‘Midang Midang’ – From Bario to the world

Alena during the pond scene. Necklace by Raben Beads. Photo Credit: Candy Yik.

Recently nominated for two awards in the prestigious Buenos Aires Music Video Festival, singer Alena Murang and director-stylist Sarah Lois share their takes on the challenges and memorable moments during the making of the ‘Midang Midang’ music video.

A truly Malaysian effort

Alena Murang’s ‘Midang Midang’ was more than just a song release. It was an interwoven of culture, the crew and everything behind the making. Crediting the crew for a job well done, Alena emphasised that while it is her name on the music video, “it belongs to all of us equally.

There are so many people to give credit to, as none of this would have happened without them.”
Recently, the ‘Midang Midang’ music video made national headlines when it was nominated for two awards at this year’s Buenos Aires Music Video Festival. It was on the running for the Best International Video and Best Styling category.

Honoured to receive the news of the nomination, Alena recalled the times when the Covid-19 threat was still unknown, “I would travel around and do shows but now we can’t do it anymore. But it is nice to see that this music video had travelled the world. Not just Buenos Aires, but also at festivals in New Zealand, United States and the United Kingdom.” 

A song from the past

According to Alena, ‘Midang Midang’ was actually adapted from an old Kelabit folk song. “In the song, the girl can be seen longingly singing to meet Agan and Jalong — the two most common male names in Kelabit — so she could know them better.”

A song from the past, Alena said it was passed down to her by her tepu’ ira (grand auntie). “She taught me the song as her elders did to her,” said Alena. As Kelabit songs before were monotonous and without a tune, Alena and her music producer, Joshua Maran added melody and rhythm to the song to suit the modern audience.

“In my opinion, if we want to keep the culture alive, we need to adapt to modernity. And that was what our grand aunties did when we were young, they changed the rhythm and songs from how they first heard it,” disclosed the 31-year-old chanteuse.

Along the process of revamping the song, Alena and her cousin Joshua rearranged it, and her father and auntie translated it, “I was not fluent in Kelabit. Furthermore, the lyrics were very hard to understand as it was sung in an old Kelabit language and there were a lot of metaphors. So we asked our elders for translations, and figured the best choice of words to use.”

Through the song, Alena said she had learned of the past cultural beliefs and practices of the Kelabit in courtship and matchmaking. And with ‘Midang Midang’, she said the power and beauty of a woman were emphasised and highlighted thoroughly in the music video. 

Speaking on her next release, Alena revealed that it will be a song about warriors of the era. “In the past, our ancestors were warriors fighting in wars. My next song ‘Warrior Spirit’ depicts the life force that we still have today, fighting for the greater good.”

Born half Kelabit-half European, Alena conceded that at home she always spent time in a community. “Growing up Kelabit, we always have extended families around, living with us. Sometimes we have a longhouse full of people, so it is very community-based.”

Memorable moments

Alena then said that the most memorable moment during the shooting of ‘Midang Midang’ in Bario, was in the evening when everyone would gather at the dining table to have dinner.

“In Kelabit culture, eating together is very important. During production, everybody was busy doing their own thing. So to have that sense of camaraderie at the end of every day was lovely, to be able to build ties akin to being a part of a family with the team,” she said.

Alena also described one scene — where she sat in the pond — as a memorable one for her. “I was packing before our flight, and my stylist, Sarah Lois reminded me to bring my leggings so I could sit in the pond.

“I was puzzled as we never discussed about the scene. I told Sarah that I will only do this for her as I trust she will create something beautiful out of it. Thankfully, the muddy pond was clean, but I could feel tiny fishes swimming around me!”

In order for the video to have an ‘authentic’ feel to it, the crew chose to shoot the video in Bario, despite knowing the challenges they will face in terms of travel and time.

Speaking to the video’s director, stylist, choreographer and editor Sarah Lois on her choice for the pond scene of the music video, she said that during her research process in developing ideas, she found an image of a lady submerged in water and her reflection was beautiful.

Director’s take

“So when my director of photography took a photo of the pond we was using, it was so beautiful. The sky was blue, you can see the mountains’ reflection in the water and I was convinced that I have to get this scene on the video,” she added.

Asked about her feelings after ‘Midang Midang’ was nominated for the Best Styling category in the Buenos Aires Music Video Festival, Sarah was happy as she believes the crew put a tremendous effort into styling the video. 

“We did not just style the video to look good. Everything and every detail in the it were carefully and intentionally done to convey a message. That being Sarawak has great talents,” shared Sarah.

Elaborating, Sarah said that in the process, she also wanted to introduce how Sarawak have progressed throughout the years.

“I decided to use Sarawakian designers to see how the influence of culture has affected their designs and to represent who we are, and how we carry our culture.” 

Overall, Sarah explained that since the tune was a feminine, dreamy and soft, “Everything that we did, in terms of visual, was to reflect that feeling.”

Malaysian spirit

Sharing on the challenges, Sarah said that the most difficult part of the shoot was to get to Bario from Kuala Lumpur (where Project Room, the production house that produced the music video was based at). “Flights and logistics were the main issues. But the great thing about Sarawak is the community, and how they are all willing to help.”

The whole shooting process took six days and Sarah conceded that without a proper backdrop, crew to bring everything together, none of it could have happened. 

Beads by Raben Beads, Feathers by Neng Kho Razali. Photo Credit : Paul Anis.

“The whole thing feels quite magical. Another thing that made me feel very honoured with was working with the crew. This may be a Sarawakian video but the whole process of it being made truly embodies the Malaysian spirit.

“They all came together from different states, different cultural backgrounds, to lift up a culture that’s not even theirs. Despite the differences, we complete each other and that is the perfect representation of Malaysia,” said the Kelabit-Indian lass.