Interview with Jun-Lin Yeoh, Artistic Director of the Rainforest World Music Festival 2012

Jun-Lin Yeoh
The new Artistic Director for the famed Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysian Borneo is Jun-Lin Yeoh. Jun Lin comes from a classical music background. Those who are familiar with the early stages of the Rainforest World Music Festival will remember Jun-Lin. She was the festival’s Artistic Director for 7 years, from 2001-2007. She also set up and ran the shows for the Penang World Music Festival, Genting International Jazz Festival and the Miri International Jazz Festival (now called Borneo Jazz).

Jun Lin works as a consultant in the performing arts field in the Southeast Asian region. In addition to her re-appointment as Artistic and Production Director for the Rainforest World Music Festival 2012, she is also the Artist Director for Borneo Jazz 2012.

World Music Central’s Angel Romero interviewed Jun-Lin to discuss this year’s program.

You are the new Rainforest World Music Festival artistic director. What’s your vision for the festival?

Theoretically, I’m the new old Rainforest World Music Festival artistic director! I was with the Rainforest World Music Festival when it was started and formed and became the first Artistic Director for it (the first 3 years, it was a committee decision on bands selected) from 4th to 10th edition.

After that, Antares was the Artistic Director…and then Randy…and then this year, I came back again.

I would want to keep the festival very focused on its theme on “world” music. It has to appeal to the purists who prefer the traditional roots music, as well as to the ones that like a more contemporary fusion. You will see from the program that I swing from completely left to completely right. But in every band, the ethnic identity is powerful and dominant, and I like it like that.

So, flexible but definite borders! And quality, quality, quality.

And the festival has two halves that make a whole – the workshops as well as the main stage shows. I try to make the workshops a mix of interactive as well as informative as well as entertaining.

How has the festival evolved?

Artistically, the festival will reflect the personality of the artistic director. It can’t be helped!

Size wise – of course it’s grown tremendously. You should have seen our first year! Less than 300 in the audience, and that was also counting volunteers!

But that’s how all festivals start. And then we grow it. And because a lot of us built it from the ground, we had to deal with every aspect of it from the shows down to how to sort out the shuttles to how to tie wristbands securely. From hindsight, all that “growing pains” just made us stronger.

We have gone from 1 stage, to 1 big stage and 1 filler stage, and then to 2 main stages alternating with each other.

There are also now inroads into more “fringe” events – the Talent Search, the pre-festival Opening show, the preview shows in Kuala Lumpur, the Craft Bazaar.

Every year, the festival presents top international musicians. How was the selection process this year?

Same way I usually do it. I draw out a first list which is usually about 80 – 100 bands. Then I whittle it down to about 40. Then I write to the bands to find out current costs and availability. Then the list comes down to about 30. And then it’s trying to think out the best balance of acts for the year.

A lot of factors to think about – to get as contrasting cultures as possible, to try and cover as many continents as possible, the bands must have enough individual “exotic” instruments so I can structure the workshops, the budget, the airfares, the size of the band, the appeal to a wide spectrum in the audience….etc. etc. etc.

What can festivalgoers expect from the Rainforest World Music Festival in 2012?

Entertainment, stimulation, something unknown, something familiar…

A very well-known BBC presenter John Walters once said “It is not for us just to give the people what they think they want. We are going to give them what they don’t know they want.”

Oreka TX, one of the artists scheduled to perform at the 2012 edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival
On stage – Celtic music, African, music from the Indian Ocean, Brazil, Mongolia, Basque music from Spain, gypsy dance music from France, oud masters from Palestine, a colorful Asian melting pot band, East European ethno-rock, and of course lots of colorful Malaysian and Sarawak bands.

In addition to concerts, the musicians participating in the festival also take part in workshops open to the public during the day at Sarawak Cultural Village. What is the importance of the workshops?

They are informal, more intimate as one sees the individual musicians as opposed to the “unit” when they go on stage as a band. Sometimes informative, sometimes interactive, sometimes educational, always entertaining.

What’s most enjoyable about organizing the artistic side of the Rainforest World Music Festival?

Traveling the world looking for bands!

Starting with a blank piece of paper and agonizing about how to build yet another program….

And seeing it gel together…

And then putting the shows on stage and (hopefully) when it’s over, be able to think “Yes!” and then the agony of the blank paper starts all over again 🙂

If I were to visit Sarawak for the first time, which places would you recommend that I visit?

Mulu Caves!!!!

Aside from festivals, are there any other opportunities to watch live performances by local traditional and contemporary folk music artists?

A lot of smaller community performances who (in my opinion) sometimes don’t publicize it enough. I sometimes learn of it after the fact.

But in the bigger cities, theaters and auditoriums are now putting on more “world” music bands as a main show.

Logistics and costs play a big part in decision and policy making, I would think.

Are there any shops or locations where one can purchase traditional musical instruments or recordings by local artists?

Too few. In Kuching, try going down the Main Bazaar.


Festival site:

For travel and accommodation:

Mulu Caves:

Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central


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