Rainforest World Music Festival
Sarawak Cultural Village, Borneo, Malaysia, August 7-9
This festival, tucked within the lush surroundings of the Sarawak Cultural Village in Borneo, has been well written about in these pages, but this year I finally had the chance to experience it myself. And there’s a reason the Rainforest World Music Festival has been on our Top 25 International Festivals list for six years running. Yes, it gets major points for its breathtaking location – the main stage is seemingly dwarfed by the jungle lingering just behind it and the various longhouses were intriguing, albeit humid, venues for the daytime workshops – but the intimacy with which festival-goers are able to experience traditional music that just never gets a chance to make its way to the UK is invaluable.
Blame it on any of a variety of reasons – UK visa issues, high travel costs, logistics, etc – but many of the traditional groups at RWMF haven’t yet had the chance to bring their music to the UK. Beneath the rainforest canopy, I was afforded the chance to see some excellent Asian traditional music up close and personal for the first time. There was the colourful Iban miring ceremony as performed by the Sarawak Cultural Village dancers and musicians to open the festival on the first night. Or the 15-piece Balinese body percussion group performing the Ramayana monkey chant ritual, which is oddly entertaining. Even being afforded a chance to learn about history and development of Sarawak’s signature instrument, the sapé (lute), from the charismatic Mathew Ngau from the group Lan e Tuyang, was a rare and memorable experience.
This review originally appeared in Songlines #112 (November 2015) p76. Download a pdf here. Photo: Sarawak Tourism Board