A singer-songwriter, the first professional female sape’-player and teacher, as well as dancer, Alena Murang is well-known locally and internationally for her many skills.
Adding to the list, the Kuching-born artiste, who is part Kelabit, just released her latest single, Warrior Spirit, with an equally captivating music video.
“The song is inspired by a traditional sape’ tune which is for the male warrior dance. The visual I had in my mind was the warrior watching the mist rise on the morning before the battle,” Alena shares with SAYS, adding that she completed the single with Joshua Maran (guitarist and producer), Jonathan Wong Ketshin (guitarist), and later on Herman Ramanado (bassist).
“We named it Warrior Spirit because it’s the essence of the warrior that we wanted to narrate. In the past our ancestors were known as fearless warriors and headhunters, protecting the communities.”
“In the late 1900s, the Ulu Baram area went through a process known as the ‘peacemaking era’, and since then we have been very peaceful people. So even though we no longer have those kind of wars anymore, I know we still have the courage and the bravery, to defend what’s right, and to fight the good fight – to fight for it together for the betterment of the community. That’s the Warrior Spirit.”
Working side by side with Project Room Productions, the artiste and team spent slightly over a year to plan, shoot, and produce the entire music video
Project Room director Sarah Lois Dorai, who happens to be the artiste’s cousin and also of Kelabit descent, reveals that she and Alena both shared the same vision of wanting to pay homage to the traditional practice of mass dancing.
“Conceptually, I wanted to create a film that would serve as a visual statement of identity and reflect what it means to have a warrior spirit – an inner strength that exists within us, a strength found in community, which is central to the value system of indigenous people groups,” the director explains.
“We used mostly traditional dance steps from the Orang Ulu ladies’ hornbill dance and the male warrior dance,” Alena adds. Even down to the different outfits in each scene, the musician wanted to achieve a narrative that is contemporary and laced with heritage.
In addition, they partnered with Tyler Roth from Company 3, who is based in Los Angeles, to grade the film.
“We wanted to push the colours on the film after having done all we could to shoot it. I mean these were the guys who worked on movies like Top Gun 2, 1917, Justice League, and artistes like Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, and Beyonce, to name a few. Why wouldn’t you want to grade with the best in the world? The colours in the film made a world of difference,” Project Room’s executive producer and director of photography (DOP) Fabian Joseph said in an interview with SAYS.
During the production process, the team consisting of roughly 80 people faced countless challenges, from unpredictable weather and early 3am shoots to lockdown issues.
“The pandemic made for a rough journey with questions like ‘How do we shoot with 40 over dancers and crew at a time? What kind of locations would work for us? How do we ensure the safety of everyone on the shoot?'” Fabian explains.
There were also different locations to consider. Shooting near the sea at Pulau Indah and Kuala Kubu Bharu meant working under the rain and sun along with lots of lugging around of heavy equipment uphill, he continues.
“On our second day of shoot towards the end, we had to endure the rain. We had a crane on set and had to rush to move it from the initial location it was set to another spot to catch the sunlight before night fall.
“These were some of the many challenges if you want to call it that, we had to face. No work is easy especially when you are trying to achieve something big and there are just too many variables made even harder with the pandemic.
“Maybe this was more a challenge individually but perhaps it became a collective strength as the music video project became a space for us to support each other and to pour our energy into,” Alena shares.
“It’s been tough, I won’t sugar coat it. I spent a lot of time last year focused on creating – also releasing an album (Sky Songs) in April… To be honest I really didn’t think we would be in a lockdown like this year. It’s really hard to plan as a musician and for everyone else too I’m sure. I know this will pass soon enough.”
Despite the many challenges, she’s grateful and credits the team for pulling everything together.
“Warrior Spirit was really possible through the participation of everyone on the team – possibly close to 80 people. We were working to create a piece from our hearts. From the production team, make-up artist, styling team, designers, band, dancers, choreographers, and strategic partners. I’m so appreciative of them. Great things can be done when we collaborate and when we work together towards a common goal.”
Since the music video was released about a week ago, Warrior Spirit has amassed over 89,600 views on YouTube.
“It’s been overwhelming, and I am really happy with the response and the support. I think the warrior spirit is what’s really needed in this time too. For me, the most heartwarming part is seeing the audience respond to the video with their own creations – like dances, drawing comics, writing poetry – to see them inspired to also create and delve into heritage.”
As for her upcoming plans, Alena continues to work on Project Ranih, an online archive of Kelabit Children’s songs.
And when the time is right, she looks forward to performing live shows as well as a tour for the new album. – SAYS