Edinburgh Fringe Q&A: Faizal Abdullah

Faizal Abdullah discusses his lecture-performance Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?), which is described as a love letter to Singapore

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Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?)
Photo by Hector Manchego
Published 04 Aug 2023

Tell us about your show and what audiences can expect?

Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?) is a lecture-performance that investigates my Muslim-Malay-Singaporean identity and the tension that exists between the latter two nouns. It looks at themes of identity, indigenous displacement, a disappearing language and writing system, and decolonising how the Malay is perceived. There’s some really gorgeous visuals and sound design that have been created by my collaborators and I think the audience will be provoked, surprised and learn a thing or two about Malays and Singapore.

Can you talk about some of the creative team involved?

Khai who is the producer and my wife, is also the unofficial director of the piece. She is my most trusted sounding board, and I can always depend on her to be brutally honest, even if it hurts my feelings! I am also working with Kinga Markus and Jeffrey Choy once again for the visuals used in the performance. There are more visuals this time round and both their works are so different stylistically, it’s really exciting. And we have Isyraf, our Singapore-based sound designer. I have been wanting to work with him for some time now, and when this opportunity came, everything fell into place.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your work, both in terms of creation and performance?

I try to find inspiration from everything really. I do go back quite a bit to my ethnicity, heritage, history and language. But I also like to look at the ‘lighter’ aspects of my life, such as my love for Manchester United, food and P. Ramlee films for inspiration. Right now, I’m trying to R&D a new performance centered around football and the social issues linked to it; especially the lack of diversity and representation beyond the playing field.

Looking at this production, how would you say it links to previous work personally and thematically?

This is quite different actually. It’s a very personal piece, and I’ve not quite done something like this. It’s the first time I’m performing solo, and writing for and directing myself onstage. In terms of themes, it’s also quite new, because even though I’ve done work which talks about the Singaporean-Malay community and our experience, this time round it feels like I’m hitting new spots; raising tougher questions and being more honest about thoughts.

Why is this an important story to tell?

I realise that not many people know that Singapore is a multi-racial country, made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Others. And being Malay, I’d like to talk about what it is like being Malay in Singapore. So it’s probably a side of Singapore that audiences are not familiar with. I want to showcase to the world the country that I know and love. The good and bad. I want to make it clear that we celebrate our diversity, and we get along brilliantly, but sometimes we don’t, and then we go back to being best friends again. We suffer and struggle, but we get through it together. We have a complicated history, and we should never feel afraid to look back at it and learn from it.

What would you like audiences to take away from seeing this production at the Fringe?

I hope they go away with a slightly better idea about what is a Malay – the culture, the language, the lifestyle, our idiosyncrasies, and also a better idea of the Singapore that I know – with all her best qualities and imperfections.

Do you tend to take inspiration from events happening in the world around you in terms of your work? Do you think artists have a responsibility to respond to what's happening?

You can’t avoid, or rather ignore, the things that are going on because I think that will be irresponsible on the part of a theatremaker and artist, or at least someone who wants to think of himself as one. I personally find it very exciting if I can reference something juicy that is fresh or current in the public’s consciousness. I won’t go so far as to say that we have a responsibility, but I’d like to think that I’m not the kind of theatremaker that will shy away from responding and reacting to what’s going on around me. I always hope the work that I make is more than just entertainment, it should provoke and make the audience think or see something in a new light.

How do you feel about the current arts landscape in your country and your part in it? Does it excite you and inspire you to keep pushing the boat out?

It’s still growing, and there are growing pains, but we’ll get there. Just like with everything else, I think Singapore just has to do things uniquely her way. We don’t need to look outside to follow a style or hold up as ideal. I hope as time passes we can mature and be a strong presence in the arts. And even though I’m away from home, I hope that my work continues to represent Singapore and make her proud.

Why are arts festivals such as the Fringe so important for international exchange?

The diversity that the Fringe offers is great. You get to meet artists from all over the world. You get to see all kinds of exciting work. It’s a chance to be inspired and make connections. And you get a chance to showcase your work to a diverse audience aswell, which might lead on to other things.

What can the wider arts community do to get more people involved in their specific disciplines?

This is a difficult one. I think being more open with your practice, and your work. Looking at different ways to engage the community. Khai (my wife and producer) and myself are looking at other ways to engage with our audiences beyond the performance. We’re thinking of Jawi workshops, a mini-exhibition about Malays that we maybe can tour with. So I think there’s tonnes of things that we can do, it’s about being open to new ideas and ways of working.

Have you got your eye on any other shows that are part of the programme?

Top of the list for me is catching Nabil Abdulrashid’s The Purple Pill. I’ve watched his comedy online and I think he’s effortlessly hilarious. How he speaks about his ethnicity, the racism he’s experienced, and his Muslim identity is original and unique. Can’t wait to watch him in person. There's also two fellow Singaporean acts that I'm hoping to catch, Sam See – who is bringing back his show: Government Approved Sex and Gangguan! who are staging Do Rhinos Feel Their Horns? I’m also looking forward to Betty Gunawan’s Unforgettable Girl, Lady Dealer by Martha Watson Allpress, Olly Gully's Sea Words, Mwansa Phiri's waiting for the train at the bus stop and Side eYe Productions’ Dugsi Dayz.

What’s next for you and how are you feeling about the future in general?

After our two-week run at Summerhall, I’m going to be part of the Horizon Nova programme in the final week of the Fringe, so I’m looking forward to that. After that, I think I need to treat my wife to a nice holiday because it feels like we (especially her) have been working non-stop for the last 2-3 months leading up to the Fringe. So probably a week of not thinking about work, and then back to thinking about new shows and the future life of Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi?. We’d like to take the show on tour, so we’ll be working towards that. And I’d also like to spend some time developing a new show Gila Bola (Football Mad). There’s a couple of pending shows as well, so I hope that works out too. I’m hopeful for the future, and I’d like to be a better Muslim, husband, son, friend, person and theatremaker, in that order.

How can Edinburgh audiences keep up with you beyond the festival?

They can follow me on my Instagram, my Twitter (or X now, I have no idea), and I’m also now on TikTok. I’m especially keen to see how my TikTok adventure will pan out.