Working with Malaysia’s Living National Heritage

Mathew Ngau Jau

We have the honour of working with Mathew Ngau Jau, a Kenyah Sape master performer and maker. The opportunity to learn and understand his passion and drive in the instrument and the Kenyah culture is something that does not come along easily.

As someone who has more than 30 years experience in the art of playing and making the Sape, a traditional lute-like instrument, Mathew’s passion is in sharing part of his cultural heritage to the next generation and the world. He had the opportunities to travel and perform the Sape on many world stages, including in Europe, the USA and locally at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak.

Mathew, as a community-acknowledged authority on the instrument, understands the responsibility of ensuring the tradition and art form continues. His greatest fear is in the appropriation of the instrument and other parts of Kenyah culture, without anyone caring about the community in which it came from.

Together with Mathew, The Tuyang Initiative co-developed a monthly Introductory Sape Lesson format which he can holistically teach enthusiasts not only the technical aspects of playing the instrument, but to also help students understand the history and culture of the Kenyah people. This is important, as the origins and cultural aspect of it is crucial in truly appreciating the music and art form as it must go hand in hand.

Tuyang also helped set up a Facebook page and a website in which enthusiasts can sign up for classes or order a Sape or any of his artwork.

With this, Mathew can also be assured that he has a consistent platform to impart his knowledge of the community and the instrument to anyone who is willing to learn, while also sustainably earning an income from it, something that has never been done in a formatted way before.

Since launching in January 2018, and support from TEGAS Digital Innovation Hub as venue partner, Mathew now has more than 10 students who had committed to learning the instrument. Recently, we also had the opportunity to take Mathew to Singapore’s Anglo-Chinese Junior College to teach students as part of a Master Class for a performance art subject. 

Our plan is to take Mathew’s Introductory Sape Lessons on tour nationwide, regionally as well as globally.

Stay tuned to Mathew’s Facebook page for more updates!

Mathew teaching students at Anglo-Chinese Junior College, Singapore (Mar 2018)
Mathew teaching students at TEGAS Digital Innovation Hub, Kuching