Bandar Seri Begawan - Being a small country, Brunei Darussalam is perhaps not very much known except for the wealth that comes from oil and gas and, more often than -not, the people who live in this less populated nation sometimes go unnoticed.
But the cloud of obscurity that we have been experiencing over our very short existence as an independent nation is perhaps lifting and this change, it seems, has come in the form of assets that the government believes in and the investment that has been made is yielding better than expected results.
The anonymity our people have been living with is slowly fading as the nation's youths are doing their best to reach beyond our borders and showing the world that we are more than what meets the eye.
The return of three Bruneians following their participation in the World Champions of Performing Arts that was recently held in Hollywood has perhaps given other local performing artistes the courage to cultivate their respective art forms that can be enjoyed by al international audience and this stepping stone that encourages our youth to step out of their comfort zones is perhaps what they need to carry our nation forward.
Though not a first for Brunei in sending its youths to partake in international events as evidenced by the number of global Al-Quran competitions, debates and technology contests that the younger generation is more accustomed to, the participation of the three in the arts is the first seed to be planted bylocal supporters and the mere fact that their talents are being recognised on a local scale without any reservations is a sure sign that we are diversifying the capabilities of our youths, which will, without question, make them even more wholesome as individuals.
Following their arrival at the Brunei International Airport yesterday morning to a round of applause from a humble crowd, the trio took time to speak to the Bulletin and what was shared were stories of optimism that the buck does not stop with this small team of talent but is the beginning of something even bigger.
With support from Brunei Tourism that sponsored their travel and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports that funded their accommodation in the United States, locally established Fakhrul Razi said that yes, Brunei should continue with similar efforts, without which accomplishing similar, or even better, feats would be close to impossible.
"We went there without expectations and what we wanted to do was to gauge -ourselves and see whether we were good enough, whether we were world class." And this they were able to prove.
Between them, the three were able to bring home seven gold and seven silver medals in categories ranging from original musical pieces, different musical genres as well as best in a number of acting styles and to supplement these numerous honours, the team also walked away with the Team Spirit Award that is exclusively given to delegates that judges believe have the best chance at being successful in their respective fields.
What he believes made his performances unique, he said, is the originality that was brought onto the stage not just in terms of the sound of his music but also the language despite the risk associated with performing a piece that is foreign to those in the West.
Performing in Malay, Fakhrul said the language barrier for the song that he chose was not the biggest obstacle because, "Communicating your feelings and emotions is a large part of performing arts", and the delivery of his performance ensured recognition for the work he has done in his field.
"There are a number of Bruneians who aspire to move forward in the performing arts and this is one of the best ways to showcase what we can do but sometimes we can become jaded," he said referring to the lack of confidence that is still obvious in Brunei's artistic youths.
"We have to stand with the rest of the world," he said.
For 20-year-old Maria Koh who, just like Fakhrul, is currently in talks with several record labels, the experience, she believes, has put Brunei on the map and observed that "people are starting to notice that we can compete and that we can be on par with others on an international stage".
To many youths, music no longer refers to sound that is easy on the ears but rather those that are age inappropriate, which sometimes can lead to discomfort among parents but the win that she accomplished in Hollywood, she believes, can change perspectives all around and this, she hopes, will promote music in a way that does not encourage a change in radio channels.
"Music is very subjective," she said. "Just because the things we hear on TV and the radio can be quite flashy, there are a lot of other artists who are very conservative and the alternative should not stop Brunei from promoting their talent because so much has yet to be discovered."
The talents of comedian actor Kevin Lo, who is also qualified as a lawyer, meanwhile, earned him not just one scholarship offer, but two with some of the most prestigious arts academies in the United States and his accomplishments, he believes, will help in changing perspectives - that Bruneians should not limit themselves to the mainstream but should have the opportunity to choose their artistic passion.
"A lot of people did not believe that we needed to go so far, that we should just try at the national and regional level, with some who thought that we were pushing our luck - that we were going to territories that We were unprepared for," he shared.
"But we took the step anyway and this is the time when we showed that Brunei has to think further, to dream bigger, to be braver ... This is the time when Bruneian artists need to start harnessing their talents and be recognised. I hope that our journey will inspire other artists to start believing in themselves," and the doubt, he added, "is what is stopping us from achieving greatness."