Formal sape classes launched

Mathew (left) is seen with students at the Tegas Digital Innovation Hub.

KUCHING: Sape master Mathew Ngau Jau has launched year-round formal sape classes.

The group and individual classes, which started last Saturday, are an effort by local social enterprise The Tuyang Initiative and supported by Tegas Digital Innovation Hub as the venue partner.

“This is the first time I am working based on a formal class format. Previously, it has always been ad hoc, whatever I feel at that moment, I will teach. There is no proper syllabus or fee structure. But with this, working on a one-hour per week lesson (for a month), I am happy to be able to spend quality time with more students to go through cultural aspects, traditional songs, and then to techniques.

“I do not want people to just learn it because it is a beautiful, exotic-looking instrument. I hope that people would want to also learn the significance of it, about the songs and the community it comes from,” he said in a press release yesterday.

The Tuyang Initiative co-founder Juvita Wan said as a social enterprise the initiative seeks to ensure it is sustainable not only for Mathew, but for other traditional art practitioners and the communities they represent in the long run.

“We are honoured to represent a talent like Mathew. To help him and the community to realise their mission in ensuring the tradition and culture of the Kenyah and the Orang Ulu are shared with the world, also that the art of playing and making the sape is preserved, community-inclusive and accurately represented are equally important to us as this is part of our mission,” said Juvita.

Apart from teaching the sape around Malaysia and internationally, Mathew and The Tuyang Initiative have also been working on designing immersive performance, showcase and workshop formats that highlight the uniqueness of Orang Ulu traditions, art and culture.

The plan is to debut the showcase in August at a festival in Kuala Lumpur and one in Hokkaido, Japan.

In 2015, Mathew, a Kenyah Ngorek from Long Semiyang (upper Baram),  was declared a Living National Heritage by the federal government.

It is the highest national recognition being accorded to sites, objects or living legends that are seen as important in the country’s historiography.

Matthew is currently one of five nationwide to hold the honour.

For more information on the sape classes, look for Mathew Ngau Jau Sape on Facebook.

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