Nading Rhapsody retells the ancient stories and traditions of multi-ethnic Sarawak through music

BILLED as an avant-garde Borneo ethnic band, the cultural roots of each member of Nading Rhapsody are strongly represented in the band’s unique adaptation of songs, myths and folk tales.

The talented musicians comprise Opah Aspa (chants, vocal), Roy Kulleh (vocal, chants, poems), Christ Sheldon (vocal, dance), Boy Keevin (bass, ambience),

Randy Walter (sape, ruding), Petyson Bujang (percussion, jatung utang) and Adrian Yen (tribal percussion).

Widely known for its adaptations of the myths and legends of the Sea Dayak (Iban), the band takes its name from the god-like character Nading Grasi, who was expelled from Panggau Libau (heaven) to live as a human being in Borneo. Inspired by Nading’s journeys, the group’s desire to bring back the distinctive spirit of ethnic folk tales has seen success both locally and internationally.

To date, Nading Rhapsody has represented Malaysia at various festivals such as the Rainforest World Music Festival, Penang World Music Festival, Malacca World Heritage Music Festival, International Gong Festival, DiverseCity KL Arts and Music Festival, the Johor Baru Indigenous Festival, and most recently, at the world’s largest festival on Southeast Asian culture, the Tong Tong Fair and Festival in The Hague, Netherlands.

For the past year, Nading Rhapsody has been working on original compositions for a new piece, marking a temporary departure from the Nading Grasi saga, to focus on the elemental and spiritual aspects of traditional storytelling and music presentation.

“The musical journey of Nading Rhapsody has seen a lot of personal experiences,” says Sheldon, before adding: “Somehow these different energies and vibes we experienced encouraged us to explore less familiar ground. As we delved more into those spiritual energies, it became more personal, ...closer to our hearts.”

Christ Sheldon performing a tribal dance. (Photo by Ahmad Fikry Mohd Anwar)


While Nading Rhapsody continues to be aesthetically engrossing with its unparallelled fusion of contemporary ambient music with ritual chanting, old lullabies, folk songs, traditional tales and tribal dance elements, its latest offering, opulently titled Libretto Of Ensera: Sendi, is arguably its most personal to date.

Here, “libretto”, an Italian term which refers to the lyrics either sung or spoken in musical works, effortlessly blends in with the equally melodious Iban word “ensera”, which translates to stories or tales. The result is an intensely haunting mix of storytelling, mystical and spiritual incantations entwined with the ritualistic sounds of the tribal drum beats and the tranquil decorative lute, the sape.

At the core of Nading Rhapsody’s new work is inspiration derived from the pua kumbu, a ceremonial cotton cloth particular to Sea Dayak peoples of Sarawak. Woven by the Iban women whose dreams are said to play an essential role in determining the intricate patterns, the sacred pua kumbu assists a longhouse community in reconnecting with its ancient past, while divining predictions for a prosperous future.

Lyricist Kulleh is the proud inheritor of his great-grandmother’s pua kumbu; her legacy as a consummate dream-weaver has ignited poetic inspiration for Nading Rhapsody’s latest work.

“The traditional Iban believe that they can gain knowledge of the future through omens and dreams,” explains Kulleh. “It’s for this reason that Iban leaders of the past intentionally sought dreams for guidance.”

According to Kulleh, many venture to solitary places to sleep in order to meet the spirits from whom they hope to receive charms which assure them either of their invulnerability or success in war. Dreams could also reveal prosperity in farming and trading, or special powers to cure the sick.

The origins of weaving the pua kumbu is steeped in the storytelling tradition of Sarawak, but more often than not revolve around the lovers Menggin, the hunter, and Dara Tinchin Temaga, the daughter of an immortal tribe who is said to possess the secrets of dyeing and weaving cloth. Those secrets are revealed in the dreams of the chosen women weavers who, through their art, bring the longhouse community closer to the gods.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the pua kumbu, which reveals its bloody origins, is the fact that was used to simultaneously inspire and protect the Iban men as they embarked on headhunting missions through enemy territory. Upon their successful return, the women gathered the heads into the pua kumbu, which serves as a bag, in preparation for yet another ritual.

In this highly ritualised culture, other uses of the pua kumbu include rituals marking the various stages of traditional communal life such as childbirth, marriage, healing ceremonies and funerals, some of which continue to be practised in longhouse communities today.

The group aspires to bring back the distinctive spirit of ethnic folk tales.


By adapting some of the ancient traditions broadly associated with the Dayak people, Nading Rhapsody’s desire to bring to the foreground the richness of Sarawak’s indigenous cultures originates from each member’s respective journeys into his own heritage.

Traditionally, young Iban men leave the longhouse on an initiation rite into manhood, but in the case of Nading Rhapsody, its quest to discover its own heritage is a return to its own communities in preparation, of becoming contemporary bearers for its ancient traditions.

“Heritage consists of history, with its own unique traits and values,” says Aspa. “This is a very important part of a person’s life as it shapes and moulds one’s journey.”

Opah adds: “I want my next generation, my children to continue my pursuit in discovering our heritage and to continue the legacy. At the end of the day, no matter in which part of the world you are, the heritage and the identity that you carry makes you, you.”

Like an intricately-designed pua kumbu, Libretto Of Ensera: Sendi is a masterpiece of strands woven together to produce a work of art that is deeply personal yet distinctively Sarawakian.

Tonight’s premiere performance of Libretto Of Ensera: Sendi is hosted by Pusaka Evenings @ Publika, and will be preceded by a conversation with Nading Rhapsody.

Where: Black Box, Publika, Solaris Dutamas

When:Today, 8pm-9.30pm

Free and open to all

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