KOTA KINABALU: George Albert Nuli had a simple plan when he was invited to showcase the art of making sompoton, an iconic Kadazandusun Murut (KDM) mouth organ, at the recent Langkawi Craft Musical Fest.
The 51-year-old from Kota Belud, in the northern district of Sabah, thought he only needed to demonstrate, to a certain degree, how it is made, and maybe give one or two solo performances using the traditional wind instrument.
But little did he know that he would become the centre of attention at the event organised by Kraftangan Malaysia at the Langkawi Craft Complex in Teluk Yu from Dec 11-19.
He said while visitors were fascinated to see and touch the sompoton, an instrument many admitted they had never even known existed, it wasn’t until he performed in an ensemble that included other Malaysian traditional musical instruments that people really took notice.
George said besides the sompoton, the instruments in their performance included the angklung, the gendang Kedah and the rebana. They played traditional Malay tunes as well as the Sabah hit-song “Tanak Kampung”.
“I never expected it but we were a hit,” the Sabahan of Dusun Tindal descent told FMT.
“The melody was played using the angklung while I accompanied the rhythm with the sompoton, while the percussion was backed up by the gendang and the rebana.
“I think people loved seeing how the sompoton could be integrated to play with other traditional instruments. And of course, the ‘sinipak’ (the traditional Dusun Tindal costume) was also a draw.”
The sompoton, the main components of which are bamboo and dried gourd, differs from the flute, as it is played by both inhaling and exhaling.
George said the ensemble was such a hit that the event organiser requested them to perform for three straight nights at Pantai Cenang so that they could attract a bigger crowd to the exhibition. It worked.
“People gathered to see us play after hearing the music we played. After the performance, we handed them leaflets, inviting them to the Langkawi Craft Musical Fest and many came,” he said.
“Most of the comments were that they enjoyed and were touched seeing various traditional musical instruments coming together – they said we really looked like a family, a Malaysian family.”
It is worth noting that it was not the first time George had been to Langkawi – he had visited the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (Lima) exhibition before the pandemic.
But he said the feeling and experience this time around was different.
“After all the hardship we went through in the past two years and the uncertainties that might have divided the country, maybe people just yearned to see everyone uniting.
“And I believe we did that through music and our respective traditional musical instruments,” he said.
George said he is grateful for the interest shown by the people for his craft.
“Visitors kept asking me questions when I was demonstrating how to make the sompoton – they said it looked easy but not so when they learned of the material needed to finish one.
“And at the same time, I am proud to carry the Sabah flag as I got a chance to feature Sabah culture and values,” he said.
He hoped that this would inspire more people, especially those in his home state, to take up sompoton making, which he said is a dying art.