Wonderful music, entertaining crowd, vibrant activities and much more at the recent 14th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Sarawak held from 8 – 10 July.
Organised by the Sarawak Tourism Board, the RWMF is held at the Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV), a beautiful 17 acres setting by the Santubong Peninsula with the gorgeous backdrop of the famous Mount Santubong, it is a 45 minutes’ journey from Kuching city, the capital of Sarawak.
SCV, a living museum showcasing several ethnic communities of Sarawak, is ideal with its breathtaking vistas at the foothills of Mount Santubong, tranquil lake, gorgeous flora, well-maintained walkways and especially an upgraded venue for the music festival.
It is the perfect setting for the Rainforest World Music festival, listed as one of the top 25 Best International Festivals by renowned world music magazine, Songlines. This makes the RWMF on par with international music festivals such as the WOMADA Adelaide, Australia; Chicago World Music Festival, USA; Forde Folk Festival, Norway and the Essaouira Gnawa & World Music Festival held in Morocco.
The music festival was tailored to showcase a diverse range of music genres, with acts from local and international groups such as Agungbeat from Sabah, Malaysia, Startijen from France, Pacific Curls from New Zealand, Mamak Khadem from Iran, The Blue Canyon Boys from USA, Lisa Haley & Zydecats from USA, The Shin from Georgia, Eastern Europe, Ikswew from Canada, Frigg from Finland and Malick Pathe Sow from Senegal.
Other groups that performed were Victor Valdez Trio from Mexico, Duoud from Tunisia/Algeria, Ilgi from Latvia, Kissmet from India/UK, Paddy Keenan Trio from Ireland, Leweton Women’s Water Music from Vanuatu, Joaquin Daz from Dominican Republic, Kamernga from Australia, Kamafei from Italy, Kenge Kenge from Kenya and Warsaw Village Band from Poland.
The eclectic mix of musicians created beautiful music that resonated throughout SCV during the concert performances and workshops.
The workshops were musical sessions by the various groups held at several venues at SCV such as at the Iban longhouse, Dewan Lagenda, Theatre and Lakeside. It showcased groups coming together in a performance through jamming sessions, where audiences could interact up close with the performers.
An area surrounding the lake was also designated to showcase local food, souvenirs such as T-shirts, key chains, bangles as well as locally made handicrafts. There were even stalls set up for those wishing to get tattoos adorned with local motifs. The laid-back setting was a hit with revellers to the RWMF.
Near the entrance of the Sarawak Cultural Village was also a booth selling RWMF official merchandise which was a hit with music-goers who thronged the stalls after each musical performance to get copies of CDs, T-shirts and souvenir books of groups that performed at the event.
Many were seen buying CDs of the groups, and rushing to the workshops to get signatures from their favourite groups, as well as a portrait or two.
The diversity of the festival, with its musicians and instruments used culminated in an energetic concert where music-lovers from all ages converged by the foothills of Mount Santubong to listen to the musical performances by the bands.
Performances started from 7.00 pm onwards till midnight. The first night, the musical festival kicked off with a local favourite, Masters of the Sape from Malaysia that performed on the side stage.
The main performance of the night started with Agungbeat a group of women gamelan players from Sabah, performing their music to a raptured audience. Other groups performing on the first night were Iskwew (Canada), Kamerunga (Australia), Victor Valdez (Mexico), Kamafei (Italy) and Frigg (Finland).
It was the second night that a group from New Zealand, Pacific Curls, performing on the second stage captured the audience’s attention with their vibrant and lively music. With traditional Maori musical instruments accompanying their music, Kim Halliday, Sarah Beattie and Ora Barlow, delighted the audience with music evoking Pacific rhythms.
Their music, interspersed with jazz, Scottish tunes, resounding vocals and songs in a mixture of Maori and English had the audience on their feet and swaying to the beat. The surprising energy of the trio further escalated into frenzy and got the crowd raving to the free-spirited beats. The most surprising revelation was that Sarah Beattie, playing the violin, is pregnant and due in October but she was playing the musical instrument like there was no tomorrow! Such was the energy of this amazing and talented group from New Zealand.
During the final night of the RWMF, an thrilling performance came from the Kenyan group calling themselves Kenge Kenge Orutu System with their traditional Kenyan music and stage antics, they rocked the stage.
As guardians and masters of ancient tradition, the Kenge Kenge performed the Opogore, a song which harks back to their musical roots, Luo music, first popularised in the 1960s. They use benga, a handmade musical instrument akin to the guitar to produce music that is both refreshing and foreign to the local ears. Despite the language barrier, the group managed to get the crowd dancing frenetically with their upbeat tunes.
The highlight of the event surely must be Kissmet, the spellbinding group rocking SCV with their fusion of Bhangra and rock music effortlessly. Their infectious music captured the audience that gyrated wildly to the beat of the music. Singing both in English and Punjabi, followed by the beats of the bhangra music, audiences joined in the action. They definitely shocked with their colourful costumes and turban, but mesmerised with their infectious rhythms.
This incredible musical show culminated in a grand finale, where all the groups performed on the stage. This brought many music lovers to dance wildly to the beats. Though it was an exhausting night, it certainly is one of the best performances the festival has seen.
The Rainforest World Music Festival running for over 10 years now, is not an event to be missed. It has firmly put Sarawak on the world tourism map and elevated the status of the festival as an internationally acclaimed music festival.