Saturday, May 28

Innovating to preserve native music heritage


A project photo showing the artistes involved in RTOH project.

COVID-19 not only disrupts the way of life of Malaysians and how businesses function but also inadvertently creates opportunities for individuals or companies to re-strategise and calibrate their focus to stay afloat.

As the music industry is one of the sectors hard hit by pandemic-induced restrictions with live performance revenues as potentially the biggest casualty, artistes are constantly innovating to continue performing and making music to survive.

For three artistes from Sarawak and Sabah, such an endeavour differs from the usual way musicians promote their works but it does not prevent the trio from delivering a message of hope to the community and contributing towards preserving native music heritage.

The poster for the documentary.

With this same passion, Sarawak singer-musician Alena Murang together with the bands Estranged and Stonebay, decided to collaborate in a challenging music project – Roads To Our Heritage (RTOH), a three-album plus one documentary series undertaking.

The documentary series will be aired on RTM soon, charting a road journey by Alena, Estranged and Stonebay on Triumph motorcycles and cars with the first part to start from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and the second part from Kuching.

Production is scheduled to begin early this year, involving a total of 14 shoots, covering around 1000 km of roads and featuring in-depth interviews with native traditional music craftsmen from Sarawak and Sabah, a rediscovery of local traditional cultures and roots as well as a showcasing of scenic routes colourated by the music of the three bands.

The group will be accompanied by lead researcher Dr Nadia Widyawati Madzhi from Universiti Teknologi MARA’s (UiTM) Faculty of Music, who is the research partner of RTOH. They will document the history of traditional musical instruments and their makers for future educational references and archives.

In tandem with the documentary’s release, Alena and the two bands will release an album each, enumerating interesting excerpts and episodes of Sabah and Sarawak’s musical heritage.

The project is supported by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia (KKMM) through funding under its Digital Content Fund (DKD) for the music industry.

Communications and Multi-media Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has said the project will serve as a benchmark, set by the musicians themselves, for the industry to emulate by adopting new production innovations and technologies.

Triumph Motorcycle Malaysia through Fastbikes Sdn Bhd is the exclusive Motorcycle Partner of RTOH.

The three bikes to be used in the documentary are the all-new Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro, Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC (used in the latest James Bond movie) and Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster 1200 which will display their versatility according to individual styles and preferences.

The project is also getting support from various organisations, including Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) as a strategic partner and global innovative camera brand Insta360 as a creative partner.

Alena, fresh from winning the Best Styling Award for her music video Midang Midang at the Buenos Aires Music Video Festival 2020, is excited about the project.

“We see this as a big opportunity to get the documentary filmed from the lens of an outsider that, in its own unique way, will allow us to create music emotionally relatable to viewers.

“I started with support from the Dayak Cultural Foundation. So I can share my culture and brand of music internationally,” she said.

Alena, who plays the sape and sings in native languages, is known as a pioneer preserver of Sarawak’s cultural heritage not only through her music but also her involvement in conservation.

“I’m happy KKMM is supporting this initiative which is very close to my heart. Moreover, it gives me, Estranged and Stonebay an excellent chance to get closer to the community while learning to better preserve our cultural heritage,” she added.

Ojie, Din and Hanafi with the Triumph motorcycles for the project.

The RTOH project is the brainchild of Stonebay frontman Awangku Huzriuden,  better known as Ojie, from Kota Kinabalu.

He expressed appreciation to KKMM for funding the project.

“RTOH was an idea I had to reach out and tell the stories of the natives of East Malaysia, especially the traditional music craftsmen who form an integral part of our cultural heritage foundation.

“Their stories need to be told and converted into a digital format to not only allow our future generations to access and appreciate them but also to reach a global audience.

“Getting stories from our native heritage caretakers, turning them into a documentary series and theming them with songs from our albums will be a good start in our attempt to merge the generations. We’re hoping to generate enough interest across all ages both locally and internationally,” he said.

Also playing a leading role in the project is Estranged whose frontman Richman Gimbang or Rich hails from Tambunan, Sabah.

Rich and his bandmates Nor Hanafi and Din Hormatov are founders of Estranged Sdn Bhd, a business arm, awarded the DKD grant by KKMM to produce and manage the RTOH project.

“When the pandemic hit and restrictions imposed, the non-digital platforms for the creative outputs of musicians like us were affected.

“Hence, the opportunity to collaborate with Stonebay and Alena Murang to find another solution to this problem was an important milestone.

“We all agreed it was more than just live streaming performances on social media from homes or empty venues in this new normal as we also had to think about what other impacts that could be made through music. We needed to find a unique ecosystem which could contribute not only to an artiste’s creativity but most importantly, also to the overall well-being of a community,” Rich explained.

The latest updates and more information on the RTOH project can be viewed at these social media platforms  –, and

Alena (left) and the other production members taking a short break from researching project contents.