Award-winning sape player Saufi Aiman Yahya dead at 31

Saufi made the nation proud when he won four gold medals and one silver medal at the 21st Annual World Championships of Performing Arts in California, United States in 2017. Photo: Handout

Award-winning Sarawak-born contemporary sape player Saufi Aiman Yahya, who was known for broadening the scope of the traditional (lute) instrument and building community through music, has died aged 31.

Saufi was found dead in his studio office in Kuching last night.

At press time, the cause of death has yet to be established.

Saufi, who was born in Kuching, began gaining prominence in the traditional arts and culture scene after he won four gold medals and one silver medal at the 21st Annual World Championships of Performing Arts, which was held in California, United States in 2017.

He also won three Champion of the World awards in the invitation-only event, dubbed the "Talent Olympics".

Initially a guitar player, the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) arts graduate started to learn playing the sape by himself in 2011, starting off with contemporary tunes to showcase the sape's versatility. He then picked up the sape's traditional nuances and stories from master players in Ulu Baram and Belaga, before developing his own unique playing style.

Over the years, Saufi, an eloquent and passionate speaker, had been actively involved in sape performances and conducting classes/workshops throughout Malaysia.

Saufi was also the managing director at Sape’Star, a creative enterprise formed in Kuching, which specialises in music outreach and performances. Saufi co-founded the grassroots-based Sape’ Star with fellow sape player/photographer Anderson Kalang.

In 2016, Saufi co-wrote Alat Muzik Tradisional Sarawak: Sape with academicians Connie Lim Keh Nie and Narawi Rashidi, an academic/field research book that features the history and making of the sape instrument.

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