Singer-songwriter Juwita Suwito is no stranger when it comes to songs and stories. After all, the 40-year-old is known for travelling the country and performing to Malaysian communities from all walks of life in communal setting.
But Juwita does something more than that. She likes meeting people and listening to their stories. This an exercise Juwita truly treasures.
Interestingly, this is precisely what local writer and graphic designer Gina Yap Lai Yoong does. Well, except for the singing bit. She, too, travels around the country, sharing stories and collecting stories while she conducts writing workshops.
“We thought to ourselves, why are we doing the same thing and passing by each other and not doing something together? So one day we decided that we should collaborate to present the stories that we gather from the local community to a wider audience.
“We see that by gathering stories from Sabah and Sarawak, from the city and from the kampung … the different cultures and lifestyles and real-life stories helps Malaysians to know one another better and we hope that this will unite us as a country and help us understand each other better as Malaysians,” says Yap.
What transpired out of this was Songs & Stories, an initiative to discover inspiration in everyday people and places throughout Malaysia. In other words, it aims at highlighting the intangible resources and riches of our land.
Songs & Stories is presented through inspirational posts and factual nuggets on social media, short videos, episodic videos, music album and story booklet as well as community events featuring guest talents.
The recently released The Kinabalu Call is Songs & Stories’ pilot episode. Available on Four Forty Records’ Youtube channel, the video chronicles Juwita, Yap and singer-songwriter Tony Leo as they climb Mount Kinabalu and gather stories from the local community in commemoration of the 2015 Sabah earthquake.
The 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Ranau, Sabah last year, leaving the whole country in shock and disbelief. Eighteen people were killed on Mount Kinabalu, hundreds were left stranded and one of the mountain’s peaks known as the Donkey’s Ears was broken off.
Soon after their initial meeting with Dr Jamili Nais, the director of Sabah Parks, the duo knew immediately the quest to document the post-earthquake restoration stories is the right project for Songs & Stories’ pilot episode.
With only three months to meet the one-year anniversary mark, Juwita contacted Tony to join their adventure, for whom it’d be a walk down – or rather a climb up – memory lane. Nine years ago, Tony had his own life-changing discovery on Mount Kinabalu.
By conventional standards, Tony was a healthy guy. An avid sportman and regular gym-goer, he’d be the last person to struggle through the climb. But he did.
Devastated by extreme fatigue approaching the 4.5km mark of his first ascent, Tony went for a medical check-up upon his return to Kuala Lumpur and was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia.
“It was a life-saving experience. I sort of lost my life up there,” he recalls.
So when Juwita invited him, he knew he wanted to face the mountain again.
“I was prepared mentally but it was tough physically,” Tony tells.
While making the video, they met with Sabah Parks officials who led the rescue operations and implemented new infrastructure and improved safety procedures. They also got to know various individuals who were affected by the earthquake in different ways.
Calling the whole affair a “mad journey and a mad race”, Juwita shares that one prominent theme which repeated itself was how “the Ranau community is so intertwined with the mountain”.
The Songs & Stories team is on the lookout for stories for their upcoming episodes. Visit songsandstories.com.my to get in touch with them.
To watch The Kinabalu Call, click goo.gl/3v8abv.
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