Majulah Malay Arts & Culture: Catch Esplanade - Theatre on the Bay’s Pesta Raya this May 2024

Published on 25 April 2024
By Team Catch

It may surprise some that the lyrics of our national anthem are in Malay, which is also our national language. Although the English language is more commonly used in Singapore, having Bahasa Melayu as our national language is a nod to our historical and geographical heritage.

Wide shot of Pesta Raya performers on stage

Singaporean Malay arts groups stay true to their Nusantara roots. Image credit: Danial Halim

Situated within the Malay archipelago, known as Nusantara in Javanese literature, our region is home to over 200 million people with diverse histories, cultures, and practices. Our location as a maritime crossroads grants us unparalleled access to the rich tapestry of Malay arts and culture, not only locally but also in Malaysia and Indonesia. Just like a rojak-mixing bowl, the arts and culture practices have multiple influences. For example, Chinese street opera is known in Singapore by its Malay name, “wayang”.


A collage of the Sultan Mosque and Hajjah Fatimah Mosque (from left to right)

Marvel at the architectural beauty of the Sultan Mosque and Hajjah Fatimah Mosque! (from left to right) Image credit: National Heritage Board and Learn Islam

Kampong Gelam district is a testament to our shared heritage, complete with some of the most striking architecture like the majestic Sultan Mosque, named after Sultan Hussain Shah, the 19th ruler of Johor-Riau. Find the Hajjah Fatimah Mosque nearby, a unique architectural gem designed by an unknown British architect in 1846, hence the unusually European look of its minaret that leans backwards at about 6 degrees because it was originally built on unstable ground.  



Malay arts groups like Sri Warisan, Nadi Singapura and Era Dance Theatre have continued thriving amid modernity, keeping traditional forms alive by blending contemporary techniques in their musical, theatre and dance performances.

Similarly, Sriwana, originating in the 1950s as a keroncong party -  literally, a music party or orchestra, has been entertaining audiences and encouraging participation in Malay song, dance, and theatre expressions.


Pesta Raya key visual

Dive into the world of Malay arts and culture at Pesta Raya! Image credit: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

There is also of course the annual Pesta Raya, a Malay Festival of Arts, organised by The Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. Expect 20 different events ranging from a Kelantanese dance workshop to an interesting “cine-concert”, where a silent film is scored with traditional Balinese gamelan and live electronic music. These events alone show that this is no ordinary collection of Nusantara arts.

Wide shot of Pesta Raya performers on stage Catch the various art forms that Malay culture has to offer at this year’s Pesta Raya! Image credit: Pesta Raya and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Pesta Raya always showcases the vast diversity of art forms and practices across the archipelago. Not only that, the culture’s resilience is prominent in how it embraces contemporary forms and techniques. The archipelago may be steeped in history, but its expression would certainly soar with collabs between Singaporean rapper ABANGSAPAU and Malaysia’s own Leaism in Malam Nusantara at The Esplanade’s outdoor theatre.

Experience Pesta Raya 2024 - a festival of Malay arts running from 9 to 12 May 2024 at various venues at The Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

Top image credit: Danial Halim


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