Cover Photo: Clash Donerrin

The Dayak Kelabit musician from Sarawak often encourages the younger generation to be vocal and embrace their identities

Are the youth of today being taken seriously? It’s a question that goes through the mind of artiste Alena Murang, who broke barriers and overcame taboos as the first female sape’ player and teacher in Malaysia. She has observed over the past few years how young people are more vocal regarding Malaysia’s policies, and they want to see change moving forward.

A big driver for this comes from the fact that the youths are very active on social media. “There is no doubt that they love Malaysia, but they are often disappointed by the politics of the day. There’s definitely a cry for change from some of them as they want to see the country thrive and succeed,” the 31-year-old says.

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The Borneo-born Dayak-European says, for too long, the opinion of young people isn’t valued or heard as Malaysian society often values the opinion of older individuals. That being said, things are slowly changing as the youth of today are more vocal than their predecessors. Many are active and outspoken through their social media accounts, particularly TikTok and Instagram.

She cites how back in May, 17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam called out her male physical education teacher who allegedly made rape jokes during class. To Murang, who is also a Gen.T honouree, it is encouraging that youth culture is changing, and they are speaking up whenever they see social injustice and that something needs to be done.

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Candidly, she admires how bold young people are today as they are taking action by organising campaigns whenever they see something wrong. She believes many do this because they feel it is their civic duty and responsibility. This is especially true when you see them crying out especially on issues like climate change and wildlife conservation. She suspects this could be because many are inspired by other youths from around the world.

At the same time, many youths today are in search of their own identity and heritage. Speaking from her experience as a musician, Murang says she identifies with their struggles. For her, she draws inspiration from her Dayak Kelabit heritage, singing songs in the endangered languages of Kelabit and Kenyah.

“I think music is a powerful tool as it makes it easier to connect with others even if they do not understand the language. It acts as a doorway to open more discussion about our shared history and culture,” she says. In fact, her Warrior Spirit music video, which beautifully showcased the beauty and authenticity of her heritage, is an indication of global interest in her work, having won accolades at the  International Music Video Awards in the UK for Best Asia & Pacific Music Video and Best Costume.

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The sape' songstress is often involved in promoting discussion on environmental advocacy with the youth. She mentors young individuals under Project VOCAL, an 18-month programme supported by the United Nations Development Programme, where participants are taught about leadership, strategic communication, project management, creative design thinking.

Still, she is hopeful that the next generation of Malaysians will be kinder and compassionate. “I think we need more people who are not so individualistic and can listen well. I am hopeful for this because there are youths who believe in preserving the environment and tackling the climate crisis,” she says.

Murang also believes there needs to be better care for the arts and music too because there is a greater need for that to preserve our culture and heritage for the future. Lastly, she adds there needs to be better leadership in the country as it should be done by those who are selected to lead based on their capabilities and not by their age, race, religion or gender.

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