with Lenggang Raya (20 & 21 May 2023)
Today’s rehearsal opens with an immediacy of colours and bodies on my laptop screen. The ladies enter with more ease—along with Hasyimah too, who is now comfortably seated in her living room instead of a “bawah blok” situation. It seems that everyone is now mentally prepared to be seated comfortably, the ladies’ living rooms on display. My eyes can’t help but take it all in—the human instinct to poke around still lingers in me, even within tiny boxes on my screen, that offer a very limited view of someone’s home. It’s like a premature Hari Raya visit, reminiscent of 2020 where this was the protocol. Kak Mazni and Ari are the only exception, going around her neighbourhood once more to find a place to take the call. I’m reminded a little of how even online presences are fraught with some form of privilege. Some of us need to physically step out of the home to participate, especially in more intimate sessions like a rehearsal. A physical space can be respite for some, while home or work is not.
Our Zoom Room opening, making small chatter with the JG as we wait for the others to enter as well.
Our agenda today is to get physical and musical elements sorted. The ladies were tasked with looking for a Hari Raya song they resonate with, as well as to get an idea of what style of dance they want to explore. Many familiar names and songs immediately start being dropped—Siti Nurhaliza, Dolla, Sharifah Aini. Flashes of Malay women in simple baju kurung now doing workout choreography to these familiar songs, alongside men in really really tight clothes prancing on a stage to the same music.
I have to admit I am slightly shocked, fascinated and appalled by all the content, both new and old. When it comes to Hari Raya (and most particularly the music that comes with the holiday), I personally cling onto nostalgia completely. As a consequence, I reject newer Hari Raya songs, constantly dissatisfied by the very clearly orchestrated sets and auto tuned voices, kids in costly clothes and makeup. It seems that the ladies are more up to date than I am, in spite of the glaring generation gap. I have to wonder what it means to me—to be steadfast in certain cultural aspects of my life, but “progressive” in other aspects. In performance especially, when we are constantly trying to merge “traditional” and “contemporary” practices. Perhaps we are, at any stage of life and progress, still struggling trying to make sense of what it means to move forward. It is hard not to think of our relationship to Singapore in the midst of all this, where our bodies are the vessels storing nostalgia and history, and not the land itself.
It is also hard to avoid just how Malayness and Muslimness have eclipsed. Two unique identities, now perceived as completely singular in a South East Asian context. It is difficult to discern where Malayness begins, and where Muslimness ends, with each new Hari Raya video that gets screen-shared.
Listening to these songs though, and picking them apart with the ladies also reveals a lot of personal nostalgia to the women. For most of them, Hari Raya is an occasion that they associate with a lot of domestic effort actions. In ideating a possible number, the common thread of suggestions often comes in the form of cooking, ushering people into homes, making ketupat. If the ladies could narrow their artistic interests down in a more formal way, it’s interesting to see just how invested these women are in picking apart their own livelihoods—that stem from cultural and gendered expectations. There are so many actions we associate with Malayness—salam tangan, mintak maaf, etc. While defined, these actions also live in very intimate but fleeting moments. Especially during cultural occasions, where mintak maaf is a short but emotional affair, cooking reserved in the wee hours of the morning, while family and potential guests sleep. Perhaps this interest is also what made Kembali so effective—reclaiming and maximising moments that get lost in the sea of 24 hours in a day can be powerful, a way to assert the importance of belief, gendered labour and emotion.
Towards the end of the session, we ideate of an alternative name for the group of ladies. Hasyimah feels strongly about giving an identity for their artistic pursuits/collaborations, something that wasn’t just “Monfort Care Elders”, because it is clear that they’ve grown past that. There is a suggestion for “Nenek Nenek Glamour”, but the room immediately snaps—Kita belum nenek nenek lagi!
Kak Mazni suggests the word “Gelora”, and the Zoom room takes a moment when that word is suggested. It seems to resonate, and it is decided. From this moment on, Montfort Care Elders have evolved to the Jiwa Galoreez ladies. A new identity cemented, something that is now finally their own.