MANAGING trash or waste materials in whatever form is a global challenge which is becoming more arduous with the increasing world population.
In Miri alone, Sarawak’s second largest city, some 200 tonnes of waste are generated daily by its over 358,000 residents, according to mayor Adam Yii.
The waste is transported to the landfill in Sibuti and the local council spends about RM16 million on garbage management each year.
What will happen in 50 or 100 years’ time with land becoming scarce and pollution threatening all living things on Earth?
For Meges Laoi, a retired art lecturer from the Teacher Education Institute, Sarawak Campus (IPGKS) in Miri, there is no ready answer but he is confident the 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) concept is one of the best bets.
It was with the main goal of saving the planet that he and his fellow lecturers and trainees of the institute formed a band called MuluBats, which has become increasingly popular since winning a music competition in 2014.
Meges, a Bidayuh from Kampung Stebut, Padawan, who lectured at IGPKS for 15 years before his retirement, said MuluBats was formed for this 2014 competition, themed ‘Music With Nature’, organised by ABF Petronas, where bands performed with instruments made from recycled and reused materials.
After emerging victorious, MuluBats was invited by various government departments and private institutions to perform at their functions.
So far, the band has won three other titles at Sarawak- and national-level innovation competitions – Sarawak Innovation Competition 2016; National Level Innovation Competition 2016, organised by Teacher Education Institute Malaysia (IPGM); and Music Innovation Competition 2016, organised by Petronas and Bintulu Municipal Council.
The band was also first runner-up during the IPGKS Innovation Day – Music With Nature competition 2015, organised by ABF Petronas, and was also recipient of the IPGKS Director’s Award.
Eight major events
Between 2015 and 2019, MuluBats has been invited to perform at eight major events in Sarawak and Kuala Lumpur.
Among them were Gawai Night, organised by Petronas Bintulu; special performances for IPGM Innovation Day in Kuala Lumpur; IPGKS International Research Conference; Sarawak-level Inter School Innovation Day; Iban Language International Conference; and Petronas Innovation Day.
On April 6 this year, the band performed at the launch of the Miri Artists and Visual Arts Association (PPSVM), of which Meges is a member.
Meges has also staged a solo puppet show with his glove puppet, called Bac, at Pustaka Negeri Sarawak, Miri’s Jom Baca on April 23 and RTM’s 73rd anniversary on May 3.
According to Meges, the 3R concept has become his main focus to save the planet – and money – by making the band’s instruments from unwanted items.
“For example, our bass guitar, costing only about RM100, sounds equally good compared to those costing about RM1,000 in the shop.
“Of course, creating an instrument from trash needs a lot of planning and brainstorming. It helps promote creativity and innovation.”
He said to date, MuluBats has experimented with more than 30 musical instruments conjured out of trash, including guitars, sapes, percussion violins, flutes and saxophones. He made most of them himself, especially the guitars and wind instruments.
Others actively involved in the experiment are Bell Suut, Ngalai Belawing, Lawa Sultan, Marvelys Dian, Laney Bala, Henry Kota Pirak and some trainee teachers.
Meges added that every instrument is given a special name – for example, Givac, a double-necked electric acoustic guitar, made from a broken vacuum cleaner, waste wood, sink strainer, computer parts, brass rods, guitar machine heads, guitar strings, a washer, pickups, and a female guitar jack.
Another is Gisape, a double-necked electric guitar made from wood, a liquid dispenser holder, computer parts and brass rods.
Disbass is an electric guitar made from a worn-out floor scrubber disc brush, motorcycle and computer parts, waste wood, a washer, a steel pipe, old keys, a woman’s belt, guitar machine heads and strings, pickups, and a female guitar jack.
Ketgisape is an electric steel guitar and sape made out of old steel kettle, waste wood, old steel spoon, and steel pipe.
Bisconguitar is an electric steel guitar made from different discarded items such as biscuit containers, waste wood, and doorknobs.
Fishboneguitar is a double-necked electric guitar with the upper neck that of a normal guitar and lower part a steel guitar, made from waste materials such as liquid dispenser parts, coolant plate computer parts, a Toyota Hilux drive arm, old cup holder steel rods, and waste wood.
Kettlesax is for a saxophone made from a spoilt whistling kettle and other types of used materials such as PVC pipes and aluminium foil.
And Comodrum is for a compact percussion which sounds like an electronic drum when amplified via microphone and is made from trash such as an old printer box, a rice cooker, plastic containers, waste wood, a PVC pipe, iron rods, a sponge, a metal casing, and an old belt.
Innovations and goals
Meges said their Orang Ulu costumes were designed mainly from trash in keeping with the 3R concept.
“We want to promote Mulu, a heritage site, for Sarawak and Malaysia. The bats flying out of the Mulu Caves have always been a special attraction for visitors to Mulu National Park. That was how MuluBats became the name of our band.”
As band leader and vocalist, Meges is the mastermind behind most of the instruments.
Besides, he also writes and arranges original songs for the band, among which are ‘Mulu Engkau Khazanah Ku’, ‘Mulu Pemangkin Perpaduan’, and ‘Mulu Engkau Istimewa’.
Although these are Mulubats’ theme songs, the band also performs other songs suited for a particular function.
Meges has been training band members to make musical instruments from recyclables and master these instruments to raise the standard of their performance.
The band also welcomes members outside IPGKS to meet increasing demand for its performances.
“We’re hoping to perform in more local cultural and musical events, including the prestigious Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching. We must work hard and be committed,” he said.
For Meges, making and playing musical instruments is an artistic expression. He loves innovating his art and music and hopes to create more instruments.
“To me, it’s like an endless journey of fun and satisfaction. I’m confident MuluBats will continue to improve and thrive because of its uniqueness,” he said.
He likes various genres of music and songs as long as they have positive elements and are not destructive emotionally and spiritually.
He aims to mentor the younger generation on performing arts to help inculcate good values and promote wholesome entertainment.
He is also looking for people who can work with him to innovate, create, and put waste to good use via the 3R concept.