Music is a form of expression that is able to reach to the hearts of many and is always a part of life as it can be heard everywhere. But what happens when you can’t hear a single sound? Would a person still be able to express themselves through music? This is where DeafBeat comes in.
While every country has its own languages, there’s only one language everyone can all understand—music. We’ve all heard the saying, “where words fail, music speaks”. We don’t even need to understand what the lyrics are all about to enjoy it, which is also one of the many reasons why K-Pop has been so popular.
Other than the fact that music transcends language, we also believe that every person deserves to live out their musical fantasies however they can. For musicians, it’s a tool for them to express themselves that could potentially reach people in ways words may never be able to. But what happens when you cannot hear a single sound? Would a person still be able to express themselves through music or would they be lost to this way of self-expression? This is where DeafBeat comes in.
Formed in 2007, DeafBeat is a performing drum troupe comprising a number of performers who are hearing impaired. Having performed at various music festivals across the globe, they aim to inspire and allow others who are like them, to push beyond their limits and achieve their biggest goals in life.
In this interview, we speak to DeafBeat’s coach, Lee Mok Yee as well as two senior members, Harry and Mackey who have been with the drum troupe since its early years.
Let’s talk about how and when your musical journey began.
Mok Yee: I started playing the 24 Festive Drum (a type of hands percussion) in high school and I officially joined in 2006 as a ‘Hands Two’ member, in other words, as a part time drummer. There, I learnt a number of percussion from Southeast Asia including Malay, Chinese and Gamelan percussion. Since then, I have been heavily involved with it and have even performed internationally in countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Bali, Hawaii, Doha and many more.
Harry: I actually have to wear hearing aids in order to hear but my musical journey began when I started playing the piano and classical guitar at the age of 10 and 13 respectively. I completed both of these musical instruments until grade eight. I loved playing classical music because it helps me relax and I also played the erhu when I was in Universiti Sains Malaysia Penang.
Mackey: My journey began in 2009 when I was introduced to DeafBeat by Joseph Liew. There, I started to play the drums and have been involved in a number of performance arts since then.
How did you hear about DeafBeat and how did you first become involved in the band?
Mok Yee: I became a drumming coach in 2008 for the band where it was previously coached by Bernard Goh, the Artistic Director of Hands Percussion and I was his assistant. When I joined the team, we were preparing for the first concert ‘Pulsing Spirits’ that featured deaf talents performing drum routines, dancing as well as acting—it was an eye opening experience for me and after I came back from my studies in the UK, I was assigned to fully handle DeafBeat.
Harry: I joined DeafBeat in 2017 when my mother heard the news on the radio. This was not easy for me as the Chinese instrument is rather different compared to the piano. Nonetheless, I was really happy that I was able to participate in DeafBeat’s tenth anniversary concert at DPAC.
Mackey: I heard about it from Joseph Liew, one of the drummers in DeafBeat and he introduced the Chinese drums to me. The rest is history!
What is it like working with the team?
Mok Yee: DeafBeat is very different compared to the other teams, we have drummers who have played the instrument since the first day and have been committed to this art form for more than a decade. It takes a lot of patience and time but I think teaching and learning something new is never easy nonetheless. When we teach deaf drummers, rather than focusing on their disability, we take advantage of their other senses—where functions like touch and visual stimuli are heightened. Which is why we’ve previously collaborated with Theatre Director Yeo Lyle in 2017 to explore the possibilities of a ‘silenced’ world. We wanted the audience to discover how amazing it is for one to communicate through their body language even when their ability to speak is limited.
How has being a part of DeafBeat helped you?
Harry: I have been a part of DeafBeat for five years now and it has helped me learn how important teamwork is and how important it is to me as a person. I remember a time when I was still at my previous job, my boss asked me to stop playing the drums which gave me a moment to think about how it has become a major part of my life now and without it, there is no meaning in life, for me at least.
Mackey: I have been in the group for 13 years now. Though teamwork is important, being a part of DeafBeat has helped me connect with the deaf community in Malaysia and other Asian countries while playing at the inclusive festival for disabled. Other than that, it has also served as a confidence boost for me.
What are some of the future plans you have for DeafBeat?
Mok Yee: Instead of just performing as a drum troupe, I think DeafBeat serves as a very good platform when it comes to creating awareness not only for the deaf community but also the general public. During the Movement Control Order (MCO) in 2020, we became more active on social media where we’ve uploaded videos to teach the people some simple sign language and we’ve even created a signing song. In terms of our future plans, I think we should expand ourselves from being just a drum troupe to a platform or agency that discovers deaf talents. Besides that, we hope the workshop we’re having will serve its purpose in raising awareness. I hope DeafBeat can become a bridge that connects the hearing and deaf community using art and music.
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Tease us a little about the upcoming workshop coming up in May – what can we expect?
Mok Yee: Learning very loud instruments in silence, I think that should serve as a short description of the show. It is a rather new workshop, we’ve hosted it in Kuala Lumpur twice and have received a very good response so I think it’s definitely something to look forward to. The drumming workshop is led completely by deaf drummers without any interpreters.
For more information, visit their website.