Malaysia/Kelantan Traditional Musics

Kompang (Traditional Music)

The kompang is arguably the most popular Malay traditional instrument, for it is widely used for all sorts of social occasions, from National Day parades and official functions to signal the arrival of VIPs to wedding ceremonies and football matches.

Resembling and played in a manner similar to the tambourine, the kompang is approximately 40cm in diameter, with a narrow circular frame called the balos made out of the dried wood of the balau tree, that is covered with a goathide skin on one side.

This hand drum is most commonly played in a large kompang ensemble, where various rhytmic composite patterns are produced by an interlocking technique; sometimes to accompany the choral singing of zikir.

It is believed to be of Arab origin, introduced to Malaysia during the days of the Malay Sultanate by traders.

Sape (Traditional Music)

The most typical of Sarawak musical instruments, the sape, pronounced "sa-peh", is a traditional lute of the Orang Ulu community or "upriver people" of central Borneo. It is traditionally used by the Kenyahs, Kayans and Kelabit tribes.

Carved from a bole of white wood which repels insects, the sape is a masterpiece of woodcarving. The carver, usually a musician, hollows out the body of the sape with similar tools used in boat-building to a length of about over a metre, and approximately 40cm wide.

Initially, the guitar-like instrument measured less than a metre, and had only two rattan strings and three frets. Today, however, it is common to find sapes with three, four or even five strings. The strings - slender wires used in fishing rods - are held by movable wood frets, and are tightened or loosened with wooden pegs.

The sape was once played solely during healing ceremonies within the rumah panjang (longhouses), but gradually became a social instrument that is used as a form of entertainment. The colourful jungle motifs that adorn the body of the sape mark this change in purpose.

The music of sape is thematic, more often than not inspired by dreams. There are specific compositions for specific ceremonies and situations (marriages, births, harvest times, rain etc) which often differ from one sub-ethnic group to another. The traditional pieces, which have many variations, are usually passed down through the generations.

Typically, the sape is played while sitting cross-legged on the floor, and is used to accompany dances; one for the men's longhouse dance, the other for the women's. Examples include the Ngajat (warriors dance) and Datun Julud.

When played for a dance, two sapes tuned to different registers (low and high) are usually used. And though the sape is a solo instrument, it is occasionally supported by other musical instruments such as the jatung ulang (wooden xylophone) and keluai (mouth organ).

Today, through the initiatiatives of the Sarawak Tourism Board, Kuching Cultural Village, the late legendary sape player Tusau Padan, and the present exponents of the instrument; the music of sape is very much alive and kicking.

The sape has been brought to the attention of music lovers all over the world and is gradually pulling in the younger generation here in Malaysia. To this end, modern innovations (such as the electrical sape) are constantly being thought up.

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