Sape flows from the heart of Sarawak.!

Sarawak, it is the largest state in Malaysia. Those who know Sarawak, it’s a place of history, mystery, romance and adventures. For those who don’t know, its Asia’s best kept secret.

Sarawak is home to more than 27 ethnic groups, each with its own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. Their ancient cultures may differ, but they have one thing in common: their warmth and hospitality.

With a deep respect for their art and culture, as well as those who journey in Sarawak, they are more than happy to share their lives and stories with those who would care to listen.

Because of their warmth in sharing, their art and music have spread abroad as seen in the growing popularity of the Sape or the boat lute, as played by famous Sarawakian Orang Ulu musicians such as Mathew Ngau and AlenaMurang.

Years ago, Sape music was heard only on special occasions such as weddings, cultural events and festive celebrations.

Its music has evolved from a simple indigenous string instrument into one recognized both locally and internationally as an instrument synonymous with the sound of the rain forest.

Because of its unique sound, many musical groups, especially among the younger generation, love incorporating Sape accompaniment into their repertoire of modern songs they perform on stage.

Music enthusiast, Anthony Abong said nowadays, the mellowing strains of the Sape were no longer confined to the Iban warrior dance-ngajat-as they could be mixed with those of modern musical instruments to produce an “incredible sound”. 

He could play the same song and melody with the guitar and the Sape but pointed out the Guitar could not produce the melodious tone of the Sape and “that’s what makes the Sape so unique among other musical instruments.

He said the Orang Ulu’s were the ones who started playing the instrument and the Ibans picked it up a little later.

Nobody knows its origin but there is a widespread story that the instrument was made by a man found lying on the river bank after his boat capsized.

Semiconscious, he heard a soft and beautiful melody emanating from the Jungle and the river. After recovering he made a musical instrument shaped like a long boat, and for acoustics he copied the jungle-river sound he heard while lying half-awake on the beach.

That’s why the Sape is made to look like a capsized boat- long and oval with a flat front and a hole punched at the back to act as the sound box.

Sape is considered as a sacred instrument used to cure sick people and for peace ceremony.

Traditionally, the Sape has only four strings-three for bass and one for melody. Today some Sape can have more than six strings but the principle remains the same- only one string produces melody while the rest is for bass.

Sape is one of the reasons why people across the globe pay attention to the Annual Rainforest 

World Music Festival conducted in Sarawak. The three day festival held in the month of July hosts renowned musicians, both indigenous and international.

The festival aims to showcase music and dance rooted in cultures from around the world. Two stages ‘The Jungle and Tree’ stages, aptly named for they are flanked by forest trees are the focus for the prime-time mega acts.

Sarawak contributes a lot to music. Besides Rainforest festival, the place conducts a lot of workshops on music in collaboration with several MNC’s and Media houses. Through these workshops they popularize their traditional Sape music. People across the globe take part in those workshops which are truly dedicated to music all over the world.

Sape like any other traditional music is the heart of that culture. But like every other traditional art forms, Sape too has become an art form that lost its glory with the advent of western music.

Everyone will have their own 

traditional art forms, Indian classical music, Sub Saharan African music, Taoist Music of China etc. These musical forms should be preserved. Not just us, the coming generation too must be aware of these traditional items!!


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