Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rainforest World Music Festival 2011—8-10 July

Robert and Jenny
For the past six years, since 2006, Jenny and I have been coming to the Rainforest World Music Festival, in Santubong, 31km from Kuching, Sarawak.  My friend Rob, who I briefly met at the 2006 MELTA conference in Kuching only the month before, invited us to join him, and he showed us the ropes.  First thing you do, you head to where the concert will be held that night and stake out your ground with a mat or canvas, then plan out which of the three workshops you want to visit for each of the three sessions, held in separate venues, and then you’re on your own. True to his word we never saw Rob again until that evening, but oh it was a relief to have a friend in that crowd of over 10,000 people meeting us exactly where he said he would be.  We’ve been staking our ground ever since.

Iban Longhouse, Cultural Village
For me the best part of the RWMF, other than the beautiful Cultural Village setting, a must see in itself, are the workshops, where the musicians from various acts introduce their instruments and their playing style and then jam together, especially in the intimate setting of the Iban Longhouse.  They’re up close and personal, especially if you arrive early. Here is a different angle (and a much better photo) from last year, if you follow this link about the RWMF and scroll down to the third photo (you’ll see Jenny and I sitting between the first two pillars—I’m wearing white)

Leweton Woman’s Water Music
Although spread over three days, this year we only came on Saturday, and left our two boys at home partly due to their recent operation (circumcision) For the first workshop we chose to see “flying fingers” at Dewan Lagenda (some hilarious miscommunication with the local Sape Masters), which was enjoyable.  Then “Blown Away” at Iban Longhouse (although it had its moments, the musicians failed to jell and we bailed out early) to get a good spot for an special extra session, a unique treat, the Leweton Woman’s Water Music, where six women from Vanuatu created some amazing sounds with their hands splashing waist high in the lake.  You would’ve sworn that they had drums in that water!  Then back to Dewan Lagenda for “the rhythm method”.  You can rarely go wrong with percussionists—they know how to get down and get all of us dancing with Max Singh of Kissmet and Raul Villa of Joaquin Diaz leading the way.

Haircuts at Rainforest World Music Festival
Earlier, prior to the workshops, to beat the crowd later, (instead of getting fancy haircuts)Jenny and I visited the Rainforest World Craft Bazaar, where Jenny bought a few necklaces, and I bought one as a house decoration.  We also met several friends including Lesley and Aidan, and Lynn.  This is one of the cool things about coming here, the friends you meet.  In fact, on the way home after our first visit, we met Martin from Editions Didier Millet who was also there.  We exchanged business cards, then hooked up again a couple of years later on Facebook, and then he contacted me in 2010 and asked me to write the text for Spirit of Malaysia which came out in February 2011.

Every year since then we have run into friends and former USM students from Penang (and from UNIMAS, too).  One year, my friend Earl was making an educational tour through the region on behalf of Brigham Young University-Hawaii.  I had met him at a conference in Penang in 2004, visited him in 2006 at his university in Hawaii prior to the Maui Writers Conference.  Now he was returning the favor with a visit to Kuching.  I told him about the RWMF, which he would just be missing by a few days and asked if he could rearrange his schedule, a major ordeal since he had all these meetings arranged in several countries, but he managed to pull it off.  The very next year, the first person we ran into at the RWMF was Earl.  He had enjoyed it so much; he came back on his own.  We’ve been sharing our mat with others nearly every year since then, following up on Rob’s hospitality our first visit.

Returning to our mat, we settled back to an enjoyable evening of music that rotated between two stages (hence our choice where to sit with some covering in case of rain).  First up was The Shin from the country Georgia—we were mesmerized not only by their music but by the dancing of one of its members.  Next up was the Pacific Curls from New Zealand, three ladies who played 13 instruments.  Ilgi from Latvia was next, followed by Paddy Keenan from Ireland, who interestingly did a beautiful rendition of “Midnight Train to Georgia”.  Next was Warsaw Village Band from Poland, Joaquin Diaz from Dominican Republic and Lisa Haley & Zydekats from USA. Quite a varied international line up, as you can see.  Unfortunately, we had to leave early since we had a long drive ahead of us.  But we’ll be back next year.  After that first taste in 2006, we vowed never to miss it again.


Nate @ House of Annie said...

Curious to know whether you think the festival has gotten better or worse since you started attending. Has it gone in unexpected or unwelcome directions?

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Nate, For a while there it was getting worse -- some of the local acts (were underwhelming, even boring)they built a huge covered VIP section that rarely gets used, tore up the hillside where a lot of people sat for a "needed" road and introduced shuttle buses and then made everyone walk up and down the hill last year from the main road and then we had to wait forever to leave. That burned a lot of people, especially when it rained. Everyone was pissed!

This year, they turned it around. The buses stopped right outside the gate, and there was no waiting coming and going! That was a huge improvement. They also added another entrance to Dewan Lagenda so it was quick and easy to get out. They built a nice building outside, for food stalls to give people an option, so it was easy on the wallet, especially for families. So for 2011 we saw a huge improvement.

Next they need to lower those tickets to about RM80-90. RM110 gets rather expensive when you have a wife and two kids, one of the reasons we didn't bring our two boys this year.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice mention Robert. i'm glad you've become a festival stalwart! We really wish we could have been there this year but, unfortunately are still at work in the Middle East.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thank you for taking us under your wings, with a toddler in tow! You set a nice example for us to follow! We missed you guys. Next year!