If you watched the first season of Asia's Got Talent, you'd definitely know Sada Borneo. The group wow-ed the judges and audiences with their ethnic sounds of the rainforest, gaining fans from all over the world.
In judge Vaness Wu's, own words : "It [their performance] was really magical.. you took me to another place.. and i really liked it." Now, in their own words, read what the band has to say about themselves, their music and aspirations in the Q&A below.
B: Borneo Art Collective
SB: Sada Borneo
B: Who / what influenced you to start Sada Borneo?
SB: We started Sada Borneo because we want to continue the legacy of our native/traditional music. Looking at the level of interest of native music, we are hoping to spread our music, especially traditional music amongst the younger generation, but if possible to everyone regardless of age. This band is formed out of friendship and when we realized that we shared the same idea and passion for traditional music, it motivated us to do more for our traditional Borneo music.
B: Could you tell us more about the history and story of your instruments, where is the best setting to appreciate them?
Based on our understanding, Sape is a music instrument played by the Orang Ulu during the harvest festival.
It belongs to the lute family, a string family in traditional music instruments. Usually, the Sape has two to four strings, with the body of the instrument decorated and adorned with traditional Orang Ulu motifs. In terms of history, apart from festive purposes, Sape is played to cure sickness, social events (such as gotong-royong), to search for missing villagers, to boost spirit and morale, and for entertainment purposes (on weekends and greeting guests). The Sape is not only performed by the Orang Ulu-Kayan but other ethnicities such as Kenyah, Kelabit and other inland ethnic groups of Sarawak and Kalimantan, Indonesia play the Sape as well.
The Sape is said to be created when a farmer had a dream while sleeping in a hut in a paddy field after consulting a witch doctor to cure his sick wife. In his dream, an old man instructed him to cut 'adau' wood from the jungle and make a Sape out of it. He obeyed the old man in his dream and when he attempted to play the Sape for his sick wife – she was cured.
Nonetheless, Sape has an obscure history and is based on a folklore. There could be other versions regarding the history and origin of Sape.
For Kulintangan, we believe that the kulintangan can be found all over the Southeast Asian region. The kulintangan looked simliar across the region, it is an idiophone made out of metal or brass shaped in mini gong structure which produces sound by hitting the kulintangan's knob with wooden sticks. The tuning are set to pentatonic scale but the scale may vary depending on the region/ethic groups.
Note that the name for Kulintangan may differ according to the region. For example, KULINGTANGAN in Sabahan language, ENGKERUMONG in Sarawakian language, while KULINTANG in Filipino language, etc.
B: What was on your radar when you were creating this group?
SB: At that time, we are hoping to get people to appreciate the traditional music of Borneo, and most importantly to revive it. We want people to understand and promote our Borneo identity as well. Having said that, we decided to add a contemporary twist to our music when we created this group. And of course, we wish for Borneo music to be heard internationally.
B: What is your group currently busy with and what are your future plans?
SB: Right now we are performing for various events all over Malaysia. As for future plans, we are looking forward to record some new materials in mid-year and to complete our 1st album. We are hoping to release the album by next year. And of course, we aim to perform at international music events and to collaborate with other local and international artiste.
B: How do you see Borneo Music at the moment?
SB: Borneo music is getting less popular these days. However, yes, there are bands focusing on performing Borneo music but it needs more exposure in mainstream media. There should be more platforms in the mainstream to give more opportunity for musicians who are in this less common genre. To us, Borneo music is unique and beautiful. For instance, the sound of Sape itself is very delicate and exceptional. The design and build of Sape are one if its kind and Malaysia is one of the countries (apart from Indonesia) to produce Sape, hence the need of exposure to Borneo music.
B: How about the musical instrument making and appreciation platform in Borneo? What do you see could be done for its development?
SB: In terms of musical instrument making, there are not many people who have that expertise. For example, the Sape instrument, there could be less than 5 people who are able to make the Sape.
In regards to appreciation platform, apart from Rainforest World Music Festival, there are not many platforms for Borneo music. We believe that there should be more performance-based platform so that we can give the opportunity for Borneo music enthusiast to perform. It would be great that if there would be more competition too, to generate interest in Borneo music among the society. Other than that, setting up a Borneo music academy would also help in cultivating the interest and to preserve and teach the art/knowledge.
B: As a local musician trying to promote original native sounds, what challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
SB: We understand that our music is very niche, perhaps that could be one of our challenges. Another one would be getting the radio to play our music since our music is instrumental-based. Nevertheless, we figure that we must continue performing and promote original native sounds because that's the only way the music could reach the public- that is one of the things we could do to overcome the challenges.
B: Could you share with us your experience on Asia's Got Talent? And how has your journey been so far?
SB: We were excited and proud to share our culture in AGT. The response from Malaysia and other Asian regions are overwhelmingly positive as well. We were glad that people are able to appreciate what we did. We not only got to share our culture with other the Asian region but we get to learn theirs as well - it was simply beautiful and amazing. It's been an eye-opening experience for us. And as for now, that positive support remains as well – we received various invitation to perform all over Malaysia and overseas. We have also met people with interesting stories, in a nutshell, it has been a rollercoaster ride and the ride is still on.
B: What would be your message to aspiring Borneo artists?
SB: Don't give up and dream big. Most importantly, stay and remember your roots.
B: Please recommend stories / projects / individuals / groups that we should reach out to in order to expand the Borneo Art Collective network.
SB: We recommend these musicians: Jerry Kamit, Roger Wang, Tuku Kame, and Hezekiah Asim.
Watch Sada Borneo on Asia's Got Talent and some of their subsequent performances here: