The piece was carried in a national daily –
And here is the unedited version with pictures and video clips –
Music in the Forest
Lush green forest cover and peaking Santubong mountain form a glorious backdrop to annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia. Though music has travelled in the form of festival from confined concert-halls to various open-air venues, at this unique setting of 17 acres of forest land, the festival has taken a quantum leap since its beginning 20 years ago. The 3-day long festival held in the month of July hosts renowned musicians, both indigenous and international besides medley of activities.
A couple of hours flying from Kuala Lumpur lands me in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak and the base to get to the festival. Shuttle buses are organized from the city-centre, with the focus on reducing carbon emission, for the 35km ride to Sarawak Cultural Village, a ’living’ museum and the venue for the festival. People show up in droves at the gate in the opening hours of the morning but an efficient entry system in place keeps the wait-time to minimal.
All-day events begin in the morning and wind down well past midnight. There is something for everyone to keep the zing going. To sustain the energy-level for such a long stretch at the festival, it is better to kick-start the day with one of the Wellness-programmes that focus on mental, spiritual and physical through yoga workshops, meditation sessions and Tai-chi. Yoga enthusiasts can get to choose from various types such as hatha, budokon, vinyasa and yin but ‘bring your own yoga mat’ is the norm here. For movement-oriented, Zumba, Bodycombat, Tai-chi, Capoeira and traditional Malay art of self-defence called Silat are the choice.
The festival ground is designed such, a boardwalk around a water-body would make sure catch all the sights and sounds. Talks on wealth of plants in the rainforest, personal-care oil extraction, soap-making from natural ingredients are at Sarawak Biodiversity centre. Cheering kids holding mothers’ arms lead me to Pustaka Bookaroo, where children get initiated into arts, crafts and music, justifying the festival claim that it is family friendly. There is a heavy emphasis on Sape, a local ‘boat lute’ of 4-strings made of hollowed-wood, through history and exhibition, art of making and playing workshops, to preserve and promote local musical heritage. Rainforest World Craft Bazaar is an alluring stop over for souvenir hunters as it spreads a wide range of arts and crafts of indigenous people from garments, pants, batik, beadwork to tapestries for which the raw materials are sourced from the forest. Indeed, tree-bark clothing are also up for grabs. Inking the skin with an ethnic tattoo here would stay indelible even after returning home.
The festival aims to showcase music and dance rooted in cultures from around the world. Two stages, ‘Jungle and Tree’, aptly named for they are flanked by forest trees, are the focus for the prime-time mega acts. This year, over 25 bands from South Africa, U.K., Guinea, Cape Verde, Columbia, Belgium to Tahiti are featured. The bands play back to back, alternating the stages with no breaks, creating a seamless musical transition though the sounds are distinct as they cover a range of genres. When the venue live up to its name and the skies open, revellers literally ‘dance away the evening in the rain’ as they come all prepared to slide on the muddy ground.
As Sarawak is located just north of the equator, it is hot and sweaty. The only air-conditioned refuge at the grounds is the Theatre stage that hosts afternoon shows that are chamber-style, intimate and classical for seated audience. The music here is soothing and help unwind and take a break from all the walking done.
Then there are ‘Mini Sessions’ that host over 20 sessions in 3 days featuring lecture-demos, interactive dance workshops and thematic performances on ‘percussion’, ‘wind’ ‘strings’, ‘keys’ and so on by bringing together musicians, based on the theme, from various bands. Each musician gets to demonstrate his instrument individually and the session ends on collective synergy with them all play together to enthral the now informed audience. These shows are held in the replica of traditional houses and halls of the Sarawak ethnic communities that are part of permanent exhibits at the Sarawak Cultural Village.
Participatory and free-style Drum Circle in the afternoons draw an exuberant gathering where some 100 percussion instruments are handed out to pound out the rhythms.
A wide choice of Asian cuisine is on the platter, from scrumptious fried snacks to savouries and ice-cream to fresh juice to beat the heat. But for growing number of vegetarians and vegans, the options are very limited and that is something the organizers need to pay attention in the future years, as part of their green initiative like tree-planting, recycling and food-waste management. Food marts are equipped with seating area and entertainment zone for the buskers and clowns to stir up the appetite. Cooking demonstrations, workshops and food-tasting satiate the culinary drive in those who choose to explore beyond the dining tables.
From a modest 300 music lovers in 1998 today the festival attracts over 20,000 from across the continents and has become an eagerly anticipated event in the annual musical-calendar. “I have been coming here for many years and the music offered used to be lot more traditional but now that has taken a turn and attracts more of young and hip dancing crowd” says Kumar, a Malaysian resident. Taking advantage of being in Borneo, I hit the forest trails to catch the sights of two well-known endemic species, Orangutan and Proboscis monkey, to cap off my sojourn.
Both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines fly to Kuching
stay – 3 resort hotels, a hostel and a campsite near the festival grounds,
plenty of hotels in the city-centre
website – rwmf.net