Ilu Leto (we, the ladies)

  • Tasneem
  • Ilu Leto banner
  • Ilu Leto after a training
  • Great performance at Rainforest World Music Festival
  • Elizabeth
  • Alena playing
  • Alena Murang at the sape
  • Syafiqah with her sape
  • Rainforest World Music Festival
  • Munirih at the festival
  • Ilu Leto members
  • Ilu Leto logo

This month’s Rainforest World Music Festival had the honour of having as guests Ilu Leto, a band of six female sape players from Sarawak, Borneo.

Ilu Leto banner

Ilu Leto literally means ‘We, the Ladies’ in the language of the Kenyah people, an Austronesian language and the name of one of the tribes in Sarawak. Ilu Leto girls are indeed paving the road and creating a difference in the world of music from Borneo. The band members are native to Borneo and are dedicated to exploring and sharing the musical traditions of the land.

In fact, heritage plays a very large role in their performances. All the band members come from different tribes – in Sarawak there are over 50 tribes. Within the band they have Iban, Kelabit, Malay and Kenyah. They also have different upbringings, but they also have common things. Though they mostly sing Kenyah songs, they are also integrating songs from the other tribes, from their own individual heritage and sharing them with each other.


The band is quite new, as it has just formed this year. Apparently there are only a few professional female sape players around. Some band members are based in Kuala Lumpur and some in Borneo, and since they occasionally happen to play together, they finally decided to put together this band of six.

The sape used to be taboo for women, it could not even be touched by the gentle gender, but this is not the case any longer ans the contect has changed. Ilu Leto members are contemporary girls who listen to modern music, wear modern clothes and watch mainstream TV. But they have chosen to stick to theur heritage and to experience and share the beauty of sape playing.

Alena Murang at the sape

The band members are Alena Murang, Elizabeth Bungan Peter, Munirih Jebeni, Rosemary Colony Anak Joel Dunstan, Nurul Syafiqah (Iqa) and Tasneem Bolhassan. They are all dedicated to exploring and sharing the musical traditions of the land, combining song, dance and music of Kenyah, Kelabit and Iban tribes.

Ilu Leto message seeks to convey through music and dance their heritage to a wide group of people, sharing something that is still common in tribal communities that have gone through a lot of changes in the past 50 years.

Ilu Leto after a training

Ilu Leto performance at the Rainforest World Music Festival was graceful and powerful, a great show of young female voices incorporating dance, rhythm and a bit of nostalgia.

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About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more than fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on

View all articles by Thomas Gennaro