How world music bands build collective vision, promote indigenous culture and yet adapt to changing times

Artists at Day 1 press conference, Rainforest World Music Festival
Artists at Day 1 press conference, Rainforest World Music Festival 2015 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


The 18th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia), regarded as one of the Top 25 music festivals by Songlines magazine, delivered a four-day delight of preview showcases, evening performances and afternoon workshops, as well as interactive discussion between media and musicians each morning.

See also my articles on the media interactions at previous RWMF editions: World music bands address the importance of heritage, messages and innovation (2014) and World music bands address their role in social change, cultural preservation and creativity (2013).

The 2015 lineup of 17 international and 7 local groups included Alaverdi (Georgia), Bargou 08 (Tunisia), Driss El Maloumi (Morocco), EPI (Mongolia), Harubee (Maldives), Kapela Maliszow (Poland), Kobagi Kecak (Indonesia), Kobo Town (Trinidad&Tobago), Korrontzi (Spain), Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band (Australia), Lindigo (Reunion Island), Ndima (Congo), Sangpuy (Taiwan), Shooglenifty (Scotland), Son De Madera (Mexico), Sona Joberteh (Gambia/UK) and Ukandanz (France/Ethiopia). The Malaysian lineup featured Culture Shot, Kenwy Yang-Qin Ensemble, Lan E Tuyang, Mah Meri, Sayu Ateng, and Sarawak Cultural Village group.

During media interactions over three days, and in separate interviews, members of these 24 bands described how they were formed, built their vision, enabled social change, blended contemporary forms, and yet conveyed a sense of fun and humor through their music.

Creating a shared vision

Many bands described how their members first met, collaborated and built upon their shared vision. “We began as friends who wanted to share the love of our traditional music along with the spirit of friendship,” said the members of Lan e Tuyang, who regard themselves as a family.

Our Malyoya music is descended from the slave community. We sing songs for our ancestors and blend it with contemporary sound,” said the group Lindigo from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.

We are actually not a professional group, but a community of musicians, a group of villagers who have come out of the island for the first time and want to spread awareness about our culture around the world,” said the members of Malaysian islander group Mah Meri.

Drew Gonsalves and Sona Djabate are based in Canada and the UK but play calypso music and the kora from their respective homelands, Trinidad & Tobago and The Gambia. Drew’s band, Kobo Town, has instrumentalists from Canada while Sona Djabate plays with UK-based musicians from countries like Jamaica.

The Maldivian trance percussion group Harubee said many of its members are cousins, and they play the music of their ancestors, a blend of Indian, African and Arabic sound.


Artists at Day 2 press conference, Rainforest World Music Festival 2015 - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Artists at Day 2 press conference, Rainforest World Music Festival 2015 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Political messages and social change

People laughed at our music in the Soviet years, and it was considered shameful to be singing or playing our music,” recalled members of the band Alaverdi from Georgia, who credit two music schools with preserving and promoting their local music.

It is important to pass on the tradition of our music and culture to the younger generation. There are not enough role models of traditional music players for our youth,” explained Sona Joberteh from The Gambia. “Family and community structure are changing. Don’t just emulate the West, preserve and promote your own culture,” she urged the youth of today.

Our music is our history, a gift from our ancestors. We must preserve it or we won’t have our future. It is not a fashion thing,” according to the group Lindigo from Reunion Island.

We want to preserve our sounds our way, not just the way the West wants to preserve or interpret them. Original music should be kept as original as possible,” said the band Lan e Tuyang from Malaysia.

Our traditional trikitixa accordion was not allowed to be played for a hundred years, the Church thought it produced the wind of Hell, but we want to protect and preserve it,” said the Basque group Korrontzi.

In the era of globalization, we need to understand and appreciate other cultures,” said Andrew Le Blanc of Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band from Australia.

Our music is not just for fun or entertainment, but serves as education on morals and ways of life,” said members of the aboriginal group Sangpuy from Taiwan. Many of their music forms are based on purely oral languages, and thus need to be protected and preserved.

There is a renewal of pride in local music in Scotland. It is cool for students to play traditional music and carry a fiddle to school. However, folk music should not be hijacked by fascist groups,” cautioned members of Scottish band Shooglenifty.

There is a move toward homogenization into Mandarin in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, but it is important to preserve the culture of local Hokkien and Haka dialects, some of the Malaysia bands advocated.


Artists at Day 3 press conference, Rainforest World Music Festival 2015 - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Artists at Day 3 press conference, Rainforest World Music Festival 2015 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Wit and humor

Some of the bands also shared how wit and humor were used to convey political messages. Calpyso musicians came under pressure from their Caribbean governments for criticizing politicians and policies, but metaphor and humor were used by the artistes to carry on their satire and commentary, said singer-composer Drew Gonsalves of Kobo Town from Trinidad & Tobago.

One can overcome self-righteousness with humor, funny stories and witty lines, said Drew. He also cited some local proverbs, such as “You always catch more flies with honey.” He said some of his “bastardized calypso” lyrics were effective social critiques.

Scottish group Shooglenifty composes some songs after political incidents and offers insights and critiques. The humor also appears in their album sleeve designs, which have included pictures of women fishing in quilts.

One of the most important things about music is that music is about celebration and feeling good. You don’t need to know the lyrics or language,” added members of Son De Madera from Mexico.

Music is not just for intoxication but for social enjoyment and cultural promotion,” said Balinese group Kobagi Kecak. Music protects the beauty of a culture, concluded Driss El Maloumi from Morocco.

Author: Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is an author and media consultant from Bangalore, and global correspondent for world music and jazz for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He has written over 15 books on media, management and culture, and is research director for YourStory Media. Madan was formerly World Music Editor at Rave magazine and RJ at WorldSpace, and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao.


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