Lamenting the loss of tradition is something that you hear all around the world, but there are some places that succeed in keeping the traditional world alive.

The way they do that is by changing tradition to make it fit the contemporary world.

This is easier for some places than others.


In the case of architecture, for instance, places like Bali and Thailand have been pretty successful at this. What is their secret? Well in part it is because they rely on the colors and textures of the natural world.

When someone in Chiang Mai or Ubud makes a boutique hotel, for instance, they use natural wood and surround the hotel with plenty of tropical green plants and the result is that they create something that feels both “traditional” but very contemporary and hip as well.


Contrast that with efforts to make Chinatowns in Southeast Asia look cool. . . When people think of things Chinese they think of bright red, and there is just nothing natural about bright red. . .

The result? It is more difficult to come up with something Chinese that feels both traditional and contemporary.

dan bau

With music you have similar problems. A traditional instrument like the đàn bầu in Vietnam has a sound that is associated with feelings of sadness, so it would be hard to incorporate that instrument into an upbeat contemporary song.

I say all this because recently I came across a video of a group of young musicians in Sarawak, called At Adau, that successfully combines together traditional and modern instruments to produce a hip contemporary song.

What is more, the video that they made for the song is also cool.

Clearly the traditional instruments that this group plays, like the sape, are easier to adapt to a contemporary sensibility than say the đàn bầu. So that helps. And to be fair, there are other people in Sarawak, like Jerry Kamit, who have already worked hard to make the sape meaningful for contemporary listeners.

So what At Adau has done is not entirely novel, but it is still very cool. And the video is really good as well. Good job!!