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Sawaku. Music of Sarawak
Masters of the Sarawakian Sape, featuring Tusau Padan

Dana Rappoport
Référence(s) :

Sawaku. Music of Sarawak, one CD, Leiden: Pan Records 2067 CD, “Ethnic series”, 1998, 59mn 14s; book let, 11 p., 9 photos; recorded by Randy Raine-Reuseh, October 1997-January 1998

Masters of the Sarawakian Sape, featuring Tusau Padan, one CD, Leiden: Pan Records 2068 CD, “Ethnic serie”, 1999, 59mn; booklet, 7 p., 3 photos; recorded by Randy Raine-Reuseh, August 1989 in Malaysia and October 1997 in Marseille

Texte intégral

1As always, the ethnomusicologist here finds herself torn between musical aesthetics and anthropology. These two CDs documenting the music of Sarawak, a Malaysian state of northern Borneo, and produced by Pan Records offer high-quality information and recordings. The former documents, in a potpourri, a wide array of the musical forms found in six Sarawak communities, while the latter, in a more aesthetieal approach, focuses on a single musical style and instrument, the sapé lute.

2Sawaku, thus, prioritizes documentation. The pieces included originated from various peoples: Orang Ulu, lban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Malay, and Chinese. The lban groups, part of which live across the border in lndonesia’s West Kalimantan, form Sarawak’s largest community (30%), before the Chinese and Malays (21 %). The excellent booklet gives the local narnes of musical instruments and their English translations, the dates and places of recordings, and the names of musicians.

3The large number of tracks (23) and their short duration (none over three minutes) make this dise into a sort of “catalog” of musical forms, featuring a large variety of Sarawak’s musical instruments: four-stringed boat lute, xylophone, struck or spiked tube zither, nose flute, mouth organ, one-string fiddle, gong row, hanging gongs, double-headed drums, brass Jew’s harp, shells (to call the rain), struck barnboo, traditional gong row (called kolintang), gambus lute, rebana frame drum, and different Chinese instruments on the last tracks. Vocal music, however, is poorly represented.

4The pieces featured are of uneven musical quality but, considering that certain instruments have fallen into disuse, every sample is of interest. One may deplore that on the dise itself the tracks are only indexed in the local vernaculars, which makes it somewhat difficult for the listener to find her way. Finally, the disc’s potpourri style has ils own weaknesses: The quick succession of brief pieces leaves a feeling of musical zapping and obstructs the disc’s aesthetical unity.

5The second dise is devoted to the four-stringed boat lute, sapé, the lute of the Kenyah people, which has now become the most famous musical symbol for the whole of Borneo. The sapé, a simple instrument, may be played solo or in duo. The melody is played on one string, with the other strings producing the drone. This music has a distinctive soft melody and refined ornamentation. lt is a soothing music, with a typically moderate tempo and pentatonic scales.

6This dise is dedicated to Tusau Padan (1930-1996), a master of the Kenyah sapé lute, and also a famous traditional musician, dancer, painter, and woodcarver, whose œuvres are now found exhibited in longhouses, muséums, and art galeries in Sarawak and abroad. The disc’s first seven tracks feature Tusau playing his four-string electric sapé, while the last two tracks, featuring other musicians playing four-string acoustic sapé duos, were recorded in Marseille in 1997.

7For more information on Borneo lutes, see the excellent Music of lndonesia 13. Kalimantan Strings (Smithsonian/Folkways SF CD 40 429, 1997), reviewed in Moussons 2.

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Dana Rappoport, « Sawaku. Music of Sarawak
Masters of the Sarawakian Sape, featuring Tusau Padan »
Moussons [En ligne], 3 | 2001, mis en ligne le 03 décembre 2021, consulté le 24 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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