It’s a disappearing musical form, but Bornean-born Alena Murang is keeping the indigenous Sarawakian tradition of sape’ well and alive
Alena Murang is a musician on a mission: to highlight the heritage and history of her people, the Kelabits. The Kelabits are an indigenous people of Sarawak, and Alena tells their stories through her music and art.
“I’ve been playing sape‘ (a traditional lute instrument) for 20 years,” Alena tells us. “Back then, there was hardly anyone in my generation playing sape’ and it was taboo for women to touch the instrument.”
“The music was passed to me by my elders and I work with my cousins and bandmates (to) create new sounds. Our work is contemporary because we believe that for culture to be alive, we need to keep it relevant, while honouring our heritage.”
You can witness Alena’s work in the music video for her latest song, “Midang Midang”, a precursor to the full album she’ll be releasing this year. Shot entirely in Miri, the music video is a love letter to Alena’s home and the people who live and work there.
These days, Alena is still keeping busy through her art and sape’ music, which she plays and streams from her living room to listeners. Earlier in April, she, alongside local musicians Shila Amzah and Josh Kua, performed sets for the digital concert, “Kempinski Concertini: A Digital Concert Series by 8 Conlay”. You can check out more of Alena’s music and art on her website and Instagram.
This story was originally published in the February 2020 issue of Going Places.