Bernard Goh remembers himself as a boy of five as if it was just yesterday. Together with his mother, they would often swing by his grandfather’s place, bringing with them a warm home-cooked meal.

“My grandfather would hug me and put me on his lap before starting on his lunch. I remember that his house was always smoky, with sun rays streaming in through the windows. It was really beautiful,” recalls Goh, 45, in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

The Seremban-born Goh, one of the co-founders of Hands Percussion unit (along with Eric Ch’ng) in 1997, has seen the percussion-based ensemble grow into its own as one of Malaysia’s most diverse cultural and performing arts concerns.

Hands Percussion, from being arts/music festival regulars, cultural ambassadors and frequent international collaborators, has achieved a great deal – in terms of success and acclaim – since it started touring abroad in 2004.

For Goh, the group’s upcoming show series OpiumArtistic Expressions By French And Malaysian Artists at the DPAC Arts Festival at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Petaling Jaya from July 26-31 looks back at a personal memory.

In those days, opium-smoking was very much in vogue, and Goh’s grandfather, evidently, was a man of the times.

Hands Percussion during a rehearsal for Opium.

Hands Percussion during a rehearsal for Opium.

Bernard Goh, founder and artistic director of Hands Percussion. Photo: Dev Lee

Bernard Goh, founder and artistic director of Hands Percussion. Photo: Dev Lee

Hands Percussion’s show, Opium, borrows its name from these memories of childhood, family and love.

But above all, it symbolises life lessons – how experience guides outlook, and how choice shapes destiny.

“Having an optimistic outlook really helps when you face obstacles in life. The show is all about positive energy and good vibes,” says Goh, the artistic director of Hands Percussion.

As part of the DPAC Arts Festival, Opium will be Hands Percussion’s first site-specific production, where three performances will be simultaneously presented at three different sites at DPAC. The audience, split into three groups, will move from one site to the other, before coming together in a fourth space for the finale.

Opium, which combines drumming, movement, music, installation art and a live calligraphy demonstration, strives to not just entertain, but also encourage the audience to dig a little deeper into their own thoughts and observations.

“The name Opium means a lot to me as it is a show born out of the love I have for my grandpa and my love for the arts. It is not a story about my past, I merely draw upon these memories and translate them into music and movement,” says Goh.

Additionally, the show also makes references to Goh’s fascination with France and its vibrant arts culture.

Goh relates how, in hindsight, there were always bits and pieces of familiar French images and melodies that followed him through life. During his childhood, he recalls a vintage poster girl posing with the Eiffel tower in his Seremban home and his mother’s music box playing Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose. A little later in life, a young man’s dream to visit Paris, the city of love, came true when Goh visited the city in his early 30s.

“But when I finally got an opportunity to visit Paris, it broke my heart. It was not what I imagined it to be. I thought the city was dirty and smelly, and the people unfriendly,” he recalls.

Over the years, though, he returned to France several times and eventually it not only grew on him, but he discovered a side to the country and its people that was not apparent the first time.

“Despite not having a good first impression, I soon realised that there was a lot I have yet to discover. The city has a certain vibrance about it and it was not long before I started to fall in love with this country all over again,” he says.

The multi-site aspect of Opium reflects Goh’s exploration of Paris on foot, where it was through walking that he stumbled across charming cafes and little art galleries tucked away in little-ventured corners and streets.

“So just like how you explore a city, the audience will be walking around for the show. And in moving around to see and explore, you will hopefully come across new things,” he says.

Opium merges the ideas and expertise of local talents, including DPAC artistic director Wong Jyh Shyong, calligrapher Ong Chia Koon, musician Howz, installation artist Muji Lee, music director Ng Siu Yee, arranger Yuan Leow Yunn and fashion designer Joe Chia. The main French performers are singer Mathilde Limal, visual artist Anne Deguerry and cellist Florian Antier.

Gideon Alu8khan Chen and Azli Taslim will be performing on guitar and accordion, respectively. The music in Opium will include original French songs, vintage French music (rearranged), Chinese-inspired melodies, ambient and experimental music.

Opium will have the drumming that everyone associates with a Hands’ performance, but the group is venturing out and testing new waters with this show. It is a completely new take on things for us, where artists come together and share their feelings and experiences. It is a show that is very meaningful,” says Goh, who been busy with Hands Percussion, presenting the KL show Inspiring 1000 in May and also a French tour that same month.

He believes that music is often a trigger of sometimes long-forgotten memories and associations, and the audience will each take away something different from Opium.

“I hope the show will open your eyes to the beauty in life, that we must hold on to our faith, and most importantly, that there is always room to dream,” he says.


Hands Percussion’s Opium – Artistic Expressions By French And Malaysian Artists runs at Damansara Performing Arts Centre, Empire Damansara, Petaling Jaya on July 26-31. Call 03-4065 0001 / 0002 or visit www.dpac.com.my for more info.