Alena Murang – Sape Musician And Cultural Artist With A Mission
KLEFF: Tell us about being part Kelabit and how did the art and music journey started.
AM: I was only about six years old when I started learning traditional dancing with my cousins. My mum was the one who saw the importance in me learning these art forms and really encouraged me to do it. Of course, there were still sometimes when I just did not want to go to dance class.
The dancing then naturally developed, and we also started learning Kelabit songs. At the age of thirteen, I then started playing the Sape’, which actually is not Kelabit, but Kenyah. My relationship with music and art developed organically over the years, and I never really thought that I would become a professional Sape’ player or Kelabit dance teacher. It is not something you grow up thinking you can make a career out of, especially since it was naturally deeply integrated into my life.
In 2014, I was invited to join Diplomats of Drum, a Malaysia ethnic fusion band, on their United States tour. During the tour, I noticed that there is a growing interest in the Sape’, the music and the stories behind it. When I came back to KL, social media created an increasing interest in this type of music and art, and the stories behind it. Slowly, people wanted to hear and see more, and that is how it has grown – very organically.
KLEFF: What’s a typical day like in the life of Alena Murang?
AM: In general, a typical day would be to wake up, have a green smoothie and coffee – two essentials. I try to fit in exercise, either in the morning or the evening. Some days, I am actually on my laptop a lot, replying to emails, writing contracts, doing research, writing reports, things like that. Other days, I am in my studio painting, or practicing music and jamming with other musicians.
KLEFF: Can you share some of the most inspiring stories that you have experience in your travels, and how have these stories changed your perspectives or views on how we are managing our environment?
AM: I am actually in Taiwan right now. Back in February, I was part of a project called “Small Island Big Song”, which was started by an Australian and Taiwanese couple to create something that is bigger than them, something that emphasizes the musical connections of communities sharing the Austronesian heritage. The project includes communities from Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines, Madagascar, Rapa Nui, and many more. The Pagang, an instrument the Penan and Kelabit plays, is very similar to an instrument called Vali/Valiha, which is widely played in Madagascar. As most of the ancestors sailed to find a new home, it might be that from Borneo, some of the ancestral seafarers jumped back on their boat and travelled to Madagascar with this musical instrument. Although they are separated by political borders, they culturally and historically have common musical connections.
“Small Island Big Song” also aims to show is that these musicians have very strong connections to the land where they came from, which is emphasized throughout the video. The musicians that wrote the songs are strongly inspired by nature, with intentions to share their stories through music. I was really touched when I heard that these seafarers believed that the oceans connect people, rather than what we tend to think, that they separate people. This really changed my perspective.
It is heartening when people comment on how my music is calm and inspiring, even though they don’t understand the words. When music is born out of natural vibrations, those vibrations resonate with the human body; it can be “translated” from the nature to influence humans.
KLEFF: Share with us what is in store at KLEFF for you?
AM: I will be doing some workshops and shows, and the KL Sape’ collective will be offering a workshop as well.
KLEFF: How do you see platforms like KLEFF making a difference in the lives of an average Malaysian?
AM: KLEFF and particularly the eco-films are becoming increasingly powerful. There is a lot of research done on the environment, but a big part of it lies in books and journals – and people don’t have the time or patience to read up on it. Therefore, I think films are becoming an increasingly powerful and impactful medium for delivering environmental messages.
However, KLEFF goes far beyond films – it comprises of the Green Market, art exhibitions, workshops, and Lead-Ups. It is a whole week of “in-your-face” awareness building while giving people the opportunity to learn how to actually make a difference. It is a platform for people to learn on developing their ecological conscience. The films themselves often promote personal discussions between the audience and filmmakers. I think it is definitely making a change.
KLEFF: What would be some of the features of this year’s KLEFF which you definitely don’t want to miss?
AM: I can’t wait to check out this year’s film selection. I’ve got my eyes on Empathy. And of course, I’m also excited to check out the green vendors at the Festival’s Green Market. And of course, KLEFF does what KLEFF does best – a range of workshops and forums to be part of, to network and also learn a new thing or two about sustainable living. I can’t wait!