Tag Archives: Rainforest World Music Festival

Dazzling Global Diversity at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The Rainforest World Music Festival took place July 12-14, 2019 in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. The location of the events was the familiar Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak State.

Sarawak Cultural Village – Photo by Angel Romero

The festival usually holds a tree-planting ceremony every year. In 2019 it was mangrove trees at Pantai Puteri, Santubong Village. This is a way to celebrate the spirit of the festival, which is held in Borneo, home to essential rainforests and diverse wildlife, including the orangutan, hornbill, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, gibbons and many other species.

Tree planting just before the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

There are various elements that stand out and make this festival unique. First, many of the festivalgoers are young. There is a mix of locals, Malaysians from others states and foreign tourists. Vietnamese musician Ngo Hong Quang pointed out to me that, in comparison, when he performs in the United States, the world music concertgoers are older. This brings up the issue of music education beyond pop culture, affordability and access to American venues.

Audience at mini-session during Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero
Friday evening audience at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Another distinctive component of the festival that catches your attention is the inclusion of Asian acts. In European and North American festivals, there is an abundance of African and North America/Europe-based acts. Asian artists are rare except for Tuvan or Mongolian throat singers, Indian classical artists and Japanese taiko drumming groups. At the Rainforest World Music Festival, you can enjoy artists from all corners of Asia. This year the programming included musicians from Bhutan, Mongolia, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Druk Folk Musician (Bhutan) at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Perhaps one of the most important effects of the Rainforest World Music Festival is that it serves as a platform that nurtures local talent. Although the festival has been highlighting veteran and pioneering local Sarawakian acts from the various communities in the past years, we are starting to see the fruits of this labor. There are promising young groups like the increasingly popular At Adau that is rooted in tradition and modernity as well.

Regarding this performance at this year’s Rainforest World Music Festival, At Adau‘s Meldrick Bob said: “We were truly honored to be part of Rainforest World Music Festival again for the third time and we did everything we could to deliver the best in our performance.

Every year, Rainforest World Music Festival consistently maintains its reputable standard of being one of the best world music festivals. For this year, there were more varieties in the festival programs which appealed to a wide range of age groups and interests. A highlight on the addition of the indigenous stage which showcased purely traditional music from different countries. Also, it’s good to mention how Rainforest World Music Festival is going green by providing water refill stations to reduce the use of plastic water bottles. So kudos for that!

At Adau at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Indeed, the Rainforest World Music Festival implemented various greening initiatives, including the elimination of plastic water bottles and the installation of water stations to refill bottles.

Meldrick Bob shared At Adau’s plans for the near future: “In the near future, we’ll try to bring Borneo to the world by introducing our music on the European stage, hoping that the world will see Sarawak’s beauty through our music. As much as we can, we are also selling our music to the festival directors, agents or any interested parties to be more familiar with At Adau and hopefully expand from there.

Our next plan is to bring back those old, or we can say nearly extinct, traditional instruments such as the nose flute and kedirek, and many more to our new songs and now slowly putting some new material for the next album. We really hope that the new generation will be influenced by playing those traditional instruments to continue the legacy of our ancestors.”

At Adau using nose flute at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Rainforest World Music Festival has spread its roots outside Sarawak Cultural Village with an Emerging Bands stage at the Kuching Waterfront and performances at Damai Central shopping center, which is right across from Sarawak Cultural village.

The current format of the The Rainforest World Music Festival includes afternoon mini sessions at Dewan Lagenda, Iban Longhouse and Bidayuh Terraces; small capacity afternoon concerts at the Theatre Stage, the Big Tent and the Indigenous Stage; and large dimension outdoor concerts in the evening at the two larger stages: Jungle and Tree.

Fiddle mini session at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

The thematic mini sessions bring together musicians who share a similar musical instrument or dance tradition. For example, wind instruments, dance workshops, plucked strings, percussion instruments, zithers, etc. During the mini sessions, the musicians demonstrate how to play their instruments and at the end, all the musicians join in to perform a jam session.

Flute mini session at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Theatre Stage concerts allows the audience to enjoy artists in an intimate format. For details about this year’s Theatre concerts, read the following reviews: The Remarkable Nyckelharpa of Toledo, The Captivating Sounds of Mauritius, Mongolian and Persian Hybridization at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, The Rarely Heard Himalayan Folk Music of Bhutan, Wai Safeguards Maori traditions at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, Fiddles of the World Come Together, and Cutting Edge Vietnamese Virtuosity and Fiery Gnawa Trance at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019.

Omid Bahadori (Seda) at the Theatre stage – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The local and regional emerging bands that appeared at the Big Teng were: Alunan Keroncong (Sarawak), Sayu Ateng (Sarawak), Barrock Ethnicity Band (Sarawak), Pinanak Sentah (Sarawak), Sanggalang (Sarawak), Bamboo Woods (Sabah), The Oriental Traditional Orchestra Kuching (Sarawak), Warisan Sape (Sarawak) and Raban Kenyalang (Sarawak).

The artists that performed at the Jungle Stage / Tree Stage during the evening included:

Friday: Iban Miring Ceremony (Sarawak), Spirit of the Hornbill ((Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo), Olga Cerpa y Mestisay (Canary Islands, Spain), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui-Easter Island/Chile), Rajery (Madagascar), Otava Yo (Russia), Suk Binie’ (Sarawak), and Kila (Ireland).

Olga Cerpa and Mestisay at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Saturday: Kemada (Sarawak), San Salvador (France), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui / Chile), Darmas (Malaysia), Macka B (UK/Jamaica), Trad.Attack! (Estonia) and La Chiva Gantiva (Colombia).

Kemada (Sarawak) at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Sunday: Kila & OKI (Ireland/Japan), Duplessy & The Violins Of The World ft. Guo Gan (China, France, Mongolia, Sweden), At Adau (Sarawak), Mehdi Nassouli (Morocco) and Tabanka (Cape Verde).

Tabanka at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

You need to plan your own festival experience because you won’t be able to see all events. The overall highlights for me were the organic Celtic trance music of Irish band Kila, as Kila and also in a collaboration with Japanese artist Oki; the captivating Vietnamese fusion of Ha Noi Duo; Olga Cerpa y Mestisay, rooted in Canary Islands traditions with influences from Latin America and mainland Spain; the masterful Malagasy valiha of Rajery; the zany contemporary Russian folk of Otava Yo; and rising Sarawakian roots band At Adau.

Kila concert at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Kila and Oki at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Otava Yo at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Rajery at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board

Other high points: the exquisite transglobal fiddles of Duplessy & The Violins Of The World; the spellbinding Gnawa music of Mehdi Nassouli; the delightful Spanish and Sephardic-rooted music of Ana Alcaide and her ensemble; the Mongolian-Iranian virtuosity and mesmerizing throat singing of Sedaa; and the charming sounds of Mauravann from Mauritius.

Mehdi Nassouli at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Without a doubt, the Rainforest World Music Festival is one of the best festivals in which I have participated,” said Ana Alcaide. “Its philosophy, organization, environment, makes artists enjoy our experience of sharing music and feel loved and valued. Coinciding with so many bands from around the planet makes this event unique, where exchange and learning naturally occur. The festival is a unique example of diversity and cultural tolerance, with an enormous amount of artistic and cultural proposals, all of them of the highest quality, and that encompass cultures from all over the world. Bravo for the Rainforest Music Festival!”

Ana Alcaide at mini-session – Photo by Angel Romero

Netherlands-based Vietnamese musician Ngo Hong Quang of Ha Noi Duo also enjoyed the festival: “I have been chatting around to talk about this Festival with my friends in Holland and in Vietnam too. It was a very interesting, international, eco-friendly, high quality and crowded festival. These complements I like to send to Jun Lin and her staff. Actually I have never participated in any World Music Festival as big as this, wonderful vibes, great audiences, and very beautiful landscapes. Congratulations!”

Ngo Hong Quang (left) and Nguyen Le (right) of Ha Noi Duo – Photo by Angel Romero

Ngo added “I think me and Nguyen Le we had so good time there and myself, I really enjoyed some of the shows and musicianship. I think not only the musicians created the success but also enthusiastic listeners who know how to appreciate the inter-cultural shows that made the festival more attractive and meaningful.

I met some of the Vietnamese audiences and they teared in front of me because of the music I played and the way I blended the traditional vibes with modern jazzy music. It was great experience for me.

If there are more chances, I would go back to perform the Vietnamese traditional music show again next year or the year after that. Would be interesting!”

Mathias Duplessy – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

French guitarist Mathias Duplessy commented: “The festival was great for us, just missed a place where to jam and meet the others musicians at the hotel.

Sape maestro Matthew Ngau at the Rainforest World Crafts Bazaar 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

The Rainforest World Music Festival also includes a sizable World Crafts Bazaar with local and regional crafts made by artisans. You can find all kinds of really cool goodies, including many unique items. I stumbled upon one of the key musicians in Sarawakian traditional music, Matthew Ngau. He was demonstrating the traditional lute of Sarawak, the sape.

In terms of food, options have gotten even better. The Sarawak Asia Kitchen and local fingers offers Sarawakian regional options, Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Japanese delicacies. There’s also Asian fusion options.

Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) strengthened its greening initiatives this year. The biggest effect among these initiatives was from discouraging the use of plastic bottled water. Approximately, 20,000 plastic bottles were saved. Festivalgoers brought their own empty bottles which they could fill from water dispensing stations supplied by Cuckoo.

If you are in the Sarawak area and want to experience other festivals, the Rainforest Fringe Festival is a prequel to the Rainforest World Music Festival and Borneo Jazz Festival, featuring music, art, crafts, film, photography, food, and the culture of Sarawak. The Borneo Jazz Festival takes place one week after the Rainforest World Music Festival in Miri, in northeastern Sarawak, near Brunei.

For non-music related activities while in Sarawak, visit the city of Kuching. Attractions include the Waterfront, the Main Bazaar, Chinatown, India Street, various temples, Fort Margherita, the old Court House, the Post Office and the Sarawak Museum.

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Daytrips include visits to Bako National Park and visiting the orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve.

Orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve – Photo by Angel Romero

To get to Kuching you can fly direct from Singapore, Brunei, and some parts of Indonesia or connecting through Kuala Lumpur.

for a different perspective about the festival read Unique Global Gathering at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 by our contributor Chris Lambie.

More information is available at the following websites and links:

Rainforest World Music Festival
Borneo Jazz Festival
Rainforest Fringe Festival
Sarawak Tourism
Interview with Sarawakian Band At Adau
Bako National Park
Semenggoh Nature Reserve

headline photo: At Adau

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Unique Global Gathering at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

There’s nothing unusual in an upcoming festival being announced as the ‘best ever’. In recent years, the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) has proved to be bigger and better with each edition. Held in the picturesque Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) in Malaysian Borneo, the global gathering is as innovative as it is unique. In July 2019, festival goers discovered exciting new features within the established format.

JL Productions, with director Jun-Lin Yeoh at the helm, put together another impressive line-up of artists. Cultures never before represented at RWMF included Bhutan, Canary Islands, Mauritius, Nagaland (Northern India), West Kalimantan Dayaks, Estonia, Jamaica and the Ainu culture of Japan.

Santam Naga – Photo by Chris Lambie

Crowds were also treated to collaborative cross-cultural groups: Sedaa (Iran/Mongolia) and Duplessy & the Violins of the World (France, Mongolia and Sweden, featuring Chinese erhu master Guo Gan).

Mina Ripia (WAI) – Photo by Chris Lambie

Afternoon mini-sessions over the three day event mixed performers from various acts jamming, jigging and harmonizing together in improvised workshops. Themes ranged from frame drums to zithers, bamboo to Bhangra and Bollywood. At one, the resonant sound of blended voices floating from the Bidayuh longhouse beckoned listeners from across the tropical village site. Vocalists Mina Ripia (WAI) and Linzi Backbotte (Mauravann) also showcased their stunning voices at theatre shows, each telling stories from their New Zealand Maori and Mauritian heritages respectively. 

Fronting their groups, both charismatic performers provided laughs with their relaxed banter. They also revealed raw emotion on stage during the intimate concerts, connecting with audiences. Introducing a song dedicated to a recently passed friend, Ripia – blinking away tears – was spontaneously comforted by her 11 year old son (cajon, percussion and rap vocals). The young band member touched the crowd with this quiet and tender act, further indicating an old and wise head on young shoulders.

Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Chris Lambie

Backbotte encouraged her audience to clap and sing along to Sega rhythms. But all sat transfixed during one piece dedicated to ancestors after hearing shocking truths of their treatment by those who enslaved them. Sometimes the Arts carry the sole voice of generations past. I’m eternally amazed by what I learn of our planet and its history and the resilience of its people.


Nguyên Lê (Ha Noi Duo) – Photo by Chris Lambie

The main events are the evening concerts on the outdoor Jungle and Tree stages. With shiny new state-of-the-art equipment courtesy of sponsor Yamaha, the peerless work of the returning sound, stage and lighting team ran seamlessly. Despite forecasts, the weather was idyllic. Record crowds meandered comfortably, from the craft village and food stalls to the well-attended wellness program.

Event partners Rainforest Fringe (with exhibitions in Kuching) and What About Kuching (WAK) expanded the festivities on offer. WAK hosted beachfront live music and stalls at Damai Central, a short stroll between Damai Beach Resort and the festival site. The Damai sunsets were also the biggest and best you could wish for.

Talisk – Photo by Chris Lambie

New stages at SCV proved especially popular during the daytime. The Indigenous Stage warrants a bigger space in future. Curious punters overflowed lakeside, as representatives from Sarawak’s 27 local tribes demonstrated music, dance, traditional instruments and stunning apparel.  The Big Tent showcased acts including upcoming local artists given the chance to hone their craft on the road to bigger things. Local hit group At Adau have opened the door to more young players fusing traditional and contemporary sounds.

Druk Folk Musician – Photo by Chris Lambie

The traditional RWMF finale brought all performers together onstage. Bouncing, dancing, singing and waving to the exultant fans, they stayed on stage to take group selfies with new friends and potential collaborators.

Rainforest World music Festival 2019 Finale – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Members of Spirit of the Hornbill (Indonesia) were the last to disperse into the balmy shadows of the night. Like so many on stage and off, they were reluctant to leave the warm embrace of the Rainforest family.

Alongside the requisite Celtic, Latin and Islander music represented at most world music events, I discovered rhythms and melodies I’d never heard before. Since my first ‘Rainforest’ a decade ago, Sarawak’s iconic ‘lute’ the sapé has moved to the forefront of the event’s soundscape. It’s heartening to find ancient cultural forms rediscovered and relished by young players and audiences.

headline photo: Tabanka , courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

More about the festival: rwmf.net

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Cutting Edge Vietnamese Virtuosity and Fiery Gnawa Trance at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero

The air conditioned Theater Stage at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 presented Hà Nội Duo and Mehdi Nassouli on Day 1, Friday, July 12, 2019.

Hà Nội Duo – Photo by Angel Romero

Hà Nội Duo is a project featuring traditional Vietnamese singer and dan bau player Ngô Hồng Quang and renowned jazz guitarist Nguyên Lê. The music performed at the Rainforest World Music Festival combined Vietnamese tradition with cutting edge technology. While Ngô Hồng Quang delivered passionate performances on vocals and mesmerizing tradition and high tech, electric guitar ambiance, beats, virtuoso performances.

Mehdi Nassouli’s Gnawa quintet provided a spellbinding show with Massouli on guimbri and four smiling acrobatic dancers and musicians on the karkabas (metal castanets). Band members included Abdesslam El Ouassif, Mohamed El Gasmi, Rachid Bobros and Driss Yamdah.

Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero
Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero

The headliners on Saturday, July 13th, are reggae artist Macka B, La Chiva Gantiva, and Estonian band Trad Attack.

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The Greening of the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

Rainforest World Music Festival 2009 – Photo by Angel Romero

The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 intends to further enhance its environmental sustainability, contributing not only to the safeguarding of culture and art but also nature and the environment at the festival grounds. The Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) will take place July 12-14, 2019 at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Sarawak Cultural Village – – Photo by Angel Romero

In a determined effort to make the festival even more eco-friendly, Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) has been working with various companies and organizations, start-ups and social enterprises to tackle waste and reduce the carbon footprint on the environment in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Some of the combined efforts include the recently announced #Urbins project as well as the annual tradition of tree planting.

This year, STB will be working with Cuckoo International who will install 20 water stations throughout the Sarawak Cultural Village. The water stations will provide free, clean drinking water. STB recommends festival-goers to bring their own reusable water bottles. RWMF will not be selling bottled water in the RWMF venue to reduce the single-use plastic waste. This will be considered possibly the biggest effect this year at RWMF, as it will greatly reduce the amount of single-use plastic collected at the festival. Festival-goers can purchase limited edition collapsible cups at designated stands, but are still advised to bring their own bottles.

Additionally, the RWMF is cooperating closely with food and drinks vendors to select biodegradable tableware and avoid disposable plates or cutlery made from Styrofoam. STB is working with Canard Media Sdn Bhd to implement a biodegradable solution to waste generation at the Food Mart.

Urbins presentation – Angelina Bateman (Director of Events and Corporate Relations STB), Seph Haini, founder of Spativate; Sharzede Salleh Askor (CEO, Sarawak Tourism Board).

Trienekens will return to RWMF as an indispensable sponsor, providing the festival with bins and bin liners, providing creative signage and posters to help festivalgoers separate out their waste accordingly between recyclables and food waste. Trienekens will also handle the treatment of recyclables and supplies provisions of recycling facilities on-site.

This will be the third year STB will employ the social enterprise Biji-Biji Initiative in the important task of synchronizing waste management across multiple waste stations, enlisting the help of local university students & mobilizing volunteers to carry on this task. The resulting collection of non-biodegradable recyclable materials will be sent to be recycled, while the food waste is used by Worming Up, a local initiative that converts food waste into bio-protein for fertilizer and animal feed for local farmers. The volunteers spread messages on topics related to recycling and food waste composting, raising public awareness among festival-goers.

Another initiative is “Green Warriors” where volunteers will help to leave the festival site exactly how it was before the festival. Here, festival-goers and volunteers work together clear up the festival site.

As it has been implemented in the past few years, shuttle buses will ferry festivalgoers from the city of Kuching and from a nearby location to the festival grounds to alleviate carbon emissions as well as prevent congestion at the site. Other recycling efforts include transforming STB promotional banners from previous years into tote bags to be used as gifts and souvenirs of the festival.

More about the festival: https://rwmf.net

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Top Global Music Talent at Sarawak’s Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The acclaimed Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) will be back July 12-14, 2019 for its 22nd consecutive year. Announced as bigger than ever, organizers expect over 20,000 music fans from the region and beyond as well as visiting tourists.  The event will take place at the scenic Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo), which is approximately 50 minutes away from the Kuching International Airport.

Irish band Kila, one of the acts scheduled to perform at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The impressive program this year includes well-known traditional and contemporary world music acts along with talented regional and local artists. The list includes Ana Alcaide (Spain), At Adau (Sarawak), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui /Easter Island, Chile), Darmas (Malaysia), Druk Folk Musician (Bhutan), Duplessy & The Violins of the World ft. Guo Gan (France, China, Sweden, Mongolia), Ha Noi Duo (Vietnam), Kemada (Sarawak), Kila (Ireland), Kila & Oki (Ireland, Japan), La Chiva Gantiva (Colombia), Macka B (United Kingdom / Jamaica), Mauravann (Mauritius), Mehdi Nassouli (Morocco), Oki (Japan), Olga Cerpa y Mestisay (Canary Islands, Spain), Otava Yo  (Russia), Rajery (Madagascar), San Salvador (France), Sangtam Naga (Nagaland), Sedaa (Iran/Mongolia), Spirit Of The Hornbills (Kalimantan), Staak Bisomu (Sarawak), Suk Binie’ (Sarawak), Suku Menoa (Sarawak), Tabanka (Cape Verde), Talisk (Scotland), Trad Attack (Estonia), and Wai (New Zealand).

Sape (Borneo lute) workshop at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2018 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

In additional to the concerts, the family-friendly RWMF 2019 includes day time percussion tutorials and music workshops that begin as early as 11:00 am plus arts and crafts workshops, a wide-variety of food options, an interactive gathering of the tribes showcasing the region’s indigenous cultures and much more.

Percussion workshop at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Rainforest World Music Festival also promotes various environmentally-friendly and sustainable programs, emphasizing preservation. Through its Green initiatives, a no-plastic ruling, will be the festival’s fundamental awareness while banning entry of all plastic water bottles throughout the festival.  

Jamming at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Sarawak will host other musical events in the next weeks, including the Rainforest Fringe, July 5 – 12, just one week before the RWMF 2019 and then followed with The Borneo Jazz Festival July 19 – 21, 2019.  

All these captivating music events are organized by the Sarawak Tourism Board and endorsed by Tourism Malaysia.

Sarawak Cultural Village

For more information on the RWMF 2019 and pre-sale tickets, go to rwmf.net.

headline photo:  Moroccan musician Mehdi Nassouli

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Rainforest World Music Festival Receives Asia-Pacific Excellence Award in Dublin


STB CEO, Sharzede Salleh Askor with the award together with Daniella Lupi, STB’s Assistant Digital Marketing Manager.

The Chief Executive Officer of Sarawak Tourism Board (STB), Sharzede Salleh Askor, received the Asia-Pacific Excellence Award for the category of Film & Video in Dublin on December 7, 2018.

The commendable promotional video of the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) 2018 won the award, outperforming videos by Marina Bay Sands and many other applicants.

STB was also shortlisted among the three finalists under the category in Travel & Tourism, in addition to receiving this award.

The Asia-Pacific Excellence Awards were created to honor the most outstanding achievements of communications professionals in their field. In addition to this, the Awards also provide an excellent networking forum for all attendees and take a comprehensive look at communications achievements across the Asian Pacific.

Coming into its 22nd year in 2019, the RWMF has become a world class event, receiving recognition worldwide, receiving accolades from music magazines and public relations awards.

RWMF was placed Top 25 Best Music Festival by Songlines Magazine, PATA Gold Award and the most recent Gold Award Special Tourism Event, to name a few.

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The Rainforest World Music Festival 2018

The Rainforest World Music Festival will take place July 13 – 15, 2018 in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. The concerts will take place in a beautiful setting, at the Sarawak Cultural Village, an award-winning museum, located at the foot of the iconic Mt. Santubong.

The lineup this year includes Bhungar Khan Company (India); Oyme (Mordovian Republic, Russia); Mathew Ngau & Julien Cottet (Sarawak / France), Volosi (Poland), Narasirato (Solomon Islands), Balkanopolis (Serbia), Cuatro Minimal (Mexico / Japan / Korea), Guo Gan & Aly Keita (China / Ivory Coast), Elisouma (Comoros Islands), Naedrum (Korea), At Adau (Sarawak), Djeli Moussa Conde (Guinea), Yallah Bye! (Tunisia), Niteworks (Isle Of Skye), Swarasia Malaysia (Malaysia), Alberto Marin (Spain), Grace Nono (Philippines), Aziza Brahim (Sarahawi Refugee Camp), Raghu Dixit Project (India), Combo Ginebra (Chile), Gayagayo (Indonesia), Slobodan Trkulja (Serbia), Dona Onete (Brazil), Sada Borneo (Sarawak / Malaysia), Kevin Locke (USA), Shanren (China), Persatuan Chingay Pulau Pinang (Malaysia), Sarawak Cultural Village (Sarawak), 1drum.Org (Malaysia), DJ Percy (Mauritius), and DJs Innes & Allan (Scotland)

More information at: rwmf.net

headline photo: At Adau (Sarawak)

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Rainforest World Music Festival 2017: 20 years of celebrating music heritage!

The annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) featured a special lineup of performances, workshops and cultural activities on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. The scenic Sarawak Cultural Village, located between Mount Santubong and the South China Sea, hosted the performances on two outdoor stages and one indoor theatre.

 

Rainforest World Music Festival 2017 poster

 

The 2017 lineup of 22 international and 5 local groups included Abavuki (South Africa), Achanak (UK/India), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Belem (Belgium), Bitori (Cape Verde), Calan (Wales), Cimarron (Colombia), Dom Flemons (US), Hanggai (China), Huw Williams (Wales), Kelele (South Africa), O Tahiti E (Tahiti), Okra Playground (Finland), Pareaso (Korea), Radio Cos (Spain), Romengo (Hungary), Saing Waing Orchestra (Myanmar), Spiro (UK), Svara Samsara (Indonesia), Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe (Taiwan), The Chipolatas (UK/Australia), and The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band (Thailand).

The Malaysian lineup featured Ilu Leto, At Adau, Lan E Tuyang and Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak from Sarawak, as well as Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca.

See also my coverage of earlier editions of RWMF from 2016 (25 bands covering 5 continents), 2015 (Global Sound, Diversity and Celebration) and 2013 (Collaboration, Creativity and Community), as well as interviews with some of the performers (eg. Rafly wa Saja, Drew Gonsalves, ShoogleNifty).

 

Rainforest World Music Festival entrance – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Festival previews

Before the festival, some of the bands held preview concerts in local pubs and cafes, such as the Culture Club in downtown Kuching. Two bands – Romengo (Hungarian gypsy group) and O Tahiti E (percussion-dance troupe from Haiti) – gave the audience a tantalising taste of what was to come during their workshops and performances in the coming days.

In keeping with its usual tradition, the Sarawak Tourism Board also had a tree-planting ceremony the day before the festival. Members of the media and some performers together planted about 200 mangrove saplings at the Kuching Wetland National Park.

 

Rainforest World Music Festival opening ceremony – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The stage was also being set for the festival workshops to follow, on yoga, meditation, tai-chi and martial arts. The festival had a crafts bazaar and food court as other highlights, along with stalls on aromatherapy and environmental recycling.

Each morning of the festival began with a media meet between journalists and musicians; see my earlier articles on artiste insights: World music bands help urban audiences connect with nature (2017), Fusion without confusion – how world music bands blend multiple influences (2016), How world music bands build collective vision, promote indigenous culture and yet adapt to changing times (2015), 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).

Day One

The morning media meet each day was followed by an afternoon of indoor performances and jam sessions. The indoor theatre performances on Day One kicked off with Pareaso (South Korea), followed by Huw Williams (Wales) and Lan E Tuyang (Malaysia).

 

Lan E Tuyang

 

The four youthful musicians of Pareaso featured traditional music from Ulsan, Korea, with instruments such as daegeum, geomongo, saenghwang,  janggu, and gayageum. Huw Williams showcased clog dancing along with trademark Welsh wit and humour while playing along on guitar. Lan E Tuyang featured three sape masters of Sarawak from the Kayan and Kenyah communities: Mathew Ngau Jau, Salomon Gau and Jimpau Balan. They also showcased the nose flute, along with traditional dance moves.

 

Pareaso

 

Each afternoon ended with an outdoor drum circle facilitated by Malaysia’s 1Drum, followed by night-time performances on two adjacent stages set in the picturesque rainforest. Traditional ceremonies to bless the festival were conducted by local cultural groups and musicians.

The six-member all-women band Ilu Leto from Sarawak, Malaysia kicked off the outdoor performances on Day One. The group, anchored by Alena Murang, keeps alive the traditional music of the Iban, Kelabit and Kenyah tribes while also challenging other customs (the sape is usually not played by women).

 

Alena Murang – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Okra Playground from Finland then delivered a hypnotic set of electro-folk. They featured ancient instruments like the kantele and bowed lyre (jouhikko), along with solid grooves by bassist Sami Kujala – a perfect foundation for the three female vocalists (Päivi Hirvonen, Maija Kauhanen, Essi Muikku). Their debut album, Turmio was released in 2015.

 

Okra Playground – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The adrenaline picked up with gypsy music by Romengo from Hungary, who played a rousing set of danceable numbers along with ballads (I also caught their performance last year at the Forde Festival 2016 in Norway). Vocalist Mónika Lakatos has won a range of awards including the Parallel Cultures award; she was joined on stage by singer Veronika Harcsa for soaring duets. The group’s first album is titled Kétháné, and the talented lineup includes Mihály “Mazsi” Rostás (guitars), Misi Kovács (violin), János “Guszti” Lakatos (oral bass, tin can), and Tibor Tibi Balogh (percussion).

 

Romengo – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The next group was pure percussive explosion: Svara Samsara from Indonesia. The quintet is inspired by the work of legendary Indonesian drummer Innisisri, and showcased a range of traditional instruments in contemporary styles. The high-energy poly-rhythms and call-and-response segments drew loud applause from the audience. The group is based in the Rumah Kahanan art space, and features instruments such as talempong, sarunai, taganing, hadrah, kancil, and kendang drums. Their first album was released last year.

Bhangra with a touch of bass and drums was featured by the UK-based band Achanak, whose members are of Punjabi origin. The group has released seven albums and has toured extensively.

An absolutely outstanding band on Day One was Abavuki from Capetown, South Africa. The group’s name means ‘Wake up, early birds!’ in the Xhosa language. South African rhythms blended with kwaito, samba and jazz, and the multi-instrumentalists wowed the audience with their prowess on a wide range of percussion (especially Mkhokheli Masala, Thulani Mtyi and Thando Sishuba).

 

Abavuki – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Founded in 2001, the band showed their years of experience and expertise with a superb set of high-energy afro-beat music and dance, blending everything from marimba to a brass section. Their albums include Decade and African Rhythms.

Day Two

The indoor performances on Day Two were kicked off by the Sang Waing Orchestra from Myanmar, playing a set of Burmese folk music. The musicians from Yangon and Mandalay performed on a range of traditional instruments, including saung (Burmese harp), clappers, cymbals, gongs, short drums and oboe.

 

Sang Waing Orchestra – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Grammy Award-winner Dom Flemons featured a set of American roots, ragtime, blues, folk, and spirituals. The singer-songwriter and slam poet’s most recent album is Prospect Hill; Dom is also the co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band.

 

Dom Flemons

 

English folk band Spiro wrapped up the indoor performances. Violin, mandolin and electronic sounds mixed together with the lineup of Jane Harbour, Alex Vann (drums), Jon Hunt (guitar), and Jason Sparkes (accordion). Their albums include Pole Star, Lightbox and Kaleidophonica.

The talented young band At Adau from Kuching kicked off the outdoor performances, with an experimental blend of Sarawak sound with world music. They featured Borneo sounds of the sape and the perutong, along with congas and djembe. Their first album is titled Journey, with the lineup of Ezra Tekola (sape), Jackson Lian Ngau (zither, drums), Meldrick Bob Udos (cajon), Ju Hyun Lee (conga), Alfonso McKenzie (bass), Cerdic Riseng (guitar) and Luke Wrender David (sape, guitar).

 

At Adau – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The most beloved band of the festival took the stage next: O Tahiti E, a sizzling percussion and dance troupe from Tahiti, who had already wowed the audience through three afternoon workshop sessions. Founded in 1986 by choreographer Marguerite Lai, they showcased spectacular costumes and sensual dance moves. The youthful dancers roused up so much energy that the heavens opened up with thundershowers at the end of their set!

 

O Tahiti E dancers – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

O Tahiti E percussionists – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The rain would continue through the next performances, reducing the lawns to a mudbath, but the hardy festival-goers were well prepared. Spain’s Radio Cos entertained them with an energetic set of Galician music. The driving rhythms on pandeiro and tambourine kept the crowd on their feet, ably anchored by Xurxo Fernandes and Quique Peon. The musicians have been researching traditional music for over three decades, and the five-member band brought the pride alive for an audience half-way round the world.

 

Radio Cos – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The energy picked up several notches with the Inner Mongolia band Hanggai from China, with an unbelievable mix of traditional instruments and rock music. The folk-rock blend, anchored by throat singer Batubagen and vocalist Ilchi dressed in a full-length traditional coat, kept the audience engaged right through gusts of wind and rain. The band has also performed at Rosklide, Lowlands, Fuji Rock, Chicago World Music Festival, Sziget, and WOMAD.

 

Hanggai – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

An absolutely stellar set followed next, by Ba Cissoko and his band from Guinea. The son of the famous kora maestro M’Bady Kouyaté performed on guitar and kora, and sang in Malinke, Wolof, Pulaar and French. West African sound fused with salsa, funk and jazz, in a superb set by the five-member group. Their albums include Electric Griot Land, Djeli, Sabolan, Nimissa, and Séno.

 

Ba Cissoko – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Another amazing folk-rock band rounded up the performances of Day Two: the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band. They played instruments and rural tunes from northeast Thailand, blended with high-energy drums and power bass. Chris Menist, Kammao Perdtanon, Maft Sai, Phusana Treeburut, Piyanart Jotikasthira and Sawai Kaewsombat played a hypnotic set showcasing the khaen (multi-reed mouth organ) and phin (string instrument).

 

Paradise Bangkok Molam Band – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

In terms of musical highlights, most festival attendees would later agree that this was one of the best nights at any world music festival ever. The crowd stayed on their feet through the rain and thunder – and there would be more come on Day Three!

 

Audience at Rainforest World Music Festival 2017 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Day Three

The indoor performances on Day Three kicked off with the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe from Taiwan. They played the music of the Paiwan tribe from southern Taiwan. Anchored by Camake Valaule, they explained their culture and dances, and showcased instruments such as the twin-pipe nose flute.

 

Taiwu Ballad Troupe – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Folk music from Belgium followed next, performed by Belem (Didier Laloy on accordion, Kathy Adam on classical cello). The indoor performances finished in fine style with the vocal harmonies of Africa, performed by Kelele from South Africa. Their members also form the band Abavuki, thus constituting an unusually creative combination and presentation of musical talent.

 

Kelele – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Their range of melodies and harmonies kept the audience spell-bound in a session of oral storytelling. Traditional instruments were also showcased, such as the mbira (finger piano), uhadi (bow instrument) and talking drum.

 

Abavuki – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The outdoor performances were kicked off by the Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca, Malaysia. They presented a blend of Portuguese and Malaysian dance.

 

Maliao Maliao Dance Workshop – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Thunderous rains picked up again as the youthful performers of Sekolah Seni Malaysia next took to the stage. They have performed the folk dances of Sarawak at festivals across Asia and Europe, and won awards in Bulgaria, Romania and Spain.

 

Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Welsh band Calan showcased foot tapping tunes and step dancing, with the five member band reinterpreting lively as well as haunting songs. Their debut album is titled Bling, and the band has played at the Cambridge Festival, Celtic Connections, Shrewsbury Folk Festival and Whitby Folk Festival.

The most sensational band of the evening was Cimarrón from Colombia. They performed the festive dance music of joropo, with soaring melodies and catchy rhythms of the Orinoco river region combining Andalusian, indigenous South American, and African roots.

Anchored by harpist Carlos Rojas Hernandez and vocalist-dancer Ana Veydó Ordóñez, the set blended bandola, cuatro, bass, and high-energy percussion. The ‘competitive jams’ between the youthful percussionists were hilarious and drew loud applause. The group has released a number of award-winning albums, including one aptly titled Orinoco.

 

Cimarrón – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Indonesian percussion band Svara Samsara took to the stage again for another set, followed by the closing act: Bitori from Cape Verde, playing funana music. This raw yet infectious dance music form was banned during the Portuguese rule, but is alive and thriving now. Anchored by lead accordionist Bitori (Victor Tavares) who is now almost 80 years old, the group performed an upbeat set with Creole vocals and unique instruments such as the ferrinho (iron scraper).

 

Svara Samsara – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Bitori – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The five-hour performances, accompanied by five hours of rain, culminated in an unforgettable grand finale with most of the bands from the three days of the festival coming together on stage to take their final bow. The festivities carried on with a jam at the musicians’ hotel bar, and I departed the next morning with a stack of the bands’ CDs gathered over the three days of the festival.

 

Grand Finale- Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

CDs released by artists who performed at the 2017 Rainforest World Music Festival

 

Rainforest World Music Festival anniversary book “20 Years of Song and Rhythm in Sarawak”

 

We already look forward to the next Rainforest World Music Festival in 2018, with its unbeatable combination of legendary bands, emerging artistes, jam sessions, interactive workshops, media meets – and a bit of occasional rain! After all, what’s a festival in the rainforest without some rain?

 

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World music bands help urban audiences connect with nature: performer insights from the 20th Rainforest World Music Festival

The 20th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) delivered a special four-day delight of preview showcases and evening performances. There were also interactive discussions between media and musicians each morning, followed by afternoon workshops and jam sessions.

The 2017 lineup of 22 international and 5 local groups included Abavuki (South Africa), Achanak (UK/India), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Belem (Belgium), Bitori (Cape Verde), Calan (Wales), Cimarron (Colombia), Dom Flemons (US), Hanggai (China), Huw Williams (Wales), Kelele (South Africa), O Tahiti E (Tahiti), Okra Playground (Finland), Pareaso (Korea), Radio Cos (Spain), Romengo (Hungary), Saing Waing Orchestra (Myanmar), Spiro (UK), Svara Samsara (Indonesia), Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe (Taiwan), The Chipolatas (UK/Australia), and The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band (Thailand). The Malaysian lineup featured At Adau, Ilu Leto, Lan E Tuyang and Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak from Sarawak, as well as Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca.

During media interactions over three days, and in separate interviews, members of these 27 bands described their connection with nature, local and diaspora influences, traditional instruments, industry careers, political messages, and music impacts.

See also my writeups on performer insights from earlier editions of RWMF: 2016 (‘Fusion without Confusion’), 2015 (‘Collective Vision’), 2014 (‘Heritage and Messages’) and 2013 (‘Cultural Preservation’). The commemorative book ‘Rainforest World Music Festival – 20 Years of Song and Rhythm in Sarawak’ was also released at RWMF. The book is edited by Gracie Geikie and Lah Wan Yee, and I am honored and delighted to have a chapter in it on the role of the media at the festival.

 

Rainforest World Music Festival press conference, day 1 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Connecting with nature

In cities, we are separated from rural life and the natural world. I hope that we can honor nature while living in the city, it’s our responsibility,” said Jon Hunt from UK-based Spiro.

Landscapes are an influence and inspiration in their music as well.

We are nature. We are part of our land. All our costumes are taken from nature,” said Marguerite Lai, founder of dance troupe O Tahiti E. For example, women wear red as the color of life.

We really appreciate nature. The jungle is our playground in Sarawak. Our music reflects our love for nature,” said Meldrick Anak Udos from Kuching band At Adau. The band is named after the root of the tree used to make the sape string instrument. “Nature is very personal for us,” he added.

Our music mimics the sound of wind blowing under coconut trees, farmers chasing cows, and bees humming around flowers,” said Nattapon Siangsukon of the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band from Thailand, whose music reflects the culture of the north-east. “One of our musicians grew his own tree for 10 years to make his instrument,” he explained.

Cimarron from Colombia features the rural music and dances of peasants. “Our instruments are made from local woods from the rainforest of South America. We mention local animals in our songs, such as crocodiles and regional birds. The sounds of milking of cows are also in our songs,” explained Carlos Rojas from Cimarron.

RWMF itself sends out strong messages about nature and conservation by conducting a mangrove tree-planting ceremony at Kuching Wetland National Park the day before the festival. “The tree-planting ceremony was one of the most memorable experiences,” said Monika Lakatos, singer from Hungarian gypsy band Romengo.

Local and diaspora connections

A number of artists showcased unique instruments from their regions, such as bamboo mouth organ khaen and two-string guitar (Thailand); cuatro, bandola, maracas and tambora (Colombia); Burmese harp (Myanmar); twin-pipe nose flute (Taiwan); and kantele (Finnish cordophone). Others performed dances and rhythms from their region, such as the clog dance (Wales) and funana (Cape Verde).

Some world music bands play traditional music without modification, while others adapt it to new surroundings and audiences. “We are an experimental world music band. We are neither fully traditional nor fully contemporary,” explained Meldrick Anak Udos from Kuching band At Adau. Their influences include the cultures of the Iban, Bedayu, and Orang Ulu tribes.

Some musicians said they make their own instruments as well. “I make my own sape. I can play better with an instrument I make myself,” explained Mathew Ngau from Sarawak’s Lan E Tuyang.

We learn traditional rhythms from villagers, and then adapt the music to our times,” said Gihon Siahaya, percussionist with Svara Samsara from Indonesia. “Our music is based on traditions but can’t be called traditional music,” he explained.

Our music is rooted in folk but we also add our own lyrics,” said Sami Kujala, bassist with Finnish electro-folk group Okra Playground.

Many diaspora populations in the West have kept alive their homeland music and fused it with their new base culture as well. “Previous generations of our communities came to the UK from northwest Punjab in the 1950s and 60s,” said Ninder Johal, tabla player of UK-based bhangra fusion band Achanak. “We combine Punjabi folk music with Western instrumentation, and have been performing for 20 years,” he said.

Rainforest World Music Festival press conference, day 2 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Political awareness, social change and diplomacy

Many of the bands also had messages about global dialogue and local social change. “It used to be taboo for females to play the sape,” said Alena Murang of the all-female six-member group Ilu Leto (‘We The Ladies’).

The group is breaking away from such traditions – but also keeping alive other traditions such as the chants of the tribes Iban, Kelabit and Kenyah (there are over 50 tribes in Sarawak). “We are from six different ethnic groups. Social media has helped us connect and collaborate,” explained Alena.

Countries and people need to talk to one another, not just make assumptions. Music festivals may be the last channel of diplomacy. They are going to become more important,” said Huw Williams from Wales.

The creative community needs to engage with the larger issues and challenges confronting our world – this includes visual artists, musicians, writers and more. “Musicians are in an industry which involves traveling around the world. It is our duty to inform others about what is happening where we travel and share these messages back home,” said Siyabulela Jiyani of Pan-African vocalists group Kelele.

Protest music exists in multiple styles. South African music is well-informed of the challenges of the time, and is not just about good times,” said Siyabulela from the Capetown-based group.

Many musicians also expressed support for unity in diversity, and found commonality among the various cultures represented. “We are people of the world. We are different but so similar,” said Marguerite Lai, founder of dance troupe O Tahiti E. She pointed to the similarities in some words in Malay and Polynesian languages.

I am a world citizen representing a larger cause,” added Don Flamins, songster and Grammy Award Winner from the US.

RWMF highlights

The performers agreed that one of the unique features of RWMF is the multiple opportunities for the bands to get to know one another and collaborate. “We made many good contacts and want our music from Guinea to go further around the world,” said kora virtuoso Ba Cissokho.

Extreme commitment of the audience to stay and enjoy the performances even during heavy rains adds to the joy,” said Monika Lakatos, vocalist with Hungarian gypsy band Romengo.

We don’t like rain during performances, except in the Rainforest,” joked Tristan Glover from music-humour trio Chipolatas.

The afternoon workshops and jam sessions are a major highlight of RWMF. “It was amazing to play together with people you have never met before. It was a magical experience for us to play with the Chinese horse fiddle player,” said Sami Kujala from Finland’s Okra Playground.

At first we were very nervous about the workshops. But after the first workshop we relaxed and did very well,” said Hwang Dong Yoon from South Korea’s Pareaso.

Rainforest World Music Festival press conference, day 3 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The lighter side

Many performers also shared humorous anecdotes from their concerts around the world. “Our funniest experience was being in an Italian village where no one spoke English! It’s a great experience for all of you to be in such a situation – have fun,” joked Jay Tilag, director of Sekolah Sani Sarawak from Malaysia.

Finnish audiences may appear expressionless but show their emotions through texts, joked Sami Kujala from Okra Playground. For musicians it is better to have feedback right away, so such reserved behavior can be a challenge!

Tristan Glover of The Chipolatas shared another unusual experience during a performance in a Middle Eastern country. Men and women were seated separately, and there was absolutely no applause during the event – but a huge crowd gathered outside later for autographs and selfies!

Festival impacts

Other than ‘feel good’ sentiments and global geography tours, world music festivals do have notable impacts as well. Many supporting anecdotes and trends were shared by the performers and organizers.

A visible local impact of RWMF is the rise of awareness and pride in local culture and instruments among youth in Sarawak, such as the sape,” said June-Lin Yeoh, RWMF artistic director. “Youth are seeing foreigners play their sape with pride – and getting recognition, fame, and money as well,” she explained. Now many youth are making their own sape and forming traditional and fusion bands.

Another impact of the festival is closer cooperation and collaboration between the musicians from different countries. In many other festivals, the musicians just “load in, play, load out, leave,” said Jun-Lin. But at RWMF they make friends with each other and with locals as well. Interestingly, this year there were bands from China as well as Taiwan!

The setting of the festival is also unique. “Jungle, mountain and sea – all three are here,” said Jun-Lin proudly. The festival also highlights some instruments which one may never see anywhere else even by world music standards.

World music festivals do help preserve and promote local cultures from around the planet, affirmed Betham William-Jones from Welsh group Calan. Ethnic music is not just something taught in school or described in official documents.

In Taiwan, the government did not allow some tribes to use their own language. “Now kids ask their parents about how to sing our melodies,” said Camake Valuaule from the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe, Taiwan. “Traditional music is forever. We sing forever,” he affirmed.

Traditional music need not sit in museums and archives, it can be made alive and contemporary,” said Alena Murang of Sarawak group Ilu Leto; RWMF gives such groups a chance to showcase their music to local as well as global audiences.

With music you can change someone’s life. Welsh music saved my life,” said Huw Williams from Wales. “I actually wanted a normal job with a regular check, but due to mass employment in my youth I was forced to become a musician,” said Huw Williams from Wales. “I have been reduced to travelling the world and singing songs,” he joked.

Ironically, some world music bands are more known outside their home country than within. “We need people like you,” said Andile Makubalo from South African band Kelele. Overseas audiences and international festival appearances also help keep alive local music traditions and cultures.

Airlines should also be playing music on board from world music festivals, given how many international passengers they carry, joked Kevin Nila Nangai, communications manager at RWMF.

headline photo: Achanak

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Rainforest World Music Festival 2016: 25 bands covering all 5 continents!

The annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) is now in its 19th edition, and featured 25 bands from around the planet. The venue is the lush equatorial rainforest of the Sarawak Cultural Village – located between Mount Santubong and the South China Sea.

The 2016 lineup featured 17 international and 8 Malaysian groups. The overseas bands included Auli (Latvia), Broukar (Syria), Derek Gripper (South Africa), Dol Arastra Bengkulu (Indonesia), Dya Singh (Australia/Malaysia), Krar Collective (Ethiopia), Lan Dieu Viet (Vietnam), Naygayiw Gigi (Australia), Nukariik (Canada), Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band (Ghana), Shanren (China), Stelios Petrakis Quartet (Greece), Chouk Bwa Libete (Haiti), Teada (Ireland), Vassvik (Norway), Violons Barbares (Bulgaria, Mongolia, France), and Vocal Sampling (Cuba).  The Malaysian lineup consisted of Alena Murang, Gendang Melayu Sri Buana, Mathew Ngau, Sape’ Sarawak, The Thunder Beats Of Nanyang Wushu Drums, Unique Arts Academy, and 1Drum.

See also my coverage of earlier editions of RWMF: Collaboration, Creativity and Community, and Global Sound, Diversity and Celebration; as well as interviews with some of the performers (eg. Rafly wa Saja, Drew Gonsalves, ShoogleNifty).

Festival previews

Kuching Festival Food Fair.
Kuching Festival Food Fair.

 

Before the Festival, some of the bands held preview concerts in local pubs, cafes and the Kuching Festival Food Fair. One of the previews was rained out due to a torrential downpour, but I caught the next superb performance by percussion troupe Dol Arastra Bengkulu from Indonesia. They are influenced by the ‘percusi dol’ ritualistic traditions of Sumatra, celebrating acts of heroism.

 

Dol Arastra Bengkulu - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Dol Arastra Bengkulu – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The musicians carried the thunderous ‘gendang dol’ drums with them as they danced around the stage, occasionally even lying down on their backs while playing them. They alternately formed circles and rows, sometimes even playing on their neighbors’ drums.

 

The Thunder Beats Of Nanyang Wushu Drums - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
The Thunder Beats Of Nanyang Wushu Drums – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Day One

Each morning of the festival began with a media meet between journalists and musicians; see my earlier articles on artiste insights: Fusion without confusion – how world music bands blend multiple influences (2016), How world music bands build collective vision, promote indigenous culture and yet adapt to changing times (2015), 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 media meet was followed by an afternoon of indoor workshops and performances, starting off with Vietnam and Malaysia. The five members of Lan Dieu Viet are all music teachers at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. Trương Thị Thu Hà played a dazzling solo on the beautiful trung (bamboo xylophone), and Cồ Huy Hùng (moon lute) and Nguyễn Hoàng Anh (bamboo flute) also stood out in the folk performances.

 

Lan Dieu Viet
Lan Dieu Viet

 

They were followed by Alena Murang on sape and vocals, performing traditional music of Sarawak in the language of the Kenyah and Kelabit people from Ulu Baram. Murang is one of the few young women to openly perform and teach the sape, an instrument from Borneo that used to be a taboo for women to even touch. She learnt from masters such as Mathew Ngau, and has played overseas and gives talks and lectures on the sape.

 

Alena Murang - Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
Alena Murang – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

 

Each evening, a drum circle was facilitated by Malaysia’s 1Drum (their slogan is ‘Drum, Cause You Can!’). The outdoor acts at night were held on two adjacent stages set in the picturesque rainforest. Traditional ceremonies to bless the festival were conducted by local cultural groups and musicians.

Sape’ Sarawak is a band drawn from the various Sarawak ethnic groups such as Orang Ulu, Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Malay, Chinese and other communities. The 17 players presented age-old tales of ancient warriors and supernatural princesses.

Naygayiw Gigi then wowed the audience with an astonishing array of costumers and ritual dances. The troupe, whose name means ‘Northern Thunder,’ hail from Bamaga, the northernmost town in Queensland, Australia. They played the music of seven clans from the Torres Strait, in the form of stories about celebration as well as defense from other attacking clans.

 

Naygayiw Gigi - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Naygayiw Gigi – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The focus shifted back to Asia with the Unique Arts Academy, performing music and dance of the South Indian communities in Malaysia. Folk drums such as thappu, kottu, chimta, and ganjira filled the stage, along with harmonium and bass guitar. The group has performed at the International Folklore Festival and World Harvest Festival.

 

Unique Arts Academy - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Unique Arts Academy – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Acclaimed Irish folk band Teada then took the stage; ace fiddler Oisín Mac Diarmada regaled the audience with his humor along with his fellow musicians on percussion and guitar. “Ireland is so nice a place that all our neighbors invaded us,” they joked. They dedicated a song to the freedom-fighters of Ireland.

 

Teada - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Teada – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Their high energy set also featured some enthusiastic step-dancing by keyboardist Samantha Harvey, and the audience clapped loudly in appreciation. “Thanks, but your kindness will be forgotten,” the band joked again. Over the past 15 years, Teada has also performed at the Edmonton Folk Festival in Canada and Harare International Festival of the Arts.

The energy picked up several notches with a thunderous performance by Dol Arastra Bengkulu (Indonesia), who had also played a shorter set at the previous day’s preview showcase. The first African band of the festival then took the stage: Krar Collective from Ethiopia. The set had elements of electro-folk and rock, with the talented Temesgen Zelekeis on electric krar, Grum Begashaw on drums, and Genet Assefa on vocals and dance.

 

Krar Collective - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Krar Collective – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Assefa changed costumes six times during the set! and the audience had a tough time trying to imitate her ‘shoulder dislocating’ dance moves! The band has also collaborated with Baaba Maal and Rokia Traore, and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.

The night came to a climax with the high-energy bagpipe and drum music group Auļi from Latvia. The band revives Latvia’s earlier bagpipe traditions, and added a terrific percussive layer with some of the biggest ‘tree trunk drums’ in the Baltics. They played danceable tracks from some of their earlier albums, which include the aptly named ‘Etnotranss.’

Day Two

The indoor performances on Day Two were kicked off by Sikh hymn singer Dya Singh, who grew up in Malaysia and is now based in Australia. He has released over 25 CDs, and has performed at dozens of festivals including WOMADelaide, Vancouver Folk Festival, and California World Music Festival. His uplifting spiritual incantations actively involved the audience as well; he was accompanied by Dheeraj Shrestha (tabla) as well as his own daughter Gimel.

The second indoor performance featured solo acoustic guitarist Derek Gripper from South Africa, who has nine albums to his credit. He interpreted a number of kora compositions on his guitar, for which he had earlier received acclaim from classical guitar legend John Williams and kora maestro Toumani Diabate. The audience showed their appreciation by lining up immediately after his performance to buy his CDs and get his autograph.

 

Derek Gripper - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Derek Gripper – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

An hour of torrential rain got the night performances off to a delayed start, but the show went on; after all, what’s the rainforest festival without some rain? The performances began with Mathew Ngau, master sape player and story teller, who also makes his own range of sape instruments and teaches the young Sarawak generation about their traditions.

The next band was Stelios Petrakis Quartet, performing the lively music of Crete from Greece. Petrakis also makes his own instruments such as the lira and laouto, and the pride and respect he had for his traditions shone through in his performance. The accompanying dances also drew loud applause from the audience.

Naygayiw Gigi from Australia treated the audience to some more brilliant costumes and dances; they were followed by Band Girl LKNS from the Sabah state of Malaysia, who showcased a wide range of traditional local gongs.

 

Band Girl LKNS - Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
Band Girl LKNS – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

 

One of the most unusual bands at RWMF was Vocal Sampling, a male a capella sextet from Cuba, with a lineup that included Rene Baños Pascual, Pedro Bernard Coto, and Reinaldo Sanler Maseda. If you closed your eyes, you could almost visualize a real Latin band playing with congas, bass, trumpet, trombone and guitar! They have performed with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Bobby McFerrin, Ray Barreto, Celia Cruz, Chick Corea and Gal Costa.

 

Vocal Sampling - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Vocal Sampling – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The group has played at Couleur Café, WOMAD, Festival de Jazz de Nice, Jazz Festival Istanbul, and World Music Festival Sukiyaki. Their rendition of the rock classic ‘Hotel California’ drew loud applause as well at RWMF.

Another range of instruments then featured on the next stage, with Shanren from China playing high-energy folk-rock music from the Yunnan region. Reggae was also blended into the set as the quartet showcased instruments such as xianzi, qinqin and dabiya (four-stringed plucked instruments) as well as xianggu and sun drum (percussion). They have performed at Barcelona Festival Asia, Canadian Music Week, Midem in Cannes, Turtle Island Festival and Liverpool Sound City.

 

Shanren - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Shanren – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The perfect closing act for the Saturday night performances was Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band from Ghana. Called the ‘Golden Voice of Africa,’ Pat Thomas filled the stage with a phenomenal range of musicians including multi-instrumentalist Kwame Yeboah (guitar, keyboards) and saxophonist Ben Abarbanel-Wolff. The set blended Ghanaian highlife, afro-beat, afro-pop and even disco – spanning four decades of genres and fusion. The aptly-named ‘I Need More’ was the encore.

 

 Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band - Photo by Madanmohan Rao

Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Day Three

The indoor performances on Day Three featured some outstanding throat singing from Norway and Canada. Torgeir Vassvik and his trio kicked off the first performance; Vassvik is an artist from Sápmi’s northernmost tip, Gamvik in Norway. The Sami joik and resonant throat singing reflect the diverse textures and climates of the Arctic zone.

 

Vassvik - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Vassvik – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The second Northern band on stage was Nukariik from Canada. The duo consists of sisters Kathy and Karin Kettler. Their Inuit throat singing and breathing styles, performed while facing each other, were inspired by the birds, animals and seasons of their region; a backdrop of photographs provided stunning visuals as well. “The mosquitoes in the Arctic are much bigger than the Malaysian ones,” Kathy joked.

 

Nukariik - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Nukariik – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The sisters explained how the alternating scales and close sequencing of tunes lead to complex yet entertaining melodies. They have performed at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, and are on the Inuit Throat Singer’s Committee.

The night performances on the last day were kicked off by the youthful band Thunder Beats of Nanyang Wushu Drums, from Sarawak in Malaysia. It included 12 drums representing the 12 months of a year, which are performed for prosperity, fortune and abundance.

The eagerly-anticipated Syrian band Broukar took the stage next (I was fortunate to also catch their performance earlier in July at the Forde Festival in Norway; see my writeup here). They were founded in 2007 in Damascus by Taoufik Mirkhan (kanun), and the musician lineup now includes his sister Hadil Mirkhan (oud) and Modar Salameh (percussion).

 

Broukar - Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
Broukar – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

 

The kanun has 78 strings, which means 78 minutes of tuning,” joked Taoufik Mirkhan, during one of their earlier afternoon workshops. “We also teach this music to our younger generation so they can keep the culture alive – and hopefully one day perform at festivals like this,” he said, referring to the sad plight of Syrian refugees.

The highlight of their performance was three sets of whirling dervish dance by Ahmad Alkhatib – twice in traditional white Sufi costume and finally in a breathtaking black-and-white dress.

Another high-energy trio then took the stage: Violons Barbares, with members from three countries: Dandarvaanchig Enkhjargal (or Epi, from Mongolia), Dimitar Gougov (Bulgaria) and Fabien Guyot (France). Epi blew the audience away with his deep throat singing and sense of humour, and sizzling work on the morin khoor. The Malaysian expression for ‘thank you’ (terima kasi) spoken in his super-deep voice drew delighted whoops from the audience.

 

Violons Barbares - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Violons Barbares – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Dimitar Gougov played haunting tunes on the gadulka, and Fabien Guyot was simply magnificent on percussion. The trio played a range of love songs and high-energy tracks (including the Afghan ‘Caravan’), and pushed the frontiers of tradition and cross-boundary fusion.

Gears shifted to the largely percussion band Chouk Bwa Libète, a traditional Haitian Mizik Rasin (roots music) band. The voodoo music featured an astonishingly intricate yet highly danceable array of rhythms and chants, with multiple fades and crescendos. The energy was so infectious that lead vocalist Jean Claude Sambaton Dorvil even seemed to be possessed with a spirit for some time, adding a layer of drama to the performance.

 

Chouk Bwa Libete - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Chouk Bwa Libete – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Drummers Lakous Badjo, Souvenance and Soukri showed unbelievable energy and variation as they alternated between their instruments. The audience joined in a chorus of ‘Amun Aye’ for the last track, and a rousing conch tone wrapped up the set.

The place slowed down a bit with the traditional joget (Malaysian dance) by the group Gendang Melayu Sri Buana, and picked up once again with Latvian bagpipe-drum band Auli (who had also finished up Day One’s performances).

 

Auli - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Auli – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

All the bands from the three days of the festival came together on stage for the grand finale, and the audience cheered them on loudly as they took their final bow. The black-and-white twirling cape of Broukar’s dervish dancer Ahmad Alkhatib soaring above the rest of the musicians was a memorable sight. The festivities carried on with a poolside jam at the musicians’ hotel, with samples of Greek, Arabic and Canadian indigenous music!

 

Rainforest World Music Festival 2016 grand finale - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Rainforest World Music Festival 2016 grand finale – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

I picked up a stack of CDs from the bands over the three days of the festival, which should keep me busy with reviews for the next couple of weeks. We already look forward to the next Rainforest World Music Festival in 2017, which promises to be extra special since it will be the 20th edition!

 

Performer CDs 1
Performer CDs 1

 

Performer CDs 1
Performer CDs 1

 

Sunset in Sarawak - Photo by Madanmohan Rao
Sunset in Sarawak – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Headline photo: Dol Arastra Bengkulu

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