Music Video

There's never been a music video in this language — and that's exactly why one needed to be made

Directed by Montreal's Ashley Duong, watch "Re Lekuah" by Kelebit artist Alena Murang.

Directed by Montreal's Ashley Duong, watch "Re Lekuah" by Kelebit artist Alena Murang

Scene from "Re Lekuah" by Alena Murang. (Screen capture)

Less than 5,000 people in the entire world speak the language you'll hear in this music video, and that's a big part of why it exists in the first place.

"Re Lekuah" by Alena Murang appears on Flight, the debut EP from the Kuala Lumpur-based musician — and it's the first ever music video in Kelabit, the language of her roots.

Directed by Montreal's Ashley Duong (who is, full disclosure, a regular contributor to CBC Arts), the video is set between the board room and the forest, and it's a fantasy about a young, urban woman finding her way back to her heritage.

Originally from Borneo, Murang was raised in the Kelabit culture herself, which is one of the smallest Indigenous communities on the Southeast Asian island.

"I learn old songs from the elders of my community and play them, often in urban settings," she says, and that includes "Re Lekuah."

Art has an important role too, especially in its ability to imagine a future for Indigenous cultures.- Ashley Duong, director

It's a song about being a girl — specifically all the ways it really sucked being a girl back in the olden days. Murang offers a little more in the way of translation on her website, but suffice to say that while the average daily routine might have changed, the struggle to get ahead is still real.

But while the song itself has survived, the exact meaning of its title, "Re Lekuah" is already lost to the ages. Writes Murang: "Many Kelabits no longer remember the meaning of the phrase."

Making a music video, though, is more than an act of cultural preservation.

Duong, whose 2017 documentary A Time to Swim took place in a Kelabit village, says she and Murang first connected over social media.

Says the director: "[Murang] introduced me to a whole world of urban Kelabit people. I realized that while anthropology and more direct activism work plays an important role in 'saving' disappearing Indigenous cultures, art has an important role too, especially in its ability to imagine a future for Indigenous cultures that goes beyond merely preserving them."

Watch the video.

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