It began in January 2016 with a Sarawak Laksa breakfast followed by the creation of a WhatsApp chat group.
The group of Sape’ players – Alena Murang, Rosemary Colony Joel, Munirah Jebeni, and Anderson Kalang – realised that many Kuala Lumpur city folks and those in the Peninsular were fascinated with the Sape’ musical instrument after watching performances at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching.
Many wanted to listen to more Sape’ music and get their hands on this unique instrument to learn how to play it. They called themselves the Kuala Lumpur Sape’ Collective (KLSC).
By this time, of course, it was no longer taboo for women to play the Sape.’
In ancient times, the Sape’ was only played during healing ceremonies, an instrument shamans used in the longhouses to call on spirits. It was taboo for women to touch, let alone play.
Renowned Sape’ player, Alena Murang persevered in convincing legendary Kenyah Ngorek Sape’ maker and player Mathew Ngau Jau to teach her.
In a news interview, she is reported to have said, “I didn’t realise, until a few years ago when I interviewed Matthew to find out why he taught us (women) the Sape’; he said it was because there were hardly anyone left in his generation who played the Sape’ – which was my father’s generation. He needed to teach someone. So, he taught me and my cousins.”
Despite being a classically trained guitarist, Murang says she did find the Sape’ challenging to master. “It is similar to the guitar because it’s a stringed instrument but in many ways, it is also very different. What makes the Sape’ unique is the playing technique. There’s a technique called flicking. Flicking, as well as tapping and muting techniques, are what gives the Sape’ its unique sound.”
Explains Kalang: “As one of the founding members of KLSC, I believe it is important to encourage and inspire new generations of Sape’ players to be formed in their homeland. Garry Sudom Raymond returned to Sarawak in 2017 with Hallan Hashim (Founder of Sada Borneo) to form “Sape’ Movement” in Miri. Allahyarham Saufi Aiman Yahya returned to Sarawak in 2020 to form “Persatuan Anak Seni Sape’ Kuching” (PUSAK) with Danison Manium. In continuing the journey and giving honor to all their Sape’ masters, today the founding members of “Kuala Lumpur Sape’ Collective” (KL), Sape’ Movement (Miri), and PUSAK (Kuching) are closely supporting and sharing each other’s efforts in promoting and creating platforms for the next generation Sape’ players in Malaysia.”
Together with Sape’ player and cousin Alena Murang, Kalang was part of the committee organising the Think City Sape’ workshop at The Ruang, Kuala Lumpur in January 2017.
Having 40 over participants at the Sape’ workshop, which was the official introduction of the Kuala Lumpur Sape’ Collective, a network of professional and international Sape’ performers based in Peninsular Malaysia.
Coming from various ethnicity and technical expertise in the Sape’ music, arts, and culture, the members of the KLSC’s have now expanded to include Leslie Eli, Garry Sudom Raymond, Abisheg M, Allahyarham Saufi Aiman Yahya, and Tasneem Bolhassan.
After the workshop, the founding members of KL Sape’ Collective received numerous invitations to perform around Peninsular Malaysia after twice their shows at the Masjid Jamek LRT.
They continue to teach and share about the art on mainstream media, radio, social media, and perform outside the country respectively.
Doing individual roles in promoting the Sape’ in the coming years, the co-founders of KL Sape’ Collective came together again on a bigger scale collaborating with Jabatan Kebudayaan & Kesenian Negara (JKKN) in organising “Kenyalang Alive, Ekspresi Muzika Sape” in September 2018 at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MaTic), Kuala Lumpur where Malaysia’s Living National Heritage, Mathew Ngau, French Sape’ player Julien Cottet and Bob Yusof AF was also invited to showcase their pieces at the 2 nights concert.
In 2020, Alena Murang and her troupe with Anderson Kalang as a primary male dancer participated in THE FIRST MALAYSIAN VIRTUAL ARTS FESTIVAL which increased even more viewers through YouTube videos.
Both the cousins continue to be active in promoting the Sape’ in all the different ways they can.
Not just with performances but also with teaching workshops. What is very clear is the genuine spirit of sharing and archiving their art and techniques between their own Orang Ulu communities, as well as promoting in Peninsular Malaysia.
In particular, the Kenyah and Kelabit are determined to preserve the Sounds of the Sape’ from both a traditional and contemporary standpoint, with the innate understanding and respect that there is an instrument with its roots in ritualistic healing.
Cover images by the Kuala Lumpur Sape’ Collective / Facebook.