In 2015, she founded ART4 Studio to foster positive social and environmental impact through the arts. She represented Malaysia as well at the UNESCO Youth Forum 2017 in Paris, and subsequently became a youth advisor to UNESCO Asia Pacific. In 2018, she was awarded the Miri Mayor Award for her impact in the Tourism sector. From the moment she picked up her first sape at a very young age, Alena Murang was already destined for greatness.
In 2019, the beautiful half Kelabit half English-Italian collaborated with Borneo Jazz Festival, creating art for its poster and putting up an art exhibition at the festival as well. BorneoTalk had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with the multi-talented, beautiful and sweet Sarawakian, Alena Murang.
BT: What developed your interest towards Sape?
A: I started learning the Kelabit dance when I was 6 years old from the Dayak Cultural Foundation, so every weekend my cousins and I learned the dance from the aunties and we performed at events and functions in Kuching. At that point, there were only a few Sape players in Kuching, so we decided that half of us were going to learn Sape and half of us became dancer. Our moms encouraged us to learn Sape, and we learned our Sape lesson from uncle Mathew.
BT: Speaking of uncle Mathew, how does he teach the students from primary to secondary?
A: We don’t have that system actually. I learned Sape from him with no notes, so I just sat down together with the teacher and just watched him play, and learned.
BT: How do you compose your songs?
A: I am more towards the emotional, nostalgic, and romantic. So the inspiration and the music come from the heart. I use my phone to record and listen to it.
BT: How did it develop into a career?
A: Honestly when I was young, I never thought that I would be a professional Sape player. Sape was just something that was in my life. Along the way, people also asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be an architect, a vet, because that’s the path that you’d follow. But people got more interested as I performed and it just evolved very naturally from there.
BT: Is there something distinct in your songs that enables people to recognise that the song yours?
A: I was told that I had to develop my own style while playing Sape. My style is singing along with the Sape, and it was actually inspired by uncle Mathew. My vibe and energy is quite nostalgic.
BT: Do you prefer to perform in front of large crowds?
A: I like to perform at intimate spaces, where people are more focussed.
BT: Do you think the youngsters nowadays want to learn Sape?
A: Among all my students in Kuala Lumpur, 3 of them are Sarawakian, and the rest are from the United States, Poland, and West Malaysia and it involves all ages.
BT: How do you see Sape as an instrument that can go international?
A: In the past years, Sape has changed a lot. The traditional Sape has five notes. But now, the contemporary Sape has more notes and more strings. The Sape is evolving, and currently it is also available in a smaller size, so it can fit in our bags on anywhere we go.
#FunFacts of Alena Murang
- What is your favourite hometown food?
Laksa Sarawak! Midin, Cangkuk Manis, Tepus (ginger root), oh too many.
- Besides Kuching, what is your favourite city in the world?
- Who is your favourite singer?
No Doubt (favourite band)
- What movie do you like the most?
Kubo and the Two String
- Your favourite past-time?
Being by the sea. Is that a past-time??
- Favourite colour?
- Coffee or tea?
- What would you pair your favourite jeans with?
A plain top
- Who’s your favorite superhero?
- What ticks you off?
Littering, and single-use plastic
- Cats or dogs?
Cats!! (I used to have twelve cats)
- Your dream guy?
“Re Lekuah” is the first music video in the Kelabit language.
Director: Ashley Duong
Producers: Alena Murang and Ashley Duong
Featuring the track “Re Lekuah” by Alena Murang learnt from Tepu’ Doo’ Ayu and produced by Pepper Jam Productions.