Where consciousness of race melts away


Photo Credit: Azrol Ali
Photo Credit: Azrol Ali

PETALING JAYA: If you spend too much time with social media, you’re likely to get depressed by all the racism and intolerance displayed there. You might even think that Malaysians are just a bunch of racists, excluding yourself, of course.

But turn your gaze away from your smartphone and take a look around you. You’ll find many places where race melts away and people are conscious only of enjoying one another’s company. One such place is a little corner of Damansara, where a band from the Philippines is indirectly helping Malaysians realise the true meaning of 1Malaysia.

D’Cuatro Calientes is a family band made up of Danny and Connie Olivera and their son Billy and his wife Lissa. Performing outside the Asam Pedas restaurant at The Curve, it has managed to bring together Malaysians of various races under the umbrella of love for song and dance.

D’Cuatro Calientes performs at the street section of The Curve and the performance is so engaging that even passers-by would move to the beat.

And there are couples who would slow dance in the open area in front of the band under the night sky. Some shoppers probably assume they are a group hired to dance to the band’s accompaniment. However, they are just patrons of The Curve who would, especially on weekends, hang out to hear the band perform. They dance simply because they love to do it. They call themselves the Asam Pedas Family.

The family began with Alan Lee and his wife Susan Yeoh, both retirees. It has grown over the years, and now Alan and Susan are the “proud parents” of a crowd of young people who share their love for song and dance.

Photo Credit: Azrol Ali
Photo Credit: Azrol Ali

“The group slowly got bigger over the years,” Yeoh, 70, told FMT. “More and more people came here to dance. They found that the ambience is good and the music is good. It’s a very healthy place, open air, and I think it would be good for the youngsters to come and get together.”

Lee, who is 71, said it all started more than five years ago. “My wife and I started dancing and one of the young boys asked if he could join. And then the group just started to grow.

I used to look in YouTube for dance steps. I learned them and I teach them. These people learn very fast.”

He pointed to a Michael Jackson impersonator who had earlier danced to the band’s performance of “Billie Jean”, to the cheers of passing shoppers.

“I encouraged MJ there to come up and dance,” he said, smiling proudly. “He was just sitting there, very shy. I gave him the semangat to come up and dance. Now he is part of the family.”

MJ is 43-year-old Faizal Habib Ahmad, who works in a hospital. He often hangs out at the place with his three children, and they would all dance.

“I come here often to hear the live band,” he said. “At first, I was shy. Then one day, they played the song ‘Uptown Funk’ and pulled me in.”

He said it was from that point on that he became acquainted with the other members of the Asam Pedas Family.

Another member of the family is Irwan Kurniawan Abdullah, who is a freelance dancer and a choreographer.

“I’ve been coming to The Curve since I was 19,” he said. “Until then, I was just doing street dancing, When I came here and saw an elderly Chinese couple dancing, I was fascinated. I wanted to learn more.”

That was how he joined the family. He is light on his feet and is an attraction to shoppers walking by.

“I have gotten some dance jobs from voluntarily performing here,” he said.

August Ang, 67, said the place gave him an outlet for fun and exercise as well as the satisfaction of seeing the beauty in the camaraderie between Malaysians of various races.

“It’s back to the old days before politics and all that,” he said. “This is what I experienced in my kampung in Tengkera, Malacca. It doesn’t matter who you are. We don’t see races. We see friends.”

Asam Pedas mother Yeoh expressed similar sentiments. She described the family as an embodiment of 1Malaysia.

“We are 1Malaysia here. We don’t think of religion, we don’t think of races. We are one happy family and we celebrate our birthdays and all the cultural festivals. If it’s Hari Raya, we celebrate Hari Raya. If it’s Chinese New Year, we celebrate Chinese New Year.”

As for Connie, she said she was happy observing the harmony among Malaysians.

She expressed pride in her band’s ability to sing Malay lyrics to the tune of “Miss Na Miss Kita”, a song from the Philippines. The translation was provided by a local lyricist, Azmi Abdul Rahman, who also frequents The Curve and enjoys listening to D’Cuatro Calientes and watching the Asam Pedas Family dance.

Lee, the proud Asam Pedas father, said of Malaysians in general: “We should start to think of each other as a family. We should start to think of helping one another, of giving. It doesn’t have to be money; it could be in the form of words of encouragement.”

And then he burst into a line of the song. “You gotta show a little kindness,” he sang, and there is indeed no better song with which to wrap up this article than the Glen Campbell tune.

Photo Credit: Azrol Ali
Photo Credit: Azrol Ali