PETALING JAYA: “The further you go, the closer you feel to home.” Performer and artist Atjap Salam of homegrown band Salammusik personally knows the truth of this classic saying.
Coming from a multi-racial family, the Petaling Jaya-born Atjap often had questions about belonging and fitting in. Despite this, the young man never truly explored his roots, preferring to submerge himself within the local reggae subculture instead.
“It was only when I came to The Netherlands to study about 15 years ago that I was suddenly triggered by a deeper interest in my own history and culture. And this interest really grew as I was here,” Atjap, 35, shared during a recent Zoom interview with FMT Lifestyle.
“So I created an album inspired by the subject, as a reminder of where I came from. And to frame it in a form that people could enjoy!”
And this album, “Riwayat” (Malay for “history”) was released in 2019 to critical acclaim.
Only available in hard copy (sorry streamers), the album can be purchased off the band’s website: the CD also comes with a hardcover art book which explores and visualises the history of Malaysia through a mix of music, painting, and poetry.
Alternatively, if you’re in The Netherlands this week, head to the Cloud Gallery in Amsterdam, and check out “Riwayat”, which is playing there as part of the “Akar Arts” exhibition until Monday.
Also on display is “Membara Di Bawah Bayang” (“Rage Beneath the Shadow)”, three batik-inspired print artworks created by Atjap.
These artworks borrow from Riwayat’s first tracks, “Sedia”, which serves as a rallying cry to rise up and defend the country in the wake of a major threat.
“The artwork depicts the invasion of the Japanese army in the 1940s. I think that was one of the darkest memories in our history. And I hope this helps remind us that even when things seem at their worst, we can still get through and create a better future,” Atjap reflected.
Organised by the Cloud Amsterdam gallery space in collaboration with the Association of the Netherlands-Malaysia, “Akar Arts” showcases six emerging Dutch-based Malaysian artists: Salam, Marcos Kueh and Isabelle Nair-Lacheta, Elias Mohd, Jan Schilthuizen, and Riff Ariffin.
Each of the artists’ works is a unique interpretation of their Malaysian roots as they navigate personal experiences, universal themes, and societal issues.
Atjap, who is now based in Amsterdam, has been part of Salammusik, a 10-member Malaysian musical group, since its genesis in 2006.
On Zoom, the laid-back, dreadlocked singer was candid and forthcoming, gleefully speaking about his deep passion for music.
Most fans enjoy Salammusik for their rich musical stylings, which are majorly influenced by reggae and hip-hop, frequently blending traditional Malay sounds with modern and contemporary influences.
The group’s self-titled first album won the Best Album award at the 19th Malaysian Music Industry Awards (AIM19) in 2012, while their track “Aku Pelat” picked up the Best Hip-Hop Song honour the following year.
Opening with the iconic recording of first Malaysian Prime Minister Tuanku Abdul Rahman proclaiming independence, “Riwayat” contains 11 tracks inspired by the history of Malaysia.
These tracks include “Tiada Rasa Sebaris Kata”, “Cengkaman Beracun” and “Malam Terlerai”.
While he loved every song on the album, Atjap had a special space in his heart for the poignant “Utusan Kasih”.
“It’s the story of a father reading a letter to his kids before he goes to battle. It’s very personal, it could have been something my own father wrote to me,” the singer said.
You might expect cultural barriers to be an issue, performing the Malay songs of “Riwayat” to the art lovers of Amsterdam. Atjap, however, happily reports that things are going well so far.
One of his favourite pieces of feedback is from an audience member who told him: “I don’t know what the (censored) you guys are singing about, but I can definitely feel it!”
“People are curious about us, because our sound is nothing like you can find here in Amsterdam. They walk backstage to meet us and ask all sorts of questions.
“Like we have a song on our first album called ‘Alamak’, and a lot of people always want to know what that means! But they sing along to it. We’ve really been blessed to have these opportunities, the band has been well accepted here,” laughed Atjap.
Atjap and Salammusik have many plans for the future: they will be performing in Indonesia in August, and at another festival in September. New songs are in the pipework, as well as new collaborative projects: the band might even be planning another European tour soon.
“There’s definitely a lot to look forward to. And I hope everyone enjoys coming along for the ride,” Atjap concluded with a smile.
‘Akar Arts’ @ Cloud Amsterdam
1016 HJ, Amsterdam