a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ~ maya angelou

thanks to a long distance email from AL, i have finally been able to tune my sape successfully, all by myself *and the crowd goes wild!* fine, i had help from a guitar tuner, and it took me almost an hour to get all four strings exactly in sync, but it is a hell of a big deal to me. MNJ had warned me that having traditional wooden pegs at the head of the sape would make the tune run off so easily, but in my opinion, exchanging these quirky pegs for metal guitar ones are obscene and unacceptable. they’re wooden, hand-crafted, dahlinks – and damn right beautiful whether you think so or not.

MNJ uses wooden pegs too. he tell me his personal secret method to make the tune stick during is performances. he says before the performance, after he tunes his instrument, he puts the head under a tap and lets water right through it. what happens it that the wood will kembang, and the tune sticks longer. this works on all his trips, and when people ask why he runs water through the head, he tells them it is a ritual to call the spirits of come.

i am learning another traditional song now, and discovering that i actually have short fingers. fine, i have always known that my fingers could be less stumpy, but i did not really need to tap so much with the guitar, see? now with the sape, sure it has only four strings, but the frets are raised. aside from the first string, where the frets are glued on, the frets on the other strings are stuck on with just beeswax, and are therefore movable. and fyi, the frets don’t go by do, re, mi, etc either. to be honest, i don’t know what it goes by, but that is just the way it is. different frets for different strings.

the song i am learning now is called ‘lan e tuyang’ which in translation means, ‘true friends.’ like i told you, it is a traditional number. unlike the datun julut which is a dancing song, lan e tuyang is a singing song. not like i am going to sing it for you, duh. but it is a nice song about friends caring and appreciating each other. traditional songs are cool like that. nothing heavy, not whiny, not filled with rage and angst. just a cool melody like that.

CD once told me that back in the days – don’t you just love that expression? – the men would take their sape out to work with them. they would toil for hours in the field, but when the sun got too hot, or if the rain suddenly falls, they would retreat to a tiny hut at the edge of the field. they would then pass the time by playing the sape. they would play tunes that everyone knew so that everyone could play and sing along. this was how traditional songs were retained. through practice. but not just practice for the sake of it. but the practice of music as a part of life itself. the songs of the traditional sape is preserved because it is incorporated as a normal part of life. i think this is very cool.

in the past year or so, i have learnt of all kinds of add ons that people put on their sapes. extra frets so that they could play more notes. extra strings so that hey could play it like a guitar. the metal guitar heads. guitar strings. as a descriptive linguist, i am inclined to say that this is a sign of times and should be respected as that. my non-academia alter ego however, is a traditionalist, and i insist on my instrument having the fishing line strings and beeswax bamboo frets. i don’t mind my sape scarred by a chip or two, because i know that the wood my instrument is made of is the legendary adau wood – used by the orang ulu in the forests to make boats.

and i love my little wooden pegs. they can – and do – run, but i can tune it back now :)

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