MALAYSIA: THE RAINFOREST MUSIC FESTIVAL
A few month ago I had the opportunity and the chance to go to the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia. It definitely was a lifetime experience and here’s why.
Having lived in Malaysia for a while, I heard of the Rainforest World Music Festival quite a number of times but never had the chance to go. This year I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, not only because it was the twentieth birthday of this internationally renowned festival but also because it gave me the chance to finally learn more about the culture of Sarawak.
Located in the heart of Borneo, the RWMF takes place about thirty-five kilometers north of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. The location itself was unquestionably a sufficient enough reason to go check it out. It is nested at the foot of Mt. Santubong amidst the Sarawak cultural village, surrounded by magnificent rainforests and beaches. Visitors have the opportunity to enter the traditional Sarawak houses, including Iban long houses, to take part in one of the many workshops offered during the day. As part of the wellness program they’re also given opportunities to attend classes for Yoga, Meditation, Taichi and even body combat during the mornings. In the afternoon, follow one of the dance workshops where you can find yourself doing the Haka or learning a traditional dance from one of the many cultures from various countries represented there. The drum circle was also not to be missed! During this interactive music experience conducted by multi-talented ethnic musicians, people gathered together to pick a percussion of their choice and lead to express and play as a group. Allowing participants to experience an extremely diverse collection of instruments unknown to most.
The atmosphere around the festival was amazingly friendly and peaceful, making encounters with people from all over the world effortless and pleasurable through the countless workshops and classes offered throughout the three days. It felt like a special and unique gateway into foreign cultures. Taking the same lead, the food was another essential approach towards discovering the cultures and its people. Like you would expect everywhere in Malaysia, here too was vast with a variety of food stalls serving a range of local and international Asian cuisines.
However, the main course still being the music, more than twenty concerts occurred during its three-day stretch, making it difficult to describe every one of them. Nevertheless, I’ll encapsulate it with some of the highlights as well as my favorite ones. The natives “Ilu Leto”, beautifully set the tone by opening on Friday night and offering to the crowd an introduction to the Sape, the traditional, guitar-looking instrument from Sarawak. Later on, a Hungarian band called “Romengo” played Gypsy music that made everybody move their feet. “Achanak” concluded day one with their “new wave Bhangra,” which was a fusion of traditional Indian vocals and percussions added to energetic western dance rhythms. Believing that it was bound to stay undisturbed by rain was such a rookie move that I was soon about the pay for it.
On Saturday, a much thicker crowd than the previous day witnessed the experimental world music band “At Adau”, from Sarawak that opened for the evening, followed by the exotic and colorful dances of the band from Tahiti “O Tahiti E”. From there the spirits of the Rainforest worked their magic and it started pouring with all its might. It would, however, not faze the rest of the night from advancing, but would transform the ground into a giant mud pit that made my task of taking photos a rather complicated one. The most reckless danced to the amazing “Radio Cos” and “Ba Cissoko” respectively from Spain and Guinea. “The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band” ended Saturday night with what will remain one of my favorite performances I’ve encountered over the weekend. The band, from Thailand, plays a combination of traditional rural instruments—such as the Luk Thungand Molam—with contrasting modern beats that lead to it sonically resembling dub or triphop.
On the last day of the festival, a friend got told that a very intimate concert was taking place by the beach at dusk. It was the perfect place to be: a chilled set up with only a dozen of people and the sun setting as a backdrop while a local band called “Meruked”, played their euphoric ambient music incorporating the traditional Sape. Unlike the days before, it started to rain earlier, just before the first act, it sure didn’t stop the show but only lived up to its name even more. At the end of it all, the festival saw all the bands together on stage for an unforgettable and flamboyant finale
I’ve traveled and experienced numerous amazing shows and festivals across the world but it really was a lifetime experience to witness so many musicians coming from all over the world to gather together and share their culture and their love for music. I would recommend anyone who has the slightest interest for world music to buy a plane ticket to Sarawak next year and take part of this beautiful journey that is the Rainforest World Music Festival.