Another feather in the cap for Alena Murang

Alena Murang in her latest music video ‘Warrior Spirit’

Once again, Sarawak sape songstress Alena Murang has made Malaysia proud as her music video ‘Warrior Spirit’ gained international recognition yet again. Despite facing Covid-19 restrictions, the production team made the most out of the situation and managed to produce a world-class video.

The embodiment of ‘Warrior Spirit’

Alena Murang’s latest video ‘Warrior Spirit’ embodies the essence that Sarawakians, and also Malaysians at large, needed during the pandemic. Originally a sape folk song for a Kelabit warrior dance, Alena explained that in today’s context, it is a song that stayed true to its name.

“In the past, our ancestors were headhunters and warriors. Nowadays, we don’t practice that but we still have the warrior spirit in us. We see it in many passionate young generations fighting for what is right and good,” she told New Sarawak Tribune.

Alena Murang in her latest music video ‘Warrior Spirit’

‘Warrior Spirit’ has won the Best Asia and Pacific Music Video and Honourable Mention for Best Costume Awards at the recent International Music Video Awards held in the UK. The work was also chosen as an Official Selection at the New York International Film Awards and a semi-finalist for Best Film at the 2021 Los Angeles Film Awards.

With the win coming during the pandemic, video director Sarah Lois Dorai said that it was a necessary encouragement for the film industry today, “I feel that everyone can relate to this song especially during a time like this. It brings joy to our creative industry which is not doing so well due to the Covid-19 restrictions.”

Sarah then elaborated how the restrictions had influenced the production team. “We spent the whole year getting everything done. Because of the pandemic, we had to change our filming date so many times as we were concerned for the team’s safety and we didn’t want to put anyone at risk.”

Having shot the music video in three days, Sarah said that they faced many challenges as there were so many individuals involved in the production. “We had so many dancers and we had to coordinate everyone at the right time.” She also disclosed that initially, she didn’t planned for a third-day shoot. “During the first two days of shooting, it kept raining and there were other challenges too. I didn’t want to go back for a third day as it would be very much of a hassle. So I tried to edit it but it just didn’t sit right with me.”

Nonetheless, Sarah was glad that the team proceeded with the third day of filming as it improved the video tremendously. “We had a beautiful sunset on the day, and it actually added so much magic into the film.”

Director’s inspiration

Behind the scene of shooting ‘Warrior Spirit’

Co-produced by Kanid Studio and Project Room, Sarah’s inspiration behind the award-winning music video was the tune that Alena played on the sape itself. While listening to the song, Sarah, who is also Alena’s cousin, recalled how she had goosebumps and was brimming with pride. “It has this strong sense of identity of who we are as the native people of today’s Sarawak.”

Reiterating what co-composer Josh Maran had told her on his vision for the song, she said that it was an infusion of influences between the old and the new things that made Sarawakians who they are today. “We are not like our parents who were influenced by the traditional music of their generation. Today’s generation have different influences like pop and rock. Hence, even though it is our identity, Sarawakian music are not just limited to the sape, we are much more than that. And this song embodies that thought.”

Behind the scene of shooting ‘Warrior Spirit’

Sarah explained that initially, she had envisioned the Kelabit ngarang dance for the video. “It’s the power of seeing so many people dancing at one time — that was the first image in my mind when I heard the music.” However, she conceded that her idea was challenged by her producer husband Fabian Wilfred Joseph. “I immediately think of what elements I could add to it aside from dancing. From there it just grew, and with everyone’s contribution, the video took its current shape and form.”

Though Alena’s song was made to reflect Sarawak, the music video was actually filmed in two different locations in Selangor. “We could not return to Sarawak to film, so we had to find a location that looked more or less the same with our home state. At the same time, we also looked for a place where it is safe for the team conduct filming and has zero to minimal contact with outsiders.”

Favourite moments

For Alena, the moment when she danced under the rain tops everything during filming. “It was on the second day of our shoot, and it was a very long day. I slept at midnight but had to wake up at 3am. I had my makeup done, drove to the location and filming started at 6.30am.” According to Alena, she was extremely exhausted and hardly had any rest.

“Then it started raining. Initially, Sarah wanted to wait for the rain to stop, but seeing that there were no sign that it was going to stop, she asked if the team would dance under the rain. It was really nice and surreal to be in the moment.”

Alena Murang dancing in the rain during the ‘Warrior Spirit’ video shoot.

Alena added, “The biggest challenge during the scene was dancing in the mud but in film, we have to pretend like nothing was wrong.”

Director Sarah then recalled her favourite moment, and she said that it was a shot done during filming. “Fabian was on top of a crane and we were doing a top shot where the dancers were in a circle. Then I kept telling the dancers to move closer and they were wondering why, but they did it nonetheless. They became this circle that was so tight and it became this iconic shot,” she said.

“When I saw it for the first time on the frame, it was so beautiful. I had never imagined it looked so good. At the moment, the dancers were confined to a tight space in between each other and they kept saying they couldn’t maintain the movements. I just told them to move with whatever space they have. They kept their composure, and on frame it looked so good that I had goosebumps,” Sarah added.

Director Sarah Lois Dorai’s favourite moment was when she managed to capture this iconic shot of the dancers dancing around Alena in a circle.
Filming during the pandemic

Filming during the pandemic certainly had its challenges. With the imposed restrictions, Alena said the film industry had to comply with the strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) set. “Plus, music and film are not considered essential services. We were one of the last sectors allowed to operate. And before we begin, every crewmember had to undergo a swab test.”

She also said that the pandemic had taken its toll on many freelancers and self-employed individuals in the industry. “They didn’t have a company to fall back to or a company to look after them during the Movement Control Order (MCO).”

Sarah added that the pandemic had also restricted productivity within the team.

Typically we would want a large team but we are also very concerned about the team’s safety. We didn’t want to jeopardise their safety by unnecessarily exposing them to the dangers of working in a large crowd. Our credit list may seem like a lot of people, but that number of people was actually divided at different times in three separate days.”

As we are currently facing uncertainties in times of the pandemic, Alena said that the team has put on hold all upcoming projects at the moment. “If we keep rescheduling, it would cost money too. So far, we have brainstormed for ideas, but it will take some time before we carry out our plans,” said the Kelabit musician.

(From left) Herman Ramanado, Alena Murang, Jimmy Chong and Joshua Maran.