ALENA Murang, a young and talented lass from Kuching, started playing the sape — a famous Sarawakian musical instrument — since the age of six. Since then, she fell in love with the instrument and has brought it along to many places, which is how she ended up where she is today!
Born with a mixed of Kelabit, English, and Italian, Alena spent most of her childhood in Kuching before she moved to Lancashire right after she finished secondary school. She released her debut album Rhythms of the Kelabit Highlands with the band Kan’id in 2008 before moving to Singapore to further her studies in visual art. Since 2014, she has lived in Kuala Lumpur.
She became an artist and musician in Kuala Lumpur and also started her own sape class in 2015. Her students are diverse, comprising Malaysian, Irish, American, Mexican, Indonesia and Polish sape enthusiasts to name a few. In that same year, she also started ART4 Enterprise, a social enterprise that combines art, music, and social impact projects.
A beautiful and spirited young lady as described by her friends, Alena produced and released her latest extended play which consists of Kelabit and Kenyah songs recently. With the support of her family and friends, Flight was brought to life at event space Timbre with performances of indigenous songs such as “Pemujang Jae”, “Midang Midang”, and “Lan E’ Tuyang”. She was also joined by Amir Jahari during the launch, where they performed his new single “Ingga” on the sape.
Producing these songs is a learning process and such a pleasure for me as these songs were supposedly passed on from grandparents to their grandchildren and I am grateful to have learnt Kelabit and Kenyah songs from the elderly.
— Alena Murang
Of mixed heritage, Alena wants to learn other Bornean languages which exist in Sarawak including Penan and Kayan.
Those curious about Alena’s latest’s EP Flight can stream it on Spotify and check out her YouTube channel. But while listening to it, we can’t help but notice the lyrical content which accompanies Alena’s sape. Here are some of information on the songs she performed during the launch.
“Liling / Ri’e Ri’e”: This Kenyah folksong is sung by most of the Orang Ulu people of Borneo. “Liling” usually appears at joyous occasions such as welcoming and weddings ceremonies as well as after a community gathering. This song was written by Alena’s father, and Alena has also inserted Kelabit lyrics which go “ri’e ri’e”.
“Pemung Jae”: A Kenyah song about being together, Alena plays and sings her version of ‘being together’ as taught by her sape teacher.
“Midang Midang”: Existing since the Pre-Christian era, this old Kelabit love song tells about a young girl watching leaves drying in the sun, while calling out to a lover to come to her. Alena learnt this song from a Kelabit elder who has encouraged her to share it with the world.
“Re Lekuah”: This old Kelabit song depicts the hardship of young women in the olden days. Many Kelabits no longer remember the meaning of the phrase “Re Lekuah”.
“Lan E’ Tuyang”: A Kenyah folk song usually sung in harmonies by the community.
For more information on Alena Murang, feel free to head on over to her website.