Saturday, July 23, 2016

Female sape player comes home to Rainforest World Music Festival

KUCHING: Alena Murang, a promising young musician and visual artiste from Kuching, will share the stage during the 19th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) on Aug 5-7 at Sarawak Cultural Village in Damai.

“My cousins and I learnt Kelabit dancing since we were six and at some point, seven of us decided to pick up the sape so that we can have music to dance to at a rhythm, beat and length that we wanted,” she said, when asked about the beginning of her path to play the sape professionally.

She is one of the first females to openly perform and teach the sape, an ethnic instrument from Borneo that used to be taboo for women to even touch. She attributes her decision to pursue the art to the encouragement of her mother and aunts.

She went on to master the sape under the tutelage of national living legend, Mathew Ngau Jau, and has performed in over 20 cities so far, including New York and London.

She is one of a few sape players to sing while playing the instrument. Her performance includes singing traditional songs in the Kenyah and Kelabit dialects from the Orang Ulu of Ulu Baram.

Alena has previously performed on the RWMF stage, and has attended the festival since its inception in 1998.

“RWMF has played a large part in my music and art career, and I feel that coming back to perform at RWMF is almost like coming full circle for me,” she said.

Alena has followed in the footsteps of her mentor and now teaches the sape to anyone who would like to learn, be it Orang Ulu who wish to learn their own musical tradition or even foreigners who have been captivated by the instrument.

She hopes that others within the state of Sarawak will follow in her footsteps to preserve their various cultural and musical arts, because they are ‘priceless and irreplaceable’.

“Sarawakians have so much musical heritage to treasure – Bidayuh chants, old Iban tunes, Penan nose flute to name a few – and I just hope that each of us can work on learning these, and share our music on a global platform,” she added.