Music is a form of expression that can reach the hearts of many and is still 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 each country has its own languages, there is only one language that everyone can understand: music. We’ve all heard the saying, “where words fail, music speaks”. We don’t even have to understand what the lyrics are about to enjoy them, which is also one of the many reasons why K-Pop is so popular.
Besides 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 self-expression that could potentially reach people in ways that words never could. But what happens when you can’t hear a single sound? Would a person still be able to express themselves through music or would they be lost in the face of this way of expressing themselves? This is where DeafBeat comes in.
Formed in 2007, DeafBeat is a drumming troupe made up of a number of hard of hearing artists. Having performed at various music festivals around the world, they aim to inspire and empower others like them to push their limits and achieve their greatest goals in life.
In this interview, we talk to DeafBeat’s trainer, Lee Mok Yee as well as two senior members, Harry and Mackey who have been part of the drum troupe since its early years.
Let’s talk about how and when your musical journey began.
Mok Yee: I started playing 24 Festive Drum (a type of hand percussion) in high school and officially joined in 2006 as a member of ‘Hands Two’, in other words, as a part-time drummer. partiel. There I learned a number of Southeast Asian drums, including Malay, Chinese and Gamelan drumming. 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 to hear, but my musical journey started when I started playing piano and classical guitar at the age of 10 and 13 respectively. I completed these two musical instruments until the eighth grade. I loved playing classical music because it helps me relax and I also played erhu when I was at Universiti Sains Malaysia Penang.
Macky: My journey began in 2009 when I was introduced to DeafBeat by Joseph Liew. There I started playing drums and have been involved in a number of performing arts since then.
How did you hear about DeafBeat and how did you first get involved with the band?
Mok Yee: I became a drum coach in 2008 for the band where he 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 “Pulsing Spirits” concert which featured deaf talent performing drum routines, dancing and acting – it was an eye-opening experience for me and after my Back from my studies in the UK, I was put in charge of entirely managing DeafBeat.
Harry: I joined DeafBeat in 2017 when my mom heard the news on the radio. It was not easy for me because the Chinese instrument is quite different from the piano. Nevertheless, I was really happy to have been able to participate in DeafBeat’s tenth anniversary concert at DPAC.
Macky: I heard about it from Joseph Liew, one of DeafBeat’s drummers, and he introduced me to Chinese percussion. The rest is history!
How is it to work with the team?
Mok Yee: DeafBeat is very different from other teams, we have drummers who have been playing the instrument since day one and have been engaged in the art form for over a decade. It takes a lot of patience and time, but I think teaching and learning something new is never easy. 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 enhanced. That’s why we already collaborated with theater director Yeo Lyle in 2017 to explore the possibilities of a “silent” world. We wanted audiences to experience how amazing it is to communicate through their body language even when their ability to speak is limited.
How has being part of DeafBeat helped you?
Harry: I’ve been part of DeafBeat for five years now and it’s helped me realize 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 drums, which gave me a moment to reflect on how it became a part important part of my life right now and without it, there is no meaning in life, for me at least.
Macky: I’ve been in the band for 13 years now. Although teamwork is important, being part of DeafBeat has helped me connect with the deaf community in Malaysia and other Asian countries while performing at the disability-inclusive festival. Apart from that, it also gave me confidence.
What are some of the future plans you have for DeafBeat?
Mok Yee: Instead of just performing as a drum troupe, I think DeafBeat is a very good platform to raise awareness not only for the deaf community but also for the general public. During Movement Control Order (MCO) in 2020, we became more active on social media where we uploaded videos to teach people simple sign language and even created a signature song. Regarding our future projects, I think we should move from a simple drum troupe to a platform or an agency that discovers deaf talents. In addition, we hope that the workshop we are organizing will serve its purpose of raising awareness. I hope DeafBeat can become a bridge that connects the hearing and deaf community using art and music.
Tell us a bit about the upcoming workshop in May – what can we expect?
Mok Yee: Learning very loud instruments in silence, I think this should serve as a brief description of the show. It’s a rather new workshop, we’ve held it twice in Kuala Lumpur and had a very good response, so I think it’s definitely something to look forward to. The percussion workshop is entirely animated by deaf drummers without any interpreter.
For more information, visit their website.