Sounds of Malaysia and Global Beats on July 8th at Rainforest World Music Festival 2011

Rhythm of Borneo - Photo by Angel Romero
The first performances on Friday, July 8th, at the Rainforest World Music Festival were by the Leweton Women’s Water Music (Vanuatu). The performers used the lake located inside the Sarawak cultural village to demonstrate their captivating form of water drumming. They did two presentations throughout the afternoon. The audience was enthralled.

The evening program started with the Sunset Concert at the Dewan Lagenda. It is one of the side events that have been added to the festival. The Sunset Concert featured the performance by the winner of the 2011 talent search. This is also a new development in the festival.

STB Leisure and Properties Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of Sarawak Tourism Board, in conjunction with the RWMF 2011 and Sara Urusharta Pte Ltd, put together a talent search for musicians from the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. The winner got to play at the Rainforest World Music Festival and received a RM3,000 cash prize as well. The idea is that by discovering and developing new artists, the world music festival can open doors for artists to connect with the public, managers, the local and international media, developing a platform for local artists and Sarawak culture.

Rhythm of Borneo is a percussion-based band led by Razali Abdul Rahim. It is formed by young musicians, all under 25 years old, who combine a variety of drums and gongs with electric instruments. The line-up includes Ainal Bustari Johari, Purnama Maqasuri, Rajwan Suni, Abdul Karim Radzli, Norazmi Masiran, and Razali Abdul Rahim.

The first act to perform in the festival main stages were the Masters of the Sape. This is the new act that brings together three of the top sape (boat shaped lute of the Orang Ulu people)players in Sarawak: Asang Lawai, Tegit Asat and Mathew Ngau Jau. They played their melodic boat-shaped lutes in the small stage (Stage 2), giving a local flavor to this very international festival.

The Masters of the Sape want to show new generations how traditional sape music is played. Although the sape comes from Orang Ulu tradition, the native musicians are opening the doors to other musicians. “We teach traditional sape to other communities,” said the musicians at their press conference.

AgungBeat - Photo by LucyAnne, courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
The next act, on Stage 1, was Agungbeat from the neighboring state of Sabah. The seventeen-member gamelan ensemble, which includes many young female musicians, plays new arrangements of traditional Sabahan music, mixing gamelan with samba and rock.

Agungbeat is led by composer and lecturer Roslee Haji Wahid. They play metallophones, xylophones, drums, and gongs native to Malaysia and Indonesia. The musicians are from a variety of ethnic background such as Kadazan, Dusun, Chinese, and Malay, all majoring in music performance at University Malaysia Sabah (UMS). I always find gamelan music mesmerizing. However, the performance went into two separate direction: engaging gamelan and folk pop leaning music, featuring the well known female vocalist Dayang Noraini.

Canadian trio Iskwew (meaning woman in Cree) appeared on stage next, representing the Cree nation of Canada, wearing their traditional deerskin outfits. “Costumes are what you wear to try to be someone else; we wear fine ceremonial clothes during our performances,” said Sandy Scofield during their press conference.

Iskwew - - Photo by LucyAnne, courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
Sandy Scofield, Debbie Houle and Niska Napoleon are champions of human rights for Canada’s First Nations and other aboriginal cultures throughout the world. “Colonizers deemed us as savages, uncivilized,” added Sandy Scofield. “Racism is very much alive in Canada; same with aborigines in Australia…In Canada, colonizers took away Cree lands and put us in corrals called reservations. They tried to take the Native away from us.”

Iskwew combined traditional songs and dances with innovative harmonic vocals that are not found in traditional music of the native people’s of North America. They follow the path initiated by the now defunct American group Ulali which was formed by American Indian women. Iskwew accompanied their music with various kinds of drums, celebrating the connection to the earth, spiritual beliefs and community.

Kamerunga - Photo by LucyAnne, courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
Australian band Kamerunga was one of the highlights of the night. The band is based in Cairns in the heart of tropical north Queensland. They played a mix of Australian folk songs, aboriginal sounds, Celtic, reggae and world music. “We blend Anglo-Saxon music with local sounds, eg didgeridoo,” said the band during the press conference. “Didjeridoo is a Western word/name; the local name is Yigi Yigi.”

Kamerunga features a former member of legendary English band Steeleye Span and uses mandolin, fiddle and guitar wizardry with saxophone, keyboards and a powerful rhythm section.

Next came Australia-based Victor Valdez Trio. The group played Latin pop classics. “A delight to come from the jungles of Latin America to the jungles of Asia!” said the band during the press conference.

Italy’s Kamafei played at 9:45. They incorporate southern Italian folk music. Nonetheless, their sound and stage presence revealed an accordion-driven ska rock band, rather than a folk band.

Blue Canyon Boys - Photo by LucyAnne, courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
Senegal’s Malike Pathe Sow was scheduled to perform next. However, their instruments did not arrive on time and they were replaced by American bluegrass band The Blue Canyon Boys. The Colorado-based band played traditional bluegrass with a western edge. Band members include Gary Dark on mandolin, Jason Hicks on guitar, Drew Garrett on bass, and two-time national champion Jeff Scroggins on banjo. The band’s repertoire features original pieces and interpretations of traditional songs by bluegrass legends.

Frigg - Photo by LucyAnne, courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
Another highlight of the night was renowned Finnish band Frigg with their spectacular fiddle sound.

Read the whole Rainforest World Music Festival 2011 series:

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