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Alena Murang

Alena Murang

Meet Malaysian music artist, painter, and performer, Alena Murang.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a musician and visual artist, from Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. My father is of the indigenous Kelabit tribe and I’ve been learning the art forms from elders for over twenty years now – dancing, singing, playing the sape’. Sape’ is a lute instrument which used to be taboo for women to touch. Our people come from the headwaters of the Ulu Baram river, in the world’s oldest rainforests. That’s where our music and stories come from. I work with my cousins to make music and music videos, and other productions that help us make sense of growing up comfortably in seemingly parallel words – traditional and modern, past and present, rural and city. I have a band and we travel to music festivals around the world sharing these songs and stories.

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

My current base is Kuala Lumpur. It’s a good mix of people and cultures with a growing art scene. It’s city life.. lots of traffic, lots of things going on. I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown Kuching (East Malaysia on Borneo island) too which is great because it’s a very small city by the beach near the rainforests and the environment and people really inspire me to create.

 

The best thing about KL is the community of artists and musicians that stick together and we’re building the industry together.

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

The best thing about KL is the community of artists and musicians that stick together and we’re building the industry together. The worst thing is the polluted river and the yearly haze.

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.
Collaborative
Inspiring

 

How did you start your career in art?
I’ve been learning traditional music of my heritage (Kelabit and Kenyah tribes of Borneo) since I was six. When I moved to KL for a corporate job, I would play my guitar at an open mic and once in a while would play a song on my Sape’. Very gradually people started hiring me to play at their events, seasoning, etc. That was about five years ago and since then I’ve been able to be a full-time independent musician.
I’ve been learning traditional music of my heritage (Kelabit and Kenyah tribes of Borneo) since I was six.
Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

My family were nervous and worried, but supportive and encouraging all the same.

What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

To continue expanding the reach of our indigenous songs and stories and language through performances and by enabling others to do the same. To continue research and documentation of our cultural heritage.

 

To continue expanding the reach of our indigenous songs and stories and language through performances and by enabling others to do the same. To continue research and documentation of our cultural heritage.

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

Joss Stone, Nahko Bear, Xavier Rudd

How would you describe the women around you?

Strong-headed, big-hearted and independent.

 

Strong-headed, big-hearted and independent.

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?
Not creatives, because around me the creative industry wasn’t vibrant. I grew up around my aunties that were craftswomen and farmers, some of them taught me to dance and sing, some taught me to cook, to weave. I have so much respect for them and their values of hard work, humility and community are what I strive for.

 

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?
There are gender-specific challenges but not ones that are too big. I think having confidence in myself and my work is something that women tend to feel, and that’s a challenge for me. I do work with a lot of men who are so supportive.

 

Have confidence in your ideas and talents, and say what you want to say.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

Have confidence in your ideas and talents, and say what you want to say.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Adam Lewis, Adibah Husna, Kenny Loh, Tusau Pada, and Adibah Husna.

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