Coincidentally, another friend of mine living in France, Erwin, who manages a blog dedicated to Kassim Selamat and the Swallows, is currently working on a film about the Boyanese diaspora in Singapore, and another project dealing with the legendary Boyanese group "the Swallows". I know they will both be incredible documentaries when they are finally released.
In Sembawang district at northern Singapore, there was a Malay settlement called Kampong Tengah. My late grandpa used to live in the neighbourhood between 1963 and 1986, while my dad and his siblings were raised as young kids till each of them grew up and got married. Just beside their home, there lived a big family who spoke a peculiar Malay dialect, which somewhat sounds a little bit funny. Even so, the family was so close to my dad's till one of their in-laws married my youngest uncle. Later on, I eventually learned that the whole family were Boyanese. (In Malay and Indonesian, it is spelt as "Bawean".)
The Boyanese community originated from Bawean island off Indonesian coast. They migrated to Singapore and Malaysia in search for a better living. In the earlier days, they used to work as fishermen and various types of labour-intensive jobs, but as time goes by, they also entered into other economic professions. Although small in number, the community is very organized, and in Singapore and Malaysia, they set up their own clan associations.
One of their unique features is thier excellent talent in arts and music. It is undeniable that many of the popular Malay singers, musicians and actors of the past were Boyanese.
One of them that I could remember and my favourite too was Jasni (1918- 1986). Born and raised in Singapore, he began his singing career as recording artist in 1938. Besides, he also perfomed onstage in entertainment parks and cabaret, among those include Happy World and Great World, both of which were owned by the filmmaker giant, Shaw Brothers. Jasni himself wrote and composed most of his songs.
During World War II, he married Buntat Ahmad, who was later became a female film superstar in the early 1950s by the name of Neng Yatimah, the Malay film "Bintang Air Mata" (Star Of Tears). In 1943, they daughter Rosnah was born, and she also acted in films mostly produced by Shaws' rival, Cathay Keris - using her stage name Roseyatimah. The stage names of the mother-and-daughter duo were created and given by non other that that legendary P. Ramlee. Jasni was indeed a true friend of P. Ramlee when, after learning about a plot to injure Ramlee's face, he went straight away to warn the latter's foes against their action.
Between 1952 and 1955, Jasni became more active in recording, by singing many songs from the films acted by Ramlee, due to a crisis between Ramlee himself and the recording company who refused to provide the musical arrangements that he requested. Nevertheless, Jasni managed to carve his own popularity by recording more songs. The last songs that he recorded were recorded in 1966 with the accompaniment of a Boyanese band called The Cliffters, Singapore's "Rolling Stones".
The Cliffters consist of Bajuree brothers - Rickieno, Marstino, Jack and Alistini. They recorded under Ngee Fat's labels Chap Piring and Playboy. Besides Rickieno and Jasni, the band also recorded with M. Wari and June Abdullah under the same label, before moving to TNA Records. Later on, The Cliffters disbanded when Alistini and Wari recorded with The Fabian Boys and another singer named Norfizah. Alistini's songs "O Alek" and "Terona Taoa" were the first Boyanese songs to be recorded in Singapore throughout the history.
Next on the list was Jaffar O. (1944 - 2010) [O = Ohjar]. Born in Bukit Timah, Singapore from a Boyanese-Madhurese parentage, he opted out of school at 14 to work as an office attendant. He recorded only two EPs with The Click IV on Olympic label, but his songs like "Punggok Rindukan Bulan" (The Owl Misses The Moon), "Merindu Kaseh" (Missing My Lover), "Kehampaanku" (My Disappointment), "Kasih Terpisah" (A Love Torn Apart) and "Undanglah Aku" (Invite Me) became instant hit. In his first EP, Jaffar also recorded a Boyanese number titled "Gagena Paraben". Throughout his life, he married four times, the last with Mahani Mohamad, a singer from the early 1970s.
The most celebrated Boyanese singer ever exist in the Malay entertainment circuit was Kassim Slamat. Born in 1931 in Sembawang district itself by the name of Kassim Rahmat, he began singing in wedding feasts in 1959 with Pemuda Ria party. He was given the name Kassim Slamat following the leading character of the same name in P. Ramlee's 1962 famous film "Ibu Mertuaku" (My Mother-In-Law). In 1966, he made his debut album with The Swallows, where his signature tune "Nga Lompak A-Go-Go" hit the country by storm. His unique approach by singing in Boyanese had made it appealing to the crowd. Another Boyanese song which managed to enter West Germany's top chart (NOTE: this has been claimed many times- however, my friend Erwin is looking for hard evidence of this for his film about the Swallows - if anyone reading this has a chart clipping or magazine article that proves this, please leave a comment here! ) was "La A Obe", being recorded together with "Angkok Angkok Bilis" on an SP in 1967. His other famous songs in Boyanese include "La Karebna", "La Ngomber", "Lek Paju Molle", "Mak Itty Mak Illa" and "Sa Kilang Paki Kanchana". Due to popularity of "La A Obe", it was re-recorded in 1974 as a duet song by Ismail Haron and Anita Sarawak, but in different lyrics. Until today, "La A Obe" has been regarded as the Boyanese anthem. These Boyanese songs were written by The Swallows' drummer, Affendi Abdul Rahman, while the lyrics were provided by Kassim's brother, Yusoff Rahmat, who was also one of the band's guitarists. Both Kassim Slamat and The Swallows ended their career in 1969, in protest against record piracy.
The Swallows themselves had a hard time to be made recognized an accepted in the entertainment circuit, although they had been playing current English instrumentals in birthday parties since 1964. (The band decided to perform instrumentals partly because all its members could not speak, write and even sing in English.) In 1965, they appeared in the film "Sayang Si Buta" (The Love of The Blind" accompanying Ahmad Daud for his song "Si Manis Tujuh Belas" (Sweet Seventeen), and in another film called "Pusaka Pontianak" (The Vampire's Fortune) where they provided the musical back-up. In the same year too, they accompanied M. Bakri for the song "Malaysia Baru" (A New Malaysia). Only after Kassim Slamat came into the picture, the band started to gain its popularity.
Besides Kassim Slamat, The Swallows also backed up Kartina Dahari and Rafeah Buang for one EP each.
Boyanese songs disappeared from the public ears after the mid-1970s onwards as the community itself has been assimiliating into the Malay culture as time goes by. Nevertheless, the revival of the pop-yeh-yeh music in 1985 made the songs re-appeared in the market, at least in re-recorded version. The latest new Boyanese song recorded was in 1992 by Jeffridin in his new album "Mas Mona"; and the song was "Akabina".
The utmost effort in preserving the Boyanese identity in foreign lands is done by the said community in Singapore, through Persatuan Bawean Singapura, where the association continuously organizes many activities with the purpose of getting the people of the community together. It is a close-knit community and have affiliation with their counterparts in Indonesia's Bawean Island.