An icon in its own right, the RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL in the heart of the Borneo jungle is simply a MUST for world music aficionados everywhere.
There’s a reason why the annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) has been named one of the best international festivals in the world – and anyone who’s ever witnessed its magic will swear upon it – whilst zealously plotting a trip back to the East Malaysian state of Sarawak for the subsequent edition.
Something about immersing yourself in the wonders of pristine nature in the midst of abundant greenery, with the majestic Mount Santubong serving as an incredible backdrop and therapeutic waves lapping lazily over the shores of the serene Damai Beach just minutes away soothes the soul.
And as ethnic, tribal sounds – through a spectrum of world musicians from all continents and indigenous acts from the interiors of Borneo – ricochet off the age-old trees, the secret keepers of the mighty forest, a mythical folklore begins unravelling itself, taking you on a near-spiritual odyssey ingrained in your mind – and heart – for life.
Throw in a country fair atmosphere, along with interactive music tutorials, arts and crafts workshops, cultural displays and a host of food and beverage options on-site, and you’ve got yourself an exceptional three-day affair celebrating the diversity of world music, cultures and heritage. And not forgetting a traveller’s most precious takeaway of all – newly forged friendships with likeminded souls from all walks of life, from all corners of the world!
So what is the RWMF’s story of origin?
Well, it all began in 1997 when a Canadian named Randy Raine-Reusch met Sarawak Tourism Board’s then Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Robert Basiuk, whilst researching ethnic music – with a particular keenness on the sape (a traditional plucked lute of Central Borneo’s Orang Ulu or ‘upriver people’). Conversations soon progressed into a discussion about the possibility of Sarawak putting together an annual music festival – and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The 22nd edition, held on July 12-14, 2019, once again brought together over 20,000 world music fans to its perennial venue, Sarawak Cultural Village, an award-winning living museum nestled at the foot of the Mount Santubong, located approximately 50 minutes’ drive from the Kuching International Airport.
The 2019 line-up boasted 39 bands with nine emerging bands performing on stage – representing musicians from 27 countries including Russia, Chile, Morocco, Estonia, Bhutan, Ireland, Mongolia, The Canary Islands, Jamaica, New Zealand and Colombia.
Adding a generous splash of exotic Borneo culture were five Sarawak bands, namely At Adau, Suku Menoa, Kemada, Staak Bisomu and Suk Binie – together promoting and preserving their cultural heritage through traditional instruments and rituals.
And all of this strung together by daytime activities such as engrossing interactive musical tutorials by bands (who will take to the main stages to perform once dusk settles), jamming sessions, mini concerts, ethno-musical lectures, cultural workshops and fascinating dance/ritual performances – as well as lifestyle and wellness sessions including shadow boxing, yoga and bellydance.
Put together every July by the Sarawak Tourism Board (endorsed by Tourism Malaysia and supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Youth & Sports Sarawak) with a keen eye on making the three-day event as comfortable and as convenient for festival-goers as possible, RWMF is without doubt one of the most well-organised festivals of such magnitude; shuttle busses are ready to pick up visitors from designated points across Kuching city to the Sarawak Cultural Village, making trips to and from the venue a breeze – especially with the multiple back-and-forth trips scheduled daily, enabling visitors the freedom to get to the venue and leave (to perhaps return later in the day) at any time.
The RWMF is big on green initiatives, and this year stepped up its efforts to make the internationally-acclaimed event more sustainable. Food and beverage vendors were only to select biodegradable tableware, and water dispensers were installed throughout the site as there’s a no-plastic ruling banning all plastic water bottles throughout the festival. Recycling bins were made available with creative signage and posters to help festival-goers segregate food waste and recyclables.
Feeling that wheedling itch to make that trip to the Borneo rainforest? Excellent. The 23rd edition is scheduled to take place on July 10-12, 2020, so be sure to lock in those dates. Be there or be square!
For updates and to learn more about the RWMF, log on to rwmf.net.
*Photos courtesy of RWMF