World musicians from around the globe and indigenous musicians from the interiors of the mythical island of Borneo gathered July 11-13, 2008 for the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Sarawak, Malaysia.
The three day festival drew over 22,000 attendees from around the world. Heavy tropical rains did not dampen the spirit of the 7,219 in attendance on opening night, which was followed up by a record 9,063 spectators in attendance on Saturday, and 6,291 more for Sunday’s finale, which was interrupted by a brief rain shower that caused those in attendance to run for cover early.
Entering its 11th year, RWMF was again held at the Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV), “a living museum where the traditional habitats of Sarawak’s major ethnic groups have been lovingly reproduced.”
Set amid Malaysia’s lush rainforest greenery at the foothills of Mount Santubong, and walking distance from the beach resorts along the Santubong peninsula, the Sarawak Cultural Village provided an ideal venue for a festival that “celebrates nature, ethnic music and the indigenous cultures of the world.”
Highlighting the opening night performances and lifting the crowd’s spirits after more than an hour of torrential tropical rain was the collaborative group known as Akasha. Combining members from two contemporary Indian world-jazz-fusion music-centric groups (Prana and Inner Space), Akasha was created from through the friendships developed through years of musical study and performance at the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur. Akasha featured Sivabalan S. Shanmuga Sundram (mridhangam), Kumar Karthiegesu (sitar), Jyotsna Praksah (piano), Vickneswaran Ramakrishnan (tabla) and Jamie Wilson (guitar). The group’s performance included blues, jazz and rock music with an inspired version of Jimi Hendrix’s classic Voodoo Chile.
Also on display at the festival were the diverse cultures of the multiracial society in Sarawak. Showcasing the local musical heritage were four bands, the Anak Jati Bisaya Orchestra, Kan’id, Senida and Tuku Kame. Both Senida and Tuku Kame are the resident band and performers of SCV.
Senida, which is short for Seni Damai presented members playing various traditional musical instruments like the sape and gong. Senida also performed folk dances like the zapin, joget and lakon beradat during their show at the festival.
As for Tuku Kame, the band is not new to the festival after having performed numerous times in the previous RWMF. Known for being versatile, Tuku Kame did not confine their performance to traditional tunes only, although most of their musical instruments are traditional. Tuku Kame also creatively blended traditional music with contemporary beats to create interesting tunes.
Both Anak Jati Bisaya Orkestra and Kan’id were made up of Sarawack youngsters passionate about learning their roots.
The orchestra was made of teenagers from the Bisaya community, one of the many ethnic groups of Sarawak. Found mostly in the northern part of Sarawak, the Bisaya are known for their skill on the percussions and brass instruments. For the RWMF show, the orchestra’s members, four boys and six girls, ages six to 15 years old, played 20 gongs of various sizes and dumbak (wooden drum) and their “music was slow and soulful.”
Kan’id consisted of 12 teenagers of Kelabit heritage dancing and sing the Kelabit folk songs to the beat of the sape.
All the local bands shared the same stage with the other international bands like Adel Salameh from Palestine, the New String Rope Band (UK), Senida (Sarawak), Akasha (Kuala Lumpur), Ross Daly Quartet (Greece), Cholo Valderamma (Colombia), Hiroshi Motofuji (Japan), Oikyotaan (India), Kasai Masai (Congo), Pinikpikan (Philippines), Sheldon Blackman and The Love Circle (Trinidad and Tabago), Yakande (Gambia/Guinea) and Fadomorse (Portugal).
Debuting at this year’s RWMF was the first-ever Rainforest World Crafts Bazaar (RWCB), with craftsmen and artisans from Central Asia, South Korea, Japan, Denmark, India, Europe, United States and Indonesia as well as Sarawak and other parts of Malaysia, adding traditional cultural interests and values to the world-renowned festival.
Organized by Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and presented by Celcom, the RWMF was staged at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. The RWMF also included interactive workshops, ehno-music lectures, jam sessions and mini concerts during the day.
Acknowledged as one of the Malaysian tourisms premiere events for its capability in attracting foreign visitors, especially to Sarawak’s shore, the RWMF is fully endorsed by Tourism Malaysia and has won recognition from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).