Rainforest World Music Festival, Kuching, Sarawak

Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak by Helen Oon

By Helen Oon on 05 September 2008 in Destination Guides

Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak
Text and images by Helen Oon

The stage is set against a rainforest with its verdant vegetation as a natural backdrop in the Sarawak Cultural Village, 45 minutes from Kuching. The RWMF started as a showcase for local indigenous music in the Sarawak Cultural Village playing mostly to home and regional audience. Every season its popularity grows from a local event to an international phenomenon as its rhythm reverberates around the globe of world music. The Sarawak Cultural Village is the perfect setting to stage this festival amid its replicas of ethnic dwellings of the natives of Sarawak from the interior and coastal regions, spreading over 17 acres around a lake surrounded by the rainforest. It is a living museum replicating the lifestyle of the various indigenous groups who are at hand to demonstrate and explain their culture, customs, native arts and crafts, music and food. At the festival, the ethnic houses are given a touch of native chic and double up as bars and chill-out lounges for the revellers.

On the opening night, the mighty rainforest shows it reigns supreme over its own domain as the heavens open and torrential rain pelt down in sheets and buckets on the open-air gig. The 8000-strong crowd revel in the downpour and leap into a full swing Glastonbury-style mud-wallowing concert mode. Their spirits are far from being dampened as they dance to the rhythm of the opening acts from Senida, a group from Sarawak and Akasha from Kuala Lumpur to warm up the audience.

Spread over three nights, the festival attracts 16 bands from Malaysia and far flung places such as Gambia/Guinea, Congo, The Philippines, Palestine, Greece, Portugal, Japan, Columbia, India, Poland, Trinidad and Tobago and United Kingdom. The UK gig, New Rope String Band is a trio of musicians, including one member dressed in a red tartan kilt, put up a slapstick act clowning about on stage amid a cacophony of noisy instruments, letting the side down a bit. Each band brings their own special brand of indigenous music from their country (except UK!), some with a touch of rock and jazz to move with the times while others stay true to earthy folk music. Sarawak’s girl band Kan’id, from the Orang Ulu tribe rocks the place up with their tribal music and songs interpolated with tracks of funky tempo played on modern and traditional instruments. Their colourful indigenous costumes and beaded head gears give the band a unique edge. At the finale, the festival ends with a truly festive air as the revellers gyrate to the beat of each band. At midnight RWMF officially ends and when the bands stop playing, the magic of the rainforest comes alive with the jungle orchestra of the forest resonating through the air with nature’s soundtrack of the drills of cicadas and chirping of crickets punctuated by the shrills of nocturnal birds. Nature’s very own nightly music festival will play on long after the man-made music has echoed away into the sultry night.

Rainforest World Music Festival website: www.rainforestmusic-borneo.com

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