this year, i followed a sarawakian band on their their RWMF journey. hosting my own sape with me over the south china sea, i went to spend ten days with the band lan-e tuyang, living with them, training with them.
our headquarters is at mathew’s longhouse in singai. you know that thing they say about screaming i the jungle and on one can hear you – something like that? well, we had our speakers on loud almost every night and that is one of the advantages of not having neighbours.
we spent the day plucking the sape and learning songs. you wee, while both mathew and asang are kenyah, one is from upper baram and one is from belaga. some songs are slightly different and some songs are a lot different.
it is awesome to see them practice up close. these are things you really cannot see from off-stage. the speed of the finger movements, the exhilaration of a song well played. asang can actually go on and on with his son playing the bass strings. there was even a time when he just looped the song over and over again, that mathew had to give him a tap with his toe to ask him to stop.
and i tell you, i have never experienced kenyah humour like this before. they jest and make fun of each other all the time. especially mathew and asang. you see, asang rarely leaved the forest so is a little naive where it comes to modernities and mathew will joke about that a lot.
when i arrived, he introduced asang to me as uyau untang – after an old orang ulu legend. uyau untang is supposed to be an awesome sape played who was banished from the community because he had leprosy. as legend goes, uyau untang eventually went on to defeat other sape players with his melody and went on to marry a princess and became king.
so to be called uyau untang is a compliment but also a bit of a tease, of which asang always took with a smile. that smile and blank stare look, i swear, is a classic. you never really know what he is thinking but you are sure that he is actually a whole lot smarter than you and he knows it. that kinda look. in reality, asang has performed as far as paris, france.
that is a hornbill carved from wood. there us a funny story about this. you see, the wooden hornbill was actually the top of asang’s sape. when mathew went to fetch asang and uynes, they found that the sape was too large and could not fit in the car.
and well, you guessed it. with asang’s permission, mathew took a saw and slaughtered the head of the bird off the sape! it is the most horrifying funny story i have ever heard!
i offered to glue the head back but asang said it was okay. the head now sits at mathew’s place as part of his personal sape collection.
the band appeared on the cover of the borneo post after their preview show, and this was an important coincidence. you see, asang works as a security guard at a factory in belaga and had called a few days back, threatening to fire asang if he does not come back to work. we had a difficult time negotiating with that manager person of the situation, saying that asang will be performing etc.
the band practicing in the hotel room. you see, coming from the forests, people like asang and uynes are not used to urban hotel life, much less a resort style hotel. they had turned off the air conditioning in the hotel and opened the sliding door to let air in.
on the first evening, the other bands attended a fancy welcoming reception in kuching, but mathew and asang stayed back and me and candy (mathew’s wife) brought rice with chicken and vegetables for them because thy are not used to fancy food. they sat on the floor and ate.
later, i found asang by himself in his room playing the sape. you see, that’s what they do in the forests. instead of watching tv, they play music to entertain themselves. i brought my sape and he taught me two basic tunes.
(to be continued)