Sunset Symphony: Music in a Kudat paradise

KUDAT. This is the place where my great-grandparents first arrived in Sabah. It was the 1880s, and they were on one of the first three boats of Hakka Chinese Basel Christian families, brought over when the British needed labourers to clear the land.

Today, we came to hear the Jesselton Philharmonic Orchestra play their sunset symphony at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, in the Kudat peninsula which is the Northern most tip of Borneo.

We booked into the Kudat Golf & Marina Resort, and met up with some of Mike’s friends for the kind of seafood dinner which only happens if you are local, know what to get and who to cook it. Our host was Chris Kong, who owns a blue swimmer crab fishing and trading operation in Kudat, and is a local environmentalist. We feasted on fresh blue swimmer crab, grouper, prawns and squid; it was a meal I neither had the knowledge nor the imagination to ask for. Thank you, Chris.

The drive approaching the Kudat peninsula takes your breath away. Long stretches of white sand, empty beaches, and clear blue water and sky. People pay fortunes to go to the Caribbean and such places to experience a “Blue Lagoon” holiday. While here we are, driving on a new road along the coastline of a little paradise called Kudat. It’s so beautiful, I’m not going to say anymore. Maybe we can keep it to ourselves.

The evening’s performance began with fingerstyle guitarist Roger Wang playing a flawless rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, backed by Peter Lau and his unique cocktail drum set, built by him specially to support Roger. The pretty notes dropped in the air all around the Kudat peninsula, calling people to their seats.

Simon Lau played a gorgeous slim, electric double bass! I’ve never seen one before.

According to Rastwin Ratz, from Labuan:

“The electric upright bass (abbreviated EUB and sometimes also called stick bass) is an electronically amplified version of the double bass that has a minimal or ‘skeleton’ body, which greatly reduces the size and weight of the instrument. The EUB retains enough of the features of the double bass so that double bass players are comfortable performing on it.”

There’s more on the Stagg Music website

Annabel Tiu was the band’s singer. She is maxing out her musical life, being the cellist in the Jesselton Orchestra as well. It was a full night for her!

Roger also had Simon Kong with him, a musician who plays erhu and Chinese flute.

They did a lovely version of “Bila Larut Malam”, with a gentle latin lilt, the Chinese flute weaving in between Annabel’s singing, occasionally switching to a pick-up swing beat.

Then came “Caravan”. The erhu came in with a beautiful solo, all middle eastern minor key melodies, and Caravan is so like that – a switch between the yawing Arabic bit and the chop-chop swing bit. Gypsies, caravans, Roger’s guitar and the erhu… yep, it was great.

Other songs on the bill were “How High The Moon” and Astrud Gilberto’s “So Nice”, written by Gilberto Bebel. It was a fine way to introduce the main event.

The Sunset Symphony at the Tip of Borneo was last performed in 2006. Datuk Masidi Manjun, Minister of Tourism, Culture & Environment, paved the way for it to happen again this year. On the sidelines, after the show, he said a permanent structure will be built for this.  It’s a site of great natural beauty, and a magnificent venue. Being part of an orchestral performance under the backgroup of the Kudat sunset is an unforgettable experience.

Sound engineers tell me the audio is very challenging, since it’s hardly a studio setting. Powerful mics are needed for the performers to be heard over the rumble of the sea, but conversely the mics also pick up the sound of the wind. In the early days of the event, the coastal wind blew all the sheet music around during one performance.

The Jesselton Philharmonic Orchestra was formed by Yap Ling and Chou Yang Ching in 2007, and has blossomed into an all-volunteer ensemble of 60 musicians playing string, wind, brass, percussion and keyboard instruments.

The orchestra performed a collection of the most accessible and popular classical works, and we were immersed in a world of visual and aural beauty. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Grace Lee on keyboards played several voices, I could hear her xylophone sounds providing a good anchor in places.

There were several encores, and the orchestra was joined by a special guest singer, Clare Edwin Petrus. She and the orchestra performed, “You Raise Me Up,” to loud applause and cheers.

Yap Ling provides a priceless opportunity for young people to perform. Some of those faces are so young, like 9 or 10 years old. What child could ever forget being a part of something as beautiful like this? The JPO has played throughout the country, but I think it will be hard to find a more naturally beautiful setting than Kudat, the Tip of Borneo.

The next morning, Mike and I went to Pasar Ikan Kudat, the Kudat Fish Market, to load up on fresh seafood and pack it in ice before driving back to KK. Guess what? I met Yap Ling and his wife Grace Lee doing just that, too. 🙂

There are many “must do” activities in Kudat for visitors. Among them are visiting the gong-making village, the honey-bee farm, and the Rungus longhouse. Eating “jagung bakar” (roasted corn on the cob) at the side of the road, and peanuts which are salty but still in their shells (They are soaked in brine, then roasted dry) should be on the list too. Learn more about Kudat from the Sabah Tourism Board website.



  1. Hi! Joanna!! thanks alot for everything….that’s a real beautifull story…always enjoy reading whatever you write…………hmmm………you got that “Magic Hand”hahaha!!!

  2. Everyone got trolled during this event…ha ha ha…waited for hours in the searing heat for a short, short presentation…

    Hopefully the next one will be longer, MUCH longer…If need be a fee can be charged, I don’t think anyone would mind. 😀

    1. Ha Nex. It’s true, waiting for sunset is a HOT business. But I guess, sunset itself isn’t that long an event…. Let’s hope the next scheduled performance is longer. I would love that too.

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