Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.

— Plato, Athenian philosopher

If one takes a look at numerous editions of global Got Talent shows, there are many blind or visually impaired contestants with special musical talent.

Here in Sarawak, I have come across some of our very own. The first visually impaired person that I got acquainted with was Ranggau Jerampang of Melupa, Saratok. He was about seven to eight years my senior.

Born blind, Ranggau was sent to the Sarawak Blind Centre (SBC) in late 1961. I remember looking at a photo of him receiving a prize from Sarawak’s last colonial governor Sir Alexander Waddell for winning a basket-making contest among the blind in Kuching in 1962.

It was published in an Iban weekly newsletter Pemberita by the Information Department. I last met Ranggau circa 1986 while he was busking (playing harmonica) in front of the former Upwell Supermarket along Ban Hock Road, Kuching.

Without saying anything, I held his hand and he held mine and said I was Jelani (my eldest brother Edward). When I spoke, he immediately recognised my voice and said, “Tawi.” I left him with a RM10 note. He passed on about a decade later.

His cousin Robin Uju Kusau, fondly known as Ubing, was not born blind. Ubing, my longhouse mate, in his 50s, is the youngest of Kusau’s children.
When his father died, Ubing was still a toddler. When his mom remarried, he was stepdad Lagat’s favourite.

One day, Lagat carried Ubing on his back while planting ginger, a taboo from his wife’s side. Lagat had been told about the taboo but obviously forgot that he was carrying the toddler on his back and could easily see the planting act.

Ubing became blind at the age of nine while in Primary Three at SK Nanga Assam, Saratok, my alma mater. He was sent to the SBC where he studied Braille and music.

He later excelled in guitar and, over the last three decades, had appeared in a number of functions as lead guitarist and vocalist of a band comprising visually impaired individuals.

Their various appearances were published in newspapers over the last few decades.

I last met him at a Batu Lintang coffee shop in February this year. When he touched my hand, he immediately recognised it was me because I spoke first asking if it was really him.

He immediately said, “Tuan Tawi, Elvis Presley.” He is one of the well-known masseurs, plying his trade in Batu Lintang, above Joo Seng Coffee Shop.
In 1975 while performing at RTM, Sibu, I came to know members of Nasib Teruna band who were all blind. Their leader and lead guitarist was Paulus Geliga, a Betong native.

Our show was led by then popular Iban artiste Michael Jemat (now deceased). Apart from myself, also performing were recording artiste James Samy and Lucie Linang (now deceased).

Our practice sessions and the live show (in conjunction with that year’s Gawai Dayak) went very well, thanks to the talented blind band members.

I met Paulus Geliga at a Betong longhouse function a year later where we joined hands to perform some songs as it was a wedding ceremony.

Perhaps, most Iban music lovers are familiar with the name Ganing Assan, a blind singer and keyboardist.

A seasoned recording artiste, Ganing has a number of popular songs that are usually played on RTM’s Iban section WaiFM as well as CatsFM. Even some city pubs and karaoke joints are offering songs by Ganing.

In fact, I first met this blind music icon while attending a wedding function in Miri in 1988. When I came across Ganing again, it was in 2003 at one of the Kuching pubs where he was performing.

His ever popular song is kasam ikan (fermented fish).

At the Saratok wet market, there is usually one blind keyboardist who sings well in Iban and Malay, entertaining patrons at the market and stalls hoping for their generosity. I used to put a ringgit or two inside his container or shirt pocket.

At Kuching’s King Centre, there’s also a blind Iban keyboardist who sang in a number of languages, including English. Once while putting up there in 2002, I requested an English song Help Me Make It Through The Night which he did reasonably well.

This was after listening to it from him the night before. I gave him RM5 for his effort.

In fact, elsewhere there are many of these talented visually impaired buskers who provide good entertainment to the public.

Perhaps to them, music is their vision.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.