Kuching, Thursday – Alena Murang, a promising young musician and visual artiste from Kuching, will share the stage at the 19th Rainforest World Music Festival on August 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 female 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 with the encouragement of her mother and aunts.
She continued on to master the art of sape’ playing under the tutelage of national living legend, Mathew Ngau Jau, and has gone on to perform in over 20 cities over the period of her career, including in New York and London.
She is the only sape’ players in history to sing while playing the instrument, and her performance includes singing traditional songs in Kenyah and Kelabit dialects from the Orang Ulu of Ulu Baram.
Alena is a repeated-artiste on the Rainforest World Music Festival’s stage, and has attended the festival since its inception in 1998.
“RWMF has played a large part in my music and art’s career, and I feel that coming back to perform at RWMF is almost like coming full circle for me,” she said.
From student to mentor, Alena has since gone 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 musical arts, because its ‘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. Alena encouraged the public to take their personal initiatives in the preservation of their traditional music and art.
Alena will also be facilitating a daytime workshop on sape’ playing and she has also contributed to the Pustaka Bookaroo Children Workshops by painting the thematic mural for the event, using the concept of the Tree of Life which holds great significance to the Orang Ulu and other natives of Borneo.
She chose the Tree of Life because of the message it holds as inspiration, comfort, and life as a whole, as well as music and art as most instruments from the Bornean natives which are wrought from trees.
Tree of Life is an international symbol that can be understood by many cultures throughout the world, proving the importance of the co-existence of nature in human lives, and Alena has gone on to encourage all festival goers and performers to add their own elements to her mural using visuals that represent nature and music.
Alongside Alena, her mentor Mathew Ngau will also be performing at the Festival, along with other Sarawakian bands sporting traditional cultural music such as Gendang Melayu Sri Buana and the Thunder Beats of Nanyang Wushu Drums, including a performance from the Sarawak Cultural Village themselves.
This year’s Festival is being held on August 5-7 and offers a treasure trove of music, arts, crafts and food from all corners of the globe, with nightly performances from 26 performers and over 30 workshops as well as various day-long cultural stalls spread over the course of three days.
Festival tickets and updates are now available online or from the ticketing agents listed at https://rwmf.net/tickets/, with pre-sale prices available until August 4.
The weekend event has been voted as one of the top 25 World Music Festivals by Songlines Magazine for six years in a row and is supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Sarawak (MTAC) and endorsed by Tourism Malaysia with Malaysia Airlines Berhad as the presenting sponsor.
Picture shows Alena Murang