By John Isaac
SAPE artiste Alena Murang will be releasing a new single and music video called Meno’ on Friday (Jan 29) on YouTube.
It is a nostalgic lament of home and missing the longhouse and the people.
Alena, a descendant of the Kelabit ethnic group of the Baram River, recalls the days of the past when her ancestors used to make long journeys from the highlands to the coast of Miri to trade.
They went by long boat through the rapids and up on land through the dense jungle, sleeping at villages or in the jungle on the way. It was at times like these that they would sing belian meno’ (wistful songs).
A type of graceful song, Meno’, in the Kenyah language, is an emotion of yearning and thinking of something or someone that is not there. The Kenyah language, spoken in Sarawak and Kalimantan, is of the Austronesian language groups and it is listed as an endangered language.
“In recent years, I have been travelling internationally a lot, and I would always sing this song on stage, also thinking about how much I missed home at that time,” said Alena.
The songstress has played at festivals such as South by Southwest (United States of America), Forde Traditional and World Music Festival (Norway), and OzAsia Festival (Australia).
“I am now based in Kuala Lumpur, and in the past year the inability to return home especially to the kampung has had a greater impact on me than I would have thought,” she said as reported by New Sarawak Tribune.
“I balik kampung at least twice a year to see the family, to reconnect with the land, to do research, and it really grounds me. I really miss it and I can’t wait to go back, but for now we have to keep everybody, especially the interior areas, safe from the virus,” she added.
The music video, edited by Sabah-based Kelabit filmmaker Candy Yik, uses snippets of videos from the road and rivers of the villages in the interior of Sarawak along the upper Baram River.
On recording and producing during Covid-19 pandemic duration, Alena said that it was a challenge but not impossible.
“It just slows down the process a lot,” she pointed out.
Meno’ is the second single released in anticipation of her new album. The album recordings are supported by Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia as part of the ‘Roads to Our Heritage’ (RTOH) project, as well as the Dayak Cultural Foundation (DCF).
“In the midst of Sarawak’s development, we see that the modern Dayak identity is strong through projects such as this music production by Alena Murang,” said Libat Langub, secretary to DCF’s Board of Trustees.
“We are proud of Alena and her team for their dedication in upholding the culture of Kenyah and Kelabit people through music and language. We hope that other young people will be inspired to similarly create, to learn, and to share the wealth of knowledge and beauty that lie in the many languages and cultures we have here,” he said.
RTOH is a music project collaboration by three local Malaysian bands — Alena Murang, Estranged, and Stonebay to produce an album each as well as a six-episode documentary series featuring East Malaysian music heritage.
Through this documentary series, the three bands together with music researcher Dr Nadia Widyawati Madzhi of Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) Faculty of Music aim to reach out and tell the stories of the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, specifically the traditional music craftsmen.
By sharing these stories told by the native heritage caretakers, they hope that this will generate interest as well as be a part of the preservation efforts on East Malaysian culture.