What do you get when you combine the traditional sounds of sape and frog-shaped guiro with acoustic guitar and bass? For student band Sada Borneo, you get a ticket to the Asia’s Got Talent semi-finals in Singapore.

Sounds unbelievable? Celebrity judges Anggun, Vanness Wu, Melanie Chisholm and David Foster probably had the same thought when they heard Sada Borneo’s stellar performance for the first time.

The five-piece band led by 24-year-old Hallan Hashim wowed the judges with its performance of Sada Borneo, a single it released on iTunes. The title loosely translates to “The Sound Of Borneo”.

By utilising the hypnotic tune of the sape and frog-shaped guiro, the band was able to replicate the lush rhythm of the rainforest in its performance. Sada Borneo also incorporated the sound of acoustic guitar and bass for a delicate modern touch.

The band got all four judges to say “Yes” to its performance which gave the members a chance to advance to the next round. However, Foster voiced his doubts about the group’s use of modern instruments in its performance.

“The ethnicity of what you did, and the cultural showcase did transport me. But I didn’t like the bass guitar and acoustic guitar in the mix,” Foster said in his comment to Sada Borneo.

In a phone interview from Penang where Sada Borneo is currently based, Hallan thought Foster’s comment was fair.

Sada Borneo

Sada Borneo performs an instrumental piece inspired by the sounds of nature for the judges of Asia’s Got Talent.

“I accept his feedback because he’s a legend in the music industry. We got some ideas on how to elevate the traditional music aspect of our group in the next performance,” said Hallan. Others in the band include Julian Frederick, Mohd Hilmi Isa, Allister Changat and Nick Fadriel John.

Formed in 2011, Sada Borneo originally consisted of 11 students from Universiti Sains Malaysia in Gelugor, Penang. Hallan said “the band is made of students who share the same passion for music”.

For the Asia’s Got Talent stage, however, Hallan explained that at the time of the audition, only five of them could make it. For the rest of the competition, they would have to continue as a five-piece band.

“Our band’s manifesto is to expose the sound of traditional instruments like sape, suling and rainstick to more people. We want to keep the legacy of traditional music alive,” Hallan said.

Allister, 22, concurred. “In this modern age, we don’t want traditional instruments to be forgotten,” he said.

When they auditioned for the first stage of the competition in Kuala Lumpur back in September last year, Hallan confessed that he and the rest of the band members were nervous.

“We’ve only performed at university showcases and to our peers, so Asia’s Got Talent was our first time doing something out of our comfort zone,” Hallan said.

Allister added: “Plus our talent was to showcase something that is not in the mainstream genre. So, we were definitely feeling the pressure.”

When they had to perform in front of the celebrity judges, Hallan said they calmed their nerves by reminding themselves of the band’s objective.

“Do this for the country,” recalled Hallan.

Tonight, Sada Borneo will square off against seven other talents for a spot in the finals. Fellow semifinalists include Japanese dance crew Time Machine and opera singer Toshanbor Singh from India.

Should Sada Borneo make it to the finals, the band has a shot at winning the grand prize of US$100,000 (RM356,290) cash.

But the idea of a lucrative cash prize is far from the thoughts of the band. Sada Borneo is more concerned about giving a performance that will make Malaysia proud.

Juggling music and studies is also important for the guys. “Our parents are very supportive of our journey so far. But they have reminded us to not forget about our studies,” said Hallan, who is in his final year in management while Allister is doing a degree in biology.

He also said the rest of the band members are very thankful for the support they’ve received from viewers and fans.

“We are aware of the pressures of being the only Malaysian group in the competition. Regardless of how nervous we feel, we’re going to do our best.”

Catch Sada Borneo on Asia’s Got Talent tonight at 8pm on AXN (Astro Ch 701).