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Saturday, September 24, 2016

D'Cuatro Calientes and the Asam Pedas family

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**This article first appeared on Free Malaysia Today on Sept 18. Click here to access it on FMT's website.
**The following is the longer version of the same article.

Photo credit Azrol Ali

Looking at Malaysia from the view point of what is being shared on social media, more often than not a person would come to the conclusion that Malaysia is a very racist and intolerant country. From non-Muslims getting berated for eating in public in Ramadhan, to drivers getting into racially-tinged arguments on the road to politicians spewing venomous remarks at one another, to various accounts of alleged racism happening across the country, it makes one wonder if there is hope for us.

However, if we could just turn our gazes away from our smartphones and take a look around us, we can see that Malaysia is indeed where our hearts are and is a country we should be proud of.

There are many places here where race melts away and people just sit together, happily enjoying each other's company. It is everywhere, be it a kopitiam or a mamak shop. For me, I found it in a little corner of Petaling Jaya, where a band from the Philippines, indirectly, is helping Malaysians realise the true meaning of 1Malaysia.

Calling themselves D'Cuatro Calientes, the band, made up of family members, consists of Danny and Connie Olivera, the parents, and their son Billy and his wife Lissa.

Performing outside the Asam Pedas restaurant in The Curve at Mutiara Damansara, the band, in their own way, is bringing together Malaysians of various races under one umbrella, all in the name of song and dance.

Connie told me that the band started out many years ago, initially with herself and Danny, and their brothers. However, after a while, the brothers moved away, and Connie was faced with the tough decision to let her sons be part of the group.

"When my boys were schooling, I did not want to involve them. I wanted them to be in school. Preferably no music," she said, adding that as time went by, her sons began to develop their own interest and talent in music.

While initially, the band was also made up of Danny and Connie's eldest and second son, life and tragedy soon carved a different direction for D'Cuatro Calientes.

With their second son having gotten married and settling down in Singapore and the tragic passing of their eldest son seven years ago, Billy, the youngest soon joined his parents, with Lissa coming on board later on.

It is true that music is a universal language, as upon observation, it does not matter what song was being played, be it in Spanish or Tagalog, Malay or English, Cantonese or Mandarin, as long as the beat is right, what Gloria Estefan said rings true, "the rhythm is going to get you".

D' Cuatro Calientes performs at the street section of The Curve and their performance is engaging enough that sometimes people who walk by would move to the beat. There are also couples who would slow dance, in the middle of the open area in front of the band, under the night sky.

It is also the love of song and dance that gave birth to the Asam Pedas family.

For normal shoppers, looking at some of the dancers who would perform usually on weekends, they would either assume this was a dance group hired to accompany the band.

However, they are just patrons of The Curve who would often hang out to hear the band perform and loved to do a little dancing.

The 'family' has grown over the years and its pioneers, retirees Alan Lee and his wife Susan Yeoh are now proud 'parents' of quite a few young kids who also share the same love for song and dance.

"They call me mummy," Yeoh said.


Alan Lee and Susan Yeoh. Photo credit Azrol Ali.


"This family was started by my husband and I. Slowly the group increased. More and more people came here to dance. They found that the ambience is good, music is good. It's a very healthy place, open air and I think it would be good for the youngsters to come and get together," Yeoh, 70, told me when met recently.

Her husband Lee, who is 71, said they have been dancing there for more than five years now.

"My wife and I started dancing and one of the young boys asked if he can join and then the group slowly started to grow. I used to look on YouTube (for dance steps), I learned it and I teach them. These people learn very fast," Lee said.

He then pointed over to a Michael Jackson impersonator who had earlier danced to the song Billie Jean performed by the band, to the cheers of passing shoppers.

"I encouraged MJ there to come up and dance. He was just sitting there (back then), very shy. I gave him 'semangat' to come and dance. Now he is part of the family," Lee said, smiling proudly.

MJ is 43-year-old Faizal Habib Ahmad who often hangs out to dance together with his three children.

"I come here often to hear the live band. At first I was shy. And one day, they played the song Uptown Funk. They pulled me in (to dance)," he said, adding that it was from that point on that he became acquainted with the other members of the Asam Pedas family.

"I have enjoyed dancing since I was a kid. I just do it for fun," he said, affirming that he was not a professional dancer, and that he works in a hospital.

Another member of the group, is Irwan Kurniawan Abdullah who is a freelance dancer and a choreographer.

Iwan is an orphan and had picked up dancing when he was 14.

"I've been coming to The Curve since I was 19. I saw an elderly Chinese couple dancing, I just watched them. Up until then I was just doing street dancing. When I saw them (dancing), I wanted to learn more," he said.

That was how he joined the 'family' and has been an attraction himself as he is very light on his feet and performs very well, much to the delight of shoppers walking by.

"I have gotten some (dance) jobs from voluntarily performing here," he said.

For 67-year-old August Ang, he said that the fellowship the 'family' has draws him to hang out there, especially with the involvement of younger people of different races, and that it was an outlet for them to exercise and have fun.

On all the races coming together, Ang, who frequents The Curve with his wife, Alice, said it was beautiful.

"It's back to the old days before government politics and all that. This is what I experienced in my kampung in Tengkera, Malacca. It didn't matter who you are, we don't see races. We are all just friends. We are all Malaysians," Ang said, expressing his hope for a united Malaysia.

"We see it in badminton, everybody is with him (Datuk Lee Chong Wei). We forget we are of different races."

Switching to impeccable Malay, Ang added, "Mak kita dulu ajar kan? Dari kecil dulu, semua sama." (Our mothers taught us from small, that we are all the same).

Yeoh shared the same sentiments, saying that the Asam Pedas family is really 'muhibbah'.

"We are 1Malaysia here. We don't think of religion, we don't think of races, we are one happy family. We celebrate birthdays. If it's Hari Raya, we celebrate Hari Raya. If it's Chinese New Year, we celebrate Chinese New Year (and so on). That's what 1Malaysia is all about right?" she added.

For Connie, she was happy observing the harmony and respect in Malaysia.

"Harmony and respect is very important in your country. You can get along with each other, that is very important. The love is always there. If there is no respect and harmony, there is nothing," she said.

Connie also expressed her pride in the band being able to perform a famous Philippines song Miss Na Miss Kita, in Malay.

The translation was provided by a local lyricist, Azmi Abdul Rahman, who also frequents The Curve and enjoys listening to D'Cuatro Calientes as well as watching the Asam Pedas family dance.

As for Azmi, his ability to sing along to some of the Chinese songs, has proven to be an ice-breaker for him and some of those who came to listen to D'Cuatro Calientes.

Some of the Chinese patrons would look at Azmi in awe when he sang along to Alan Tam's Pang Yau in near perfect Cantonese.

Meanwhile, for Lee, he was happy that the family's togetherness and friendship gave the young ones who join something useful to do with their time, as well as keeping them out of trouble.

"I am very happy," Lee said, and it was apparent in the joy from his voice and the smile on his face.

"Here, the word 'bangsa' does not exist. We are one family. Sekeluarga," he said.

Speaking about Malaysia, Lee added, "We should start to think of each other as a family. We should start to think of helping one another, of giving. Those who have give a little more, those who don't, give a little bit less. But there is always somebody who needs something. It could be in the form of words of encouragement, doesn't have to be money.

"You gotta show a little kindness," he sang to the tune of Glen Campbell's Try A Little Kindness.

And there is indeed no better song to wrap this article up than the rhinestone cowboy's words of advice for us to just 'try a little kindness, and to not walk around the down and out, lend a helping hand instead of doubt, and the kindness that you show every day will help someone along their way.'

There is more to life than what is being posted or shared on social media. Take a stroll in real life once in a while, and you will chance upon something as simple as a Malay boy and a Chinese uncle enjoying line dancing to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart.

It may be simple, but it will surely put a smile on your face and reaffirm your faith in humanity and how racism deserves no place anywhere in this world. - FH

D'Cuatro Calientes. Photo credit Azrol Ali.