Inspired by the stories of her ancestors who lived in the skies and on Earth, her new album is a journey of song through the cosmos; a song for the warriors who watch the mist rise on the morning of battle; a song of watching the clouds that indicate a good time to migrate; a song with lamentations of thunder and the moon.
Two years in the making
It was a delightful afternoon to attend a live album launch in person and not virtually. Adhering to SOPs, the invited media including yours truly was just as excited to see Malaysian Sape Queen and singer-songwriter Alena Murang launching her new album entitled ‘Sky Songs”.
With mixed Kelabit and European parentage, she was stunning as usual in looks and stature.
Hair and make-up artist Gabriel Padan who is part of Alena’s team that won the Best Styling award at the Bueno Aires Music Video Festival in Argentina for her 2019 Midang Midang video, was seen sprucing her up.
In a summery dress by Sarawak-based clothing brand Wynka and traditional beaded head piece with a contemporary twist by local brand RabenBeads, Alena’s somewhat tribal look was heightened by her opting to go barefoot on stage.
A brief speech was delivered in her calm voice and she was ready to start with some selected tracks from the latest album. The first female professional sape player, Alena’s performance on the iconic stringed lute instrument was accompanied by her drummer and guitarists.
Dewi Liana Seriestha (Malaysian singer, model and Miss Malaysia World Talent 2014), Vivienna Alfred (model, TV host and Miss Cosmopolitan Malaysia 2018) and the utterly hip Arafah Edruce, better known as Arabyrd (musical artiste) were amongst the Sarawakian guests who shouted out — ‘OHH HAH’.
I first met Alena on a trip with the Stylo Malaysian Fashion Week team during the Paris Fashion Week in 2016, which saw Alena playing her sape live on the catwalk for Kuching brand, Tanoti, as we cruised down the River Seine.
In the same year, I also attended Alena’s first album launch in Kuala Lumpur. Since then, she has gone on to produce singles and now a second album, which Alena explains further.
“Sky Songs is about two years in the making. It has eight tracks — two instrumentals, four in the Kelabit language, one in the Kenyah language and one in English. It’s quite a fresh sound and I’m really excited to share it. The band and I have been closely working together on this.
“It’s called Sky Songs, as our ancestors used to say that the sky is like a big sunhat dome and all creation lies beneath it. In the past, it is said that our great ancestors used to live in the skies and travelled to earth through a large waterfall.
Each song is themed around the sky — a song about the stars, another about the thunder and the moon; a song of watching the clouds indicate a good time to migrate.”
She chose to sing in Kenyah and Kelabit so as to keep these languages alive.
“Language represents a myriad of things you see in life — your people and the community, as well as your perception of life and realities. Therefore, this album is my way of preserving our beautiful heritage in hope that it is still there for our children and the future generations to accept and appreciate,” said Alena who is very thankful to her production team.
Her thanks go especially to Kementerian Komunikasi Dan Multimedia Malaysia (KKMM) for supporting the local artists through its Dana Kandungan Digital (DKD), as well as the Dayak Cultural Foundation Sarawak.
The album is produced by her cousin Joshua Maran who also co-wrote the songs.
He mentioned that Alena has worked very hard to improve her vocals and everyone in the production has put a lot of efforts into the album.
The musicians that played on the album are Jonathan Wong Ketshin, Herman Ramanado, Jimmy Chong, Derrick Siow and Niko Coyez. What do I think of her latest album? I like the opening number, ‘Gitu’an’, sang in Kelabit as it transports the listener to the highlands of Sarawak and conjures visuals of Kelabit elders and their community.
Whereas the catchy second track, ‘We watched the clouds’, sang in the Kelabit Long Peluan dialect, is easily usable for a catwalk.
The last track, ‘Meno’, adapted from Mathew Ngau Jau kept me replaying it.
Every track differs in sound and the album features a mixture of instruments native to Borneo including the Sape, Tubong, Pagang, rattan mat, and other cultural instruments such as taiko drums and cowbells with the guitar, drum kit and concert flute.
The CD comes with a 30-page booklet of lyrics and translations, stories and photos. For merchandise there are also T-shirts and notebooks. Online purchases of either CD or casettes can be made at www.tandangstore.com while those in Kuching may drop by Bandat Record Store.