It was a blisteringly hot day when I pulled up to Havelly, which was just along Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur. But when I stepped into the restaurant, it was deliciously cool.
The restaurant had been set up with plenty of buntings, in case any patrons walking in wondered what was happening. It was impossible to miss.
The National Junior Dhol Competition was about to rock the floor of the Havelly!
Organised by Master Suki of Dholiz Malaysia, this competition aimed to give exposure to young dhol players. Held for the third year, the dhol competition was only RM100 per registrant, and featured the renowned Johnny Kalsi from United Kingdom as the chief judge.
There were two categories for the competitors – the Under-12, and the Under-18.
WHAT IS A DHOL?
“Wait!” I hear some of you asking. “What is a dhol?”
Dhol can refer to any one of a number of similar types of double-headed drum widely used, with regional variations, throughout the Indian subcontinent. The Punjabi dhol is perhaps best known abroad due to its prominent place in the rhythm of popular Punjabi bhangra music.
Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhol
See the poster above? The drum that the famous figure is holding is an example of a dhol.
There were two rounds which each participant had to go through – a drum solo, for about 4-5 minutes, and drumming to accompany a song. The Under-12s had pre-selected their song, but for the Under-18s, their song was chosen based on a ballot by the organiser – which means they had no idea what song would be played, and they might not even have heard it before!
Hailing from United Kingdom, Johnny Kalsi is the idol of everyone who loves to play the dhol. He rose to prominence as a former member of Tranglobal Underground and is the founder of the Dhol Foundation. He is also a member of the Afro Celt Sound System and The Imagined Village. He has released several music albums and worked with international celebrities such as Avril Lavigne, and some of his music has been featured in blockbuster movies, including Gangs of New Yorks and The Incredible Hulk.
He is the dhol player of all dhol players, and needless to say, all the young competitors were very excited to meet him!
Currently residing in Malaysia, Arvinder Raina is a music composer originally from Punjab. His focus is on Hindustani music and has released many of his own music albums, as well as composed songs for singers like Bollywood superstar Sunidhi Chauhan, and Malayian pop star Reshmonu. Arvinder Raina runs a music institute and is currently promoting Indian classical music in Malaysia.
One of our very own KL boys, Jet is a trained Indian classical singer with a blend of R&B and soul. He started playing the tabla at age 8 before progressing to other hand percussion. He has performed at numerous festivals around the world such as the Rainforest World Music Festival, Penang Jazz Festival, and the Caravanserai in the Midwest of America. He has released his own Punjabi album which was well-received in both India and Malaysia.
The Under-12s kicked off the competition with their drum solos, and this competition was strict – they actually kept time to make sure the competitors adhered to the time limit.
They may be young, but they were incredible! The playing was entertaining and rhythmic! I am not a dhol player, but I do appreciate music, and I was thoroughly impressed. The applause from the audience was a testament to this – it was sincere and encouraging.
This was very impressive from the boys who ranged from ages 6 to 12!
They had set the standards really high, and the Under-18s had a lot to live up to.
And how did the Under-18s do? They did not disappoint!
Then came the challenging round – drums to music.
The Under-12s, being younger and less experienced, played the dhol to their own pre-selected music.
The Under-18s were the one who had the real challenge. Like in an open dhol competition, the participants had to play to music that was selected for them by the organiser, usually randomly. They had no idea what song would be played, and there was no preview. The moment the song came on, they had to play the dhol to accompany the music. As Master Suki explained to me, “If they know the song, they’re lucky; but if they don’t, they will just have to do their best.”
Talk about challenging!
Of course, it was not all just dhol-playing during this event. We were also entertained with dances from Josh Banghraa, and even the emcee himself did some beatboxing.
Then, the moment that everyone was waiting for… the results!
How are the results tabulated? It was based on the marks that the judges gave on their marksheets, and not discussed among themselves, like how some competitions are. Liitha confided in me that even the judges did not know who the winners were – this was to ensure that the competition was as fair as possible.
And it was certainly fair – the winners were the players who played the dhol well, and it was not based on their costumes or showmanship. Don’t get me wrong – of course, they make up an important part of the performance, but the judges first and foremost looked at the dhol-playing aspect.
Champion: Farandeep Singh
1st Runner-Up: Jayvinderjit Singh
2nd Runner-Up: Devraaj Singh Sidhu
Champion: Harneil Singh
1st Runner-Up: Sanjeev Singh
2nd Runner-Up: Dinesh Kumar
Upon completion of the awards ceremony, there was a brief photo opportunity for everyone to take individual photos with the great Johnny Kalsi.
This was then followed by a free workshop by Johnny Kalsi. You didn’t need a dhol to attend the workshop; he explained the basics needed to play the dhol, which was about rhythm and practice.
It was a small competition, but it was a good one. It was lovely to see how enthusiastic the young dhol competitors were, and how supportive their families were in their endeavour. Plus, the crowd was just the right size for the children – not too big to overwhelm them, and not too small that it feels empty.
The organisers have done an amazing job, as the competition went on quite flawlessly. In fact, I really take my hat off to the organisers. They only charged RM100 per participant, with no entry fee for supporting families, and provided a free workshop by an amazing dhol player that would normally cost quite a lot per person.
Where else would you find such a selfless and generous organiser?
There is no doubt Master Suki firmly believes in providing an avenue for young dhol players to step forward and show their skill, and to help the dhol players community grow.
This of course could not have been possible without the sponsors who played an important part in the event, including Write Image Marketing, Josh Productions, and the venue sponsor Havelly who generously provided the meals and drinks for the organisers and participants (and the media!).
MDJ Dave of Havelly had also announced that there will be dhol lessons in this venue on weekends, to encourage more players to take up the dhol. His support is evident, also in the form of his son who had taken part in this competition – the youngest participant of the entire competition, 6-year-old Devraaj Singh Sidhu who was the 2nd runner-up in the Under-12 category.
Kudos to the Dholmania team! They have bigger plans for future dhol competitions, so keep an eye out for them!
For more photos of the event, take a look at the album in our Facebook Page!