, we will just do what we call, ‘park and bark’ style. Ha! 

This song is sung in the Malay language, also called ‘Bahasa’ by Malays and Indonesians. This language is widely used in Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Myanmar. It is the national language of Malaysia and Indonesia. Fun fact! It is one of the oldest languages in the world, with origins dating back to the 7th century. It has influences from Sanskrit and Arabic. Super cool! 

And yes - I do speak Malay, but it is not my strongest language because I am out of practice. I’ve been in the US for 10 years now, and I hardly bump into another fellow Bahasa speaker. But I definitely did grow up speaking Malay. In fact, all through high school, all my classes were in the Malay Language. Yep - you got it right. All my science and math and all classes were in Malay. So, I learned ‘bikar’ instead of ‘beaker’; ‘trigonometri’ instead of ‘trigonometry”, and so forth. You get the idea. 

I can go on forever to share about my heritage, but maybe I can do that slowly over the summer, instead of fact dumping on you all at once. 

I hope you’ll come see the show, and if you are at the show right now while reading this, I hope you enjoy this song - Wau Bulan.

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