Sarawak’s Rainforest World Music Festival returns in June

The Rainforest World Music Festival is back, featuring 60 performers from across the globe, to once again celebrate music and culture.

To be held on 17–19 June, the festival will have the theme “Legendary Rainforest Celebration” to mark its 25th anniversary, said the Sarawak Tourism Board, organizers of the event.

The festival will be held in hybrid format, with the actual concert taking place at the Sarawak Cultural Village while viewers can also livestream it from their devices. This is the first time the festival will be held in hybrid format. Last year, the festival went virtual because of the pandemic.

Festival lineup

The festival will feature the sounds and rhythms of Sarawak, including music from diverse ethnic groups. Matthew Ngau, Jerry Kamit, Alena Murang, and At Adau, all household names in the Sarawak music scene, are part of the lineup.

Ngau is a professional sape player and is one of the community-recognized authority on the traditional stringed instrument. Kamit is also a popular sape player. Murang is a Borneo-born Dayak-European living in Kuala Lumpur, who sings in the endangered languages of indigenous groups Kelabit and Kenyah. At Adau is a traditional music band from Kuching.

There will also be performers from Australia, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, India, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, and the Philippines, to name a few.

Davao City-born Joey Ayala will be among those who will give a virtual performance. The singer, famed for infusing the sounds of Filipino ethnic instruments with pop music, was among the performers who took to the stage when the festival made its debut in 1998.  

BluGuru, a musical trio from Australia, will also perform. The trio blends bluegrass, blues, swing, and jazz, in their music, with a touch of Indian and Celtic influences.

Timo Väänänen, who plays Finland’s national instrument, the kantele, will also perform with his blend of traditional and modern music.

Randrianantoandro Clément from Madagascar is also part of the lineup. Better known as Kilema, he burst onto the music scene as part of the Justin Vali Trio. He draws from diverse musical styles to produce a sound entirely his own.

At the festival’s launch in April, Sarawak Tourism Board Chief Executive Officer Puan Sharzede Datu Haji Salleh Askor said, “Every year we strive to make the Rainforest World Music Festival better than the year before. Last year’s virtual experience gave us invaluable feedback on how we could work toward combining the best of both worlds—physical and the digital—to create RWMF’s first hybrid edition this year. We hope that creating this unique precedent for the 25th edition of the festival will become a keystone for the next 25 years for the festival, bridging the past with the future and sustaining and reinventing our musical heritage and its traditions for many years to come.”

Tickets for the physical concert start at 150 Malaysian ringgit ($34.25) for adults and RM80 for kids. Tickets for the virtual concert start at RM25. Image courtesy of the Sarawak Tourism Board

Other activities

The festival will again feature workshops, often the highlight and defining feature of the event, where musicians can jam and create unique music. To kick off this year’s festival, there will be “Sape Gathering,” which is open to sape players. There will also be a workshop for kids, where they can play musical instruments and create art.

Food bazaars will be set up at the cultural village to showcase Kuching’s cuisine, which was recently added to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Creative Cities Network and dubbed a “Creative City of Gastronomy.”

As part of efforts to protect the environment, all food vendors pledged to recycle and reduce waste. The festival will avoid single-use plastics in line with the Sarawak Tourism Board’s campaign for responsible and sustainable tourism and to support communities and the environment.

Tickets are now on sale via the festival’s website. Tickets for the physical concert start at 150 Malaysian ringgit ($34.25) for adults and RM80 for kids. Tickets for the virtual concert start at RM25. The concert will also be streamed from the festival’s website. Online viewers will get 2 hours’ worth of performances—a combination of live-streamed action from the concert venue and original curated content from local and international musicians who will perform virtually.


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