IT was a long time ago that sape music was heard only on special occasions such as weddings, cultural events and festive celebrations.
Over the years, this traditional Orang Ulu lute has evolved from a simple indigenous string instrument into one recognised both locally and internationally as an instrument synonymous with the sound of the rainforest.
Because of its unique sound, many musical groups, especially among the younger generation, love incorporating sape accompaniment into their repertiore of modern songs they perform on stage.
Music enthusiast, Anthony Abong, said nowadays, the mellowing strains of the sape were no longer confined to the Iban warrior dance — ngajat — as they could be mixed with those of modern musical instruments to produce an “incredible sound.”
The 30-year-old could play the same song and melody with the guitar and the sape but pointed out the guitar could not produce the melodious tone of the sape and “that’s what makes the sape so unique among other musical instruments.”
He said the Orang Ulus were the ones who started playing the instrument and the Ibans picked it up a little later.
According to Anthony, no one knows the origin of the sape except from stories or legends. One version has it that the sape was made by a man found lying on the riverbank after his boat capsized.
Semi-conscious, he heard a soft and beautiful melody emanating from the jungle and the river. After recovering, he made a musical instrument shaped like a longboat, and for “acoustics,” he copied the jungle-river sound he heard while lying half awake on the beach.
“That’s why the sape is made to look like a capsized boat — long and oval with a flat front and a hole punched at the back to act as the sound box,” Anthony said.
According to another legend, the sape was made by someone who slept inside a mosquito net and heard a beautiful melody outside of it.
When he woke up, he made a musical instrument, also shaped like a longboat, and copied the sound he heard coming from outside the mosquito net.
Sape is considered a sacred instrument used to cure sick people and for peace ceremony.
Anthony said although this was only a legend, nevertheless, the status of sape, revered in native folklore, must be respected.
“That’s why we don’t simply put the sape anywhere we want. If we want to put it on the floor, there must be a carpet or mat underneath,” he explained.
Anthony only learned to play the sape about two years. He always has a love for the lute but did not know how to play it until 2015 when he decided to get one and started learning to play with two other friends.
Labels: Borneo Sape Festival, Sarawak Culture