Seri Berunai combines gulintangan with guitars, piano and drums

Eight UTB and UBD students have banded together to form Seri Berunai, a musical troupe that combines traditional and contemporary instruments

Abdul Hadi Nasrullah Mohd Ashraf recalled that he was only 7-years-old when he set his eyes on a row of eight small brass gongs, each held up by thin ropes connected within wooden walls, forming a boat-like structure on stands with the gongs as its load.   

“I first saw the gulintangan at my grandparents’ house when I was a kid,” said Hadi, one of the founders of Seri Berunai. “Growing up in a Dusun household, the gulintangan was always a staple in our traditional ceremonies.”

Hadi’s love of music never wavered – but it was only in 2016, after he enrolled to Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) that he would begin to realize his musical potential, striking up a partnership between members of UBD and Universiti Teknologi Brunei’s (UTB) gulintangan clubs to perform at the National Teachers’ Day celebration.

“We really hit it off during the performance,” said Hadi. “So much so that we started practicing and hanging out together after. One day when we were jamming we decided to add in modern instruments like guitar and keyboard to create a more vibrant, fuller sound to traditional tunes like Adai-Adai and Samalindang.”

Hadi practicing the accordion. Seri Berunai is hoping to make a traditional instrumental album playing modern arrangements.

Together with BSc Internet Computing graduate Mohd Siraj Munir Ahmad and six others, they formed Seri Berunai, a band that performs eclectic easy-listening as well as classic billboard hits.

“We hope to offer Bruneians a fresh style of entertainment that still feels familiar,” said Siraj. “Right now we’re creating notations for all the traditional songs so that they can be easily learned, and played consistently on instruments.”

The group have performed at more than 50 events – where they typically charge $500 for performing 25 to 30 songs – steadily expanding their traditional set up to include gendang rebana, a tambourine-like instrument with a drum skin, tawak-tawak – horizontally-suspended brass gongs and gambus, a small harp-like guitar instrument.

With the help of local traditional musician Yazid Damit as their mentor, Seri Berunai is ultimately hoping to carry the mantle of traditional music forward by ensuring that it resonates with the younger generation.

“Even today there are many of us that don’t know our own musical heritage,” said Siraj. “So it’s up to us to play and learn to find a way to bring forward our music and industry in a meaningful way.”

For more information visit @seriberunai on Instagram or contact +6738954210.