THE WORLD COMES TO SARAWAK (2104): The Rainforest World Music Festival

 |   |  3 min read

Geng Wak Long: Bagun Wei
THE WORLD COMES TO SARAWAK (2104): The Rainforest World Music Festival

It's a happily weird thing, especially at this time of year, to listen to taonga puoro master Horomona Horo evoke the sounds of New Zealand bush and its native birds . . . then walk outside into the 36 degree heat and hot breeze.

Even with the ocean on its doorstep and the towering jungle of Mt Santubong at its back, the Damai region of Sarawak – about 40 minutes from the city of Kuching – holds the heat.

And my room is a walk across a shadeless carpark and up three flights. By the time I get back there after breakfast I just want to have another shower and lie down.

Why would anyone put up with such hell? Especially when the folks back in Auckland are turning on heaters.

I'm here because of the 17th annual Rainforest World Music Festival held in the Sarawak Cultural Village. It's a complex of houses, rooms, stages and theatre spaces around a brown lake. Like a Taranaki Womad with nowhere near as many people, buffet-style catering rather than the diversity we are familiar with from a Womad, and plenty of places serving ice cold Heineken for a paltry $3 a can. If it's a toss-up between that and bottled water . . .

The RWMFest is living up to its name.

P6200019On the first day alone I caught an exciting performance by Talago Buni from Indonesia, the emotionally charged one-man performance of haka and taonga puoro by Horomona Horo before a hushed audience and the local Bisayah Gong Orchestra.

There were also the voices and percussion of the three-man Kalakan from France who sing in Basque, a hugely popular set of Cuban music by Son Yambu fronted by the extraordinarily energetic and long-legged singer (the star for me though was Oscar on a weird guitar), a religious-cum-cultural dance party delivered by Karinthalakoottam from Kerala in India . . .

Yes, this is why we put up with the humidity, cheap buffet food (about $4 a plate, tops) and serial Heineken. It's a hoot in the heat.

As with a Womad, the artists just amble around the small, level site and you can just bowl up and have a chat if you speak their language or the common tongue of exceptionally polite English. Faced with the courtesy of the local Malay people you realise how often a casual comment made in good humour can seem abrupt. I mind my language and smile a lot, the latter is easy.

Late on the first night as Blackbeard's Tea Party are delivering their brand of punched-up English folk and high-revving sea shanties to a crowd worn down by the dance party of Karinthalakoottam, I chat with Oscar from Cuba. He tells me his guitar – three sets of double strings, like half a 12-string – was once called “the piano of the poor” and that he was a bit disappointed he couldn't really let loose.

oscar“I play behind my head, behind my back,” he laughs.

Over the three days there are talks and workshops (I refuse to go anywhere near a “drum circle” because I'm well brought up), dance lessons, and the artists in conversation.

I'm hear enduring this hell thanks to Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines.

And I will be writing a wide range of travel (and elsewhere!) stories for various magazines and newspapers, and of course for this website because I spoke to interesting artists there.

P6210088I think I'm not going to be short of stories: today I went to Kuching (my favourite city in this part of the world, I've been previously) and missed the tropical downpour which soaked the festival site.

As I type this the evening's entertainment has begun again and from my room I can hear what sounds like Liam Gallagher yowling into the night. It's a group from Malaysia called Geng Wak Long and I've already bought their CD.

Later there are performers from Sarawak and Canada, Tanzania and France.

Can't wait.

By the end of the first day – and I didn't get here until after 1pm – I'd drunk half a dozen beers, seen as many bands, bought CDs by Indonesian and Malay groups (all up about $30), met people from Australia, Germany and the village down road, eaten terrific stir fry chicken pieces in black bean and pepper sauce . . .

Before I got into bed I poured myself a medicinal large slug of duty-free Jameson (to kill germs, you understand) and asked myself, why would anyone put up with this?

Pure hell here, I tell you.

The 2015 Rainforest World Music Festival takes place August 7 - 9 in Sarawak. For details on the festival go here.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Something articles index

THE AUCKLAND CITY LIMITS FESTIVAL 2018: Bigger, better, back and Beck

THE AUCKLAND CITY LIMITS FESTIVAL 2018: Bigger, better, back and Beck

The inaugural Auckland City Limits Festival last year was one of the better -- and best organised -- festivals in the city, perhaps because many of the key players behind it had been involved in... > Read more

PAULY FUEMANA REMEMBERED (2010): Once in the land of plenty

PAULY FUEMANA REMEMBERED (2010): Once in the land of plenty

I wish I wasn’t writing this. I wish it wasn’t humid and raining. I wish I could bring myself to put his album on right now. But – and I really don’t know why –... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Son of Dave: '02' (Kartel/Rhythmethod)

Son of Dave: '02' (Kartel/Rhythmethod)

In the last couple of years this UK-based Canadian-born singer-songwriter (aka Ben Darvill, formerly of Crash Test Dummies) has conjured up the spirit and sound of old bluesmen punctuated with raw... > Read more

GUEST WRITER SARAH JANE ROWLAND sees Sinatra at his meanest and best

GUEST WRITER SARAH JANE ROWLAND sees Sinatra at his meanest and best

Suddenly is a Californian town where everybody knows everyone, it has been a “quiet day for the last 50 years” and words like shucks, swell and heck punctuate conversations. This... > Read more