In August 2015, Time Out Malaysia crossed the South China Sea to experience the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) at the opposite end of the country in Kuching. Here’s an insider’s view of the award-winning three-day festival.
The great Borneo adventure is a chance to escape chaotic city life and to seek serenity in the wilderness – just don’t expect it to be all hush and quiet in the jungle. From chirps and croaks to mating calls and shrill screeches, the rainforest is filled with a cacophony of sounds. And once a year for three days in a row, musicians from all over the world contribute to this orchestra.
Dreamt up by Randy Raine-Reusch, Robert Basiuk, Edric Ong and Edgar Ong in 1997, RWMF has ranked among Songlines magazine’s Top 25 Best International Festivals for five years straight. Held within the vicinity of Sarawak Cultural Village at the foothills of the magnificent Mount Santubong, the festival attracts approximately 24,000 visitors annually.
In order to present the rich mass of talent in their best light, RWMF erected not one, not two, but three stages this year: the Theatre Stage, the Jungle Stage and the Tree Stage. Only about 20 musicians and bands from all four corners of the world are selected to rock out in the festival each year. The line-up for 2015 included international bands such as Alaverdi, a four-piece folk ensemble from Georgia; Enkh Jargal Dandarvaanchig, a Mongolian horse-head fiddler; Harubee, a group of young Maldivian rock stars; and Shooglenifty, a Scottish band known for stirring up many a dance floor. Needless to say, Malaysian music took centre stage more than once. Kuching-based Kenwy YangQin Ensemble strummed haunting tunes on the
yangqin, an instrument also known as the hammered dulcimer of China, while Culture Shot from Penang played Hokkien tunes that hit close to home.
The free-standing, outdoor festival gave audience members the opportunity
festivals can attest to being ‘family friendly’, but RWMF safely holds that title
to rove about the concert grounds at their leisure. In addition to live performances, surprises loomed around every corner. Guests could participate in impromptu jam sessions, visit arts and crafts vendors, or acquire longlasting ‘souvenirs’ from a tribal tattooing station. What took us by surprise were the number of kids and families among the attendees. Few music festivals can attest to being ‘family friendly’, but RWMF safely holds that title. In addition to offering Family Packages, the organisers introduced a Festival of Children’s Literature in 2014.
The 2015 edition also marked the introduction of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) wristbands to allow for cashless payments. We loaded up on food, beverages and mementos by simply scanning our wristbands at various vendors – there was none of that rummaging around for loose change. Running out of credit simply warranted a visit to one of many top-up stations located at various checkpoints.
After three days of merrymaking, we regretfully left the Sarawak Cultural Village for Kuching city centre with a carful of strangers turned friends. Everyone mutually agreed on one thing: It’s little wonder that RWMF garners a 60 percent rate of repeated visitors each year. A must for music lovers, RWMF was superb exposure to ethnic and tribal music and an excellent reason to visit and experience Borneo.