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10 Malaysian Women On The Importance Of International Women’s Day

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ALENA MURANG

Sape artist and cultural activist

Balance defines me as a human and a woman. We have long lived on the principle of balance between men and women in our Kelabit community, with each other, and with nature. I look for balance in my experiences that have become an input for my music.

Traditionally, the sape was used for ritual healings. As a female sape artist, I speak to people on an emotional level. I use my music as a way to open conversations. I speak about the beauty of our natural environment, particularly the rivers and the jungle. I am sharing stories of what it’s like back home in Sarawak. This year, I’m focusing on language, in tandem with UNESCO’s 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.

The languages I sing in are listed as “threatened languages”. Languages are so closely linked to our cultural identity. I learn Kelabit tunes from grand aunties, and I rearrange the songs to a sound we feel that contemporary, global audiences will resonate with. We include other instruments like guitar, violin, drums, but always make sure that the sape is at the forefront. Seeing people sing along to our songs has filled my heart with so much joy, and keeps me going on my quest of cultural preservation.

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