Sape’ player Alena Murang takes ‘Flight’ with new EP

By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
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Alena Murang newly released EP titled Flight

Alena Murang newly released EP titled Flight (Photo credit Alena Murang)

Once considered taboo for women to play or even touch the sape in the olden days, modern day Sarawak female sape player Alena Murang brings out the hauntingly beautiful sound of the stringed instrument with the soothing melodies of Sarawak folksongs in her newly released EP titled ‘Flight’.

Produced by PepperJam Production, a music production unit based in Kuala Lumpur and sponsored by Persafe Engineering Sdn Bhd and K Frontier Sdn Bhd, the EP took about eight months to complete.

The EP features the Kenyah folksong ‘Liling’, now considered the ‘national anthem’ for Orang Ulu in Sarawak. Normally sung during joyous occasions in the longhouse, Alena has added in some Kelabit lyrics (rí e rí e) to the song.

The EP features the beautiful sound of sape played by Alena with the harmonious melody of Sarawak folksongs (Photo credit Alena Murang)

The EP features the beautiful sound of the sape’ played by Alena fused with the soothing melodies of Sarawak folk songs (Photo credit Alena Murang)

“I started thinking that ‘Liling’ was sung by a lot of communities these days, and it is a Kenyah song, but all the Kelabit are singing it also, so I thought why not we just make a verse in the Kelabit language,” said Alena, whose father helped write the Kelabit lyrics.

The inclusiveness of the song is so widespread that when she used to teach sape’ lesson to kids, Alena once had her students create a ‘Liling’ chorus in Iban while conducting a workshop in SMK Riam, Miri.

“I wanted the kids to make a ‘Liling’ chorus in Iban, so they wrote their own Iban lyrics because they all know the song also. So I thought why not we just have our own languages in it,” she said.

While the sape’ is her main instrument, Alena added that she also played the ‘pagang’, the Kelabit bamboo instrument in her EP.

“We also played the bamboo mat; while it is not an actual instrument, we just used the bamboo mat to imitate the sound of people stamping their feet on the longhouse floor during the songs because that is how it is usually done,” she explained.

Aside from ‘Liling’, the EP also features two other Kenyah songs – ‘Pemung Jaé’ and ‘Lan É Tuyang’ – and two Kelabit songs ‘Midang Midang’ (an old Kelabit love song from the pre-Christian era) and ‘Re Lekuah’ (an old Kelabit song depicting the hardship of young women in the olden days).

Mainly featuring Sarawak folksongs, Alena wished to learn more of the older songs before focusing on writing any original pieces in her native tongue.

“I hope they (the listeners) just enjoy the song as they are first above all. Second of all, I just want to share music from Borneo, because I always say that this music was written and inspired by the natural environment, nature and animals. I personally feel that it is still communicated in the tune and songs and I hope the listeners can feel that,” said Alena.

Alena with her mentor, Matthew Ngau Jau

Alena with her mentor, Matthew Ngau Jau.

Alena is no stranger to the indigenous musical scene in Sarawak; she was taught to play the sape’ by Kenyah sape’ player and national heritage, Matthew Ngau Jau from young.

Having released an album ‘Rhythms of the Kelabit Highlands’ when she was with band Kan’id in 2008 and conducted sape and dance workshops in Kuala Lumpur and Miri as part of Rakan Muda mentor for Sarawak ArtForms in 2015, Alena has also performed in over 20 cities including New York and London as well as during the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching in 2016.

She also started ‘ART4 Enterprise’, a social media enterprise that combines art, music and social media impact projects in 2015.

As of now, ‘Flight’ is available at the Ranee, The Museum Cafe & Shop at Main Bazaar and the Sape Star Gallery in Riverside in Kuching.

Listeners may also find them online in Spotify and iTunes or to order, just drop an email at [email protected]

To know more of Alena’s work, check out her Facebook page at Alena Murang Art or website at

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