MAYABAYU Expresses Love And Reintroduces Sabahan Culture Through O, Sayang
Review by Wai Lu Yin

O, Sayang (Credit: MAYABAYU Instagram Page)

How much do you know about the indigenous cultures of Sabah and Sarawak? What kind of conversations have you had with your friends from East Malaysia? Educating ourselves about the indigenous culture in East Malaysia is vital in helping us understand and build an appreciation for the ancestral tribes’ traditions in the stories that are passed on to the next generation. These traditions are what keep their way of life alive. Some East Malaysian artists, such as Sabahan singer-songwriter MAYABAYU, are finding ways to incorporate homegrown elements in their work, in the hopes that it would spark people’s interest to learn more about their culture. At the same time, reconnecting with their cultural roots helps these artists understand where they come from and how these practices come to define their identities.

Beverley Rachel Matajul wrote her first song at the age of 11. Her career, up to this point, focused on indie folk-country music. Now, through her persona MAYABAYU, she draws on her Sino-Kadazan roots, evolving to incorporate a unique blend of melodic synth-pop with tribal East Malaysian elements. In 2020, she released two singles, Predator and Huminodun which relate to human nature and the Sino-Kadazan culture.

Early last year during the first MCO, she wrote O, Sayang and performed a two-minute acoustic version on her Facebook page. While the song was initially intended for someone special, she later decided to share this song with people who have come into her life. With support from Levi’s Music Project, she released O, Sayang as her latest single on Dec 22.


O, Sayang music video

O, Sayang is not only about romantic love. It is a tribute to those who support and guide us in learning how to love and be kind to others. It is a way for us to say ‘thank you’ for being part of our lives. Written in English, Sabahan Malay and a bit of Kadazan, lyrics like Dengarkanlah puisi hatiku. Sayang, you are the one and Guminvo zou diau (My love, I love you, in Kadazan) are simple yet poetic in expressing her feelings towards a special person. Even if the sun should cease to shine, kita tiada akhir, relates to her belief that they are together on this endless journey. My favourite lyrics – Di arus sungai mimpi, Setiap malam kau ‘kan hadir, Dalam hidup sia lagi, Masa macam henti – takes me to a mystical dream-like realm, feeling like time has stopped to allow me to escape and steal a moment with my loved one.

Each instrument adds its own unique colour, blending seamlessly in harmony throughout the song. The first half of O, Sayang is a combination of melodic chords from the keyboard, guitar, and bass with cool synth-pop bass beats alongside the backup singers' vocals. The bridge, where the sape's and cello's beautiful melodies come together with MAYABAYU’s vocals and the other instruments, creates a heartwarming vibe that stirs my emotions. The traditional sape is woven into the contemporary music elements, forming a lush tapestry that keeps you warm.


O, Sayang live performance video

If that wasn’t enough, the music video and live performance of O, Sayang during Levi’s Virtual Music Showcase took it to the next level, bringing me to tears. Wearing indigenous Sabahan clothing, she performs simple movements from a traditional Sumazau dance. Through the screen, I felt the vibration and emotions from MAYABAYU’s vocals, giving me goosebumps. My eyes still fill with tears when I watch these videos again and again. After experiencing her virtual performance, watching her performing live on stage is officially on my bucket list.

O, Sayang gives us a brief glimpse into the indigenous roots of Sino-Kadazans. As youI listen to this song, you think about joining in with a few moves of the Sino-Kadazan dance. MAYABAYU explores ways to incorporate Sabahan and Sino-Kadazan elements into contemporary pop, reaching audiences of all ages, in the present and in future generations. I realise that there is so much more to learn about the many Sino-Kadazan traditions in Sabah. My appetite is whetted to learn more about East Malaysian traditions. Through artistic representations, we will be able to slowly, but surely, understand the importance of keeping the Sino-Kadazan and East Malaysian cultures and traditions alive.


MAYABAYU (Credit: Levi’s Facebook Page)

To me O, Sayang felt like a healing touch. Listening to this song is an escape from the noises of the city to tranquil rainforests and surreal countryside. I am reminded to pause, meditate and reflect. It helps me be grateful for the people and moments that have taught me to become a better person.

MAYABAYU helps create awareness about her Sino-Kadazan culture. She is a bridge that connects a diverse audience to her culture through her music. Through her music, she not only touches our hearts, she also makes us appreciate the diversity and vibrancy of Malaysian music.

Listen to MAYABAYU’s latest single, O, Sayang, on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Wai Lu Yin is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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