Dikir Barat in my belief came about from an Indian performance, usually seen during the harvest season. This performance, has the same concept comprising of a choir, musicians & a main singer. I believe that they (the Indians, who, at that time were popular with working on merchant ships) have transcended this culture to the places that they made their port of call, namely the East Asian regions. One of these ports have to be Thailand that resulted in this art being absorbed into their culture. However, it seemed to have gained a popular momentum among the malays in Kelantan (a state in Malaysia) which is very close to the Thai border. It has then since been a a performance art associated with Malays rather than the Thais. From Kelantan, it was immersed into the other regions of Malay Peninsula and the Malay Archipelago until it eventually resides in Singapore.
Dikir Barat interest in Singapore was sparked off in 1983 when a Malaysian student from Kelantan mooted the idea of a Dikir Barat performance as one of the cultural items to celebrate Teachers' Day. The NYJC Malay Language and Cultural Society takes pride in having played a prominent role in promoting this art form in Singapore. 1984 saw the College pioneering the first inter-school/college Dikir Barat competition. "Gema Dikir Barat" or "The Echoes of Choral Singing" became the rallying and thematic call of the competition. The response was overwhelming till to date that it has become the father of all Dikir Barat competitions in Singapore.
The speciality of Dikir Barat is is that it has a certain kind of energy which revives the audience in a way through its musical form. Dikir Barat is a verbal art form. It centres in a matching of wits between two teams of not less than 10 people each. Each side has a leader. Each team weaves a continuous stream of impromptu, rhythmic verses, ridiculing and pinning down the arguments of the opposing site. The main characters in this performance is the Tok Juara and the Tukang Karut. The earlier, being the 'head' of the group, who usually sings a long song comprising of a chorus and several verses. The Tukang Karut, on the other hand, sings songs in short bursts. He is usually the wittier of the two and does most of the ridiculing. The rest of the group is made up of the choir and the percussionists who play the instruments to make the music.
These percussionists, usually made up of around 5 people, have a role to play. The main percussionist, plays the main drum, which is called the Rebana Ibu. It is quite a big drum which is locked in place betweem the players foot and knee, making a full sound when hit. The next person plays the Rebana Anak, a smaller version of the Rebana Ibu, thus making a much more sharper sound. The third person then plays the Gong, one of which is quite familiar to not only Malay culture but to other cultures as well. The rest of the percussionists plays the Canang (which are smaller versions of the gong) or the Maracuss.
The rest of the group, are called the 'Awok-Awok'. Literally translated it is the plural of you (in other words "you all"). It came about from the Kelantanese dialect "awok" which means 'you'. The 'Awok-Awok' are sometimes considered by the audience, as the life of the dikir barat group with their choral singing and synchronised body and hand movements. These movements sway rhythmatically to the beat of the song, thus, making it an awesome spectacle to watch.
The costumes that a dikir barat troupe put on is usually made up of the basic malay baju Melayu for men and baju kurung for women. Several touches are added here and there to give the clothes a majestic feel and to liven up the group. Colors used range from a huge variety, - from bright red to even pale blue.
The above description of Dikir Barat, is derived from my own experience & with the invaluable help from Farizal, from whom I retrieve most of the text above. Hats off to him for an excellent interpretation of the Art into a document. Excerpts were also taken from the Nanyang Junior College(NYJC) publication documents.
Please send any comments or kudus to Pak Wan.