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Re Lekuah: The World’s First Music Video in the Kelabit Language

Shooting for Re Lekuah – a music video performed by Alena Murang

These days not many Kelabits know the meaning of the phrase Re Lekuah (a phrase that translates to something like a sigh: “Oh dear”). This is an old Kelabit/Kedayan song that tells the tale of young ladies’ woes of hard labour in the past, and it is sung by a young girl who is bemoaning to her listeners: “I’ve no energy to pound the padi/I can’t carry water in bamboo because it’s too heavy.”

Artist and singer Alena Murang grew up in Borneo, and is part Kelabit – one of the smallest ethnic groups in Borneo. She learned how to sing, dance and play the sape’ from her Kelabit elders, and was taught Re Lekuah from Tepu’ Do’o Ayu. Alena asked for her blessing to rearrange and share the song outside of the community. “Whatever it takes to make people listen,” was her reply.

Singer and artist Alena Murang was born and raised in Borneo / Picture by Lee Man Yee

Merging traditional with contemporary makes this old, beloved folksong accessible to today’s listeners, and like the song, the music video juxtaposes contemporary with urban. In the (as yet unfinished) video, a young executive in the city wanders through the concrete jungle listlessly, while a male traditional dancer (Raziman Sarbini from Limbang, Sarawak) dances in an urban setting, reaching out to her.

Sung entirely in the Kelabit language, the song is one of five featured in Alena’s debut EP, ‘Flight’, which features a contemporary interpretation of Kenyah and Kelabit folksongs.  Re Lekuah will also be the first ever music video in the Kelabit language, and is directed by Ashley Duong – the Montreal-based film director of the award-winning documentary ‘A Time to Swim’, with help from cinematographer Thomas Szacka-Marier from Montreal, Canada.

Director Ashley Duong
Director Ashley Duong, cinematographer Thomas Szacka-Marier with dancer Raziman Sarbini behind the scenes of the music video Re Lekuah / Picture by Clash Donerin
Ashley Duong, Alena Murang and Raziman Sarbini behind the scenes of the music video Re Lekuah

This is indeed the modern world, and the fact that not many Kelabits even know the meaning of the phrase Re Lekuah is not surprising, but it’s certainly worrying. When a language ceases to be spoken by its people, it’s not just words that are lost, but also ways of thinking about the world.

Through a music video, Alena Murang is teaching the world about the importance of keeping one’s heritage alive. With a little hope, this will inspire others to do the same.

The team behind the music video is now on a mission to finish it, and is raising funds to do so. Support the cause, keep heritage alive, and donate generously at this link.

Find out more about Alena Murang in our interview with her here, or go to her website. Get updates by following her on her Facebook and Instagram.