Nestled at the foot of the majestic Mount Santubong, more than thousands festival-goers flock to the Sarawak Cultural Village for the annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) to experience the diverse and eclectic lineup of musicians.
A feast for both the eyes and ears, The Bruneian had a chance to experience the celebration of diversity, unity, and harmony through the universal language of music.
The RWMF delivered an extraordinary day of musical exploration, featuring a lineup that boasted exceptional talent from both established names and emerging artists from all over the world.
Held once again at the Sarawak Cultural Village, last month the festival returned in all its colourful glory. This year, the renowned festival drew close to 20,000 festival-goers, surpassing its 2022 figure.
First held in 1998, RWMF, now the largest music festival in Borneo has a long tradition for attracting the most exciting performers from across the globe, as well as promoting and providing a platform for their own local artists.
This year, themed ‘Reflections’, the festival celebrates its 26 years of bringing diversity of sound and culture to the lush green landscape of the Sarawak rainforest.
An evening of star-studded performance
In the evening, at the heart of the festival, people of all ages crowded around two stages dubbed the ‘Jungle Stage’ and the ‘Tree Stage’ to hear live bands, as they danced and sang along to familiar and new music.
Strums, drums, and hums of many talented musicians lifted the spirits of all who attended the three-day annual RWMF.
From traditional to experimental musicians, classical instrumentalists to fusion musicians, the Festival featured a mix of artists from India, Maldives, Tanzania, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Iran and many more.
The star-studded lineup included legendary Gipsy Kings ft. Tonino Baliardo, Big Mountain, Zee Avi, At Adau, Safi Theatre, Rastak, Fasylive, Afriquoi, Chatusram, Rizal Hadi & Folk, Ethno Thai Fusion Sound Band, among others.
New to the festival, the Bruneian was excited to take it all in. The three-day festival was a fun, electrifying feast of a show from start to finish.
The first day of the festival was packed with attendees with their lawn chairs, towels, and orange wristbands in hand all lined-up to check in to one of Borneo’s largest music events.
Several attendees said they came for day one’s headliner Zee Avi, while others shared that they came for the opportunity to check out a new line-up of musicians.
Orang Orang Drum Theatre, one of the opening bands to play at the festival, uplifted the crowd with their highly energised avalanche of powerful drumming pieces and sound dynamics, energising the crowd for what was to come.
A notable highlight of the evening was Iranian contemporary folk music, Rastak Music Group. Incorporating everything from traditional Iranian instruments to heritage stories told through music, left the audience awe-inspired by their mesmerising performance.
After the performance by Rastak, the energised crowd was excited for the Sarwakian band At Adau to appear on the Tree Stage.
At Adau played to a packed, enthusiastic crowd who sang along with the band’s songs, from ‘Laongkan Ohaa’ to ‘Liling’. The Malaysian ensemble has become a staple at RWMF for years, with this year being their fifth appearance.
Further into the event, thousands of people braved the rain for the last performance of day-one of the festival. Much-anticipated Sarawakian singer and songwriter Zee Avi made an on-stage comeback at the RWMF after her last appearance a decade ago.
The Miri-born performer captivated the crowd with her soulful performances of ‘Milestone Moon’.
The set also was wrapped up with the talented performer singing her original songs such as ‘Siboh Kitak Nangis’ and ‘Kanto’ while playing her signature Ukulele throughout her set, a fitting way to end the first day of the festival.
Day two of the festival had some impressive names on the list, including Olena UUTAi, Nading Rhapsody, Sada Borneo, Steve Thornton & Afroasia, Chatusram, Fasylive, Ethno Thai Fusion Band, just to name a few.
The evening kicked off with Russian performer, Olena with the stage name UUTAi and her impressive jaw harp (khomus). When she first came on stage bringing a unique blend of animal noises through throat singing and khomus-playing skills, it dropped the audience’s jaws with her expressiveness and virtuosity.
Further into the evening, Indian multi percussion ensemble, Chatusram opened the eyes and ears of their audiences to the emotionally rich and graceful sounds of South India.
Next to thrill the crowd were the Maldivian rock band, Fasylive. They are a talented trio – with Fasy on Vocals/Guitar, Inan Adil on Bass and Dhaai on Drums. The band also featured Insha, vocalist for Maldivian band Skyrock.
The talented and charismatic artists dazzled the crowd with their hit songs ‘Fari Paree’, ‘Foi Mathi’, ‘Faru Maho’ and showcasing Fasy and Insha’s vocal prowess and the ensemble’s stage presence.
As the clock struck midnight, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. Known for their Catalan-rumba-meets-progressive pop sound, legendary band Gipsy Kings ft Tonino Baliardo finally took centre stage.
The Reyes and Baliardo families showcased their extraordinary guitar skills as they strummed to the song’s fast rhythm and mesmerized the crowd with their hypnotic and soulful voices.
They performed brilliantly with songs including “Djobi, Djoba”, “Baila Me” and many more. With their fast-paced, feel-good music invited members of the audience to dance along to the rhythm.
For the ‘cherry on top’, the passionate, flamenco band delivered the fan-favourite song, ‘Bamboléo’ with a burst of energy. Their final song was the main song that the crowd seemed to almost know the words as many sang along to the band’s final moment onstage. A definite crowd pleaser and a perfect finale for a memorable day of musical talent.
Night three, the finale
After three days of global music, the Rainforest World Music Festival came to a wrap on 25 June, after thousands of fans attended the festival in celebration of its return to the Sarawak Cultural Village.
Audiences from far and wide enjoyed the show, as they jumped, danced and sang along to the diverse line-up of artists who graced the stage and left their mark
The third and final night of the festival featured an eclectic line-up of sounds and rhythms: Suk Binie, Tuku Kane, Geng Wak Long, Afriquoi, Meruked, Safi Theatre, Rizal Hadi & Folk and popular reggae band, Big Mountain.
From the contemporary Dayak music of Suk Binie to the unique combination of ballads, rock, reggae and blues from the Indonesian band, the Rizal Hadi, the polarising line-up performances define the diverse essence of a festival marking its 26 years celebration of world music.
Geng Wak Long from Kelantan, Malaysia energised the crowd with their dikir barat rhythm while UK afro supergroup Afriquoi garnered attention from the crowd at the Jungle stage by giving a commanding and high-energy fusion performance.
Meruked, an experimentation band from Sarawak, electrified the atmosphere with their unique waves of traditional and modern sounds. The 6-piece band took us on an enchanting musical ride with the ethereal sound of Sape and contemporary riffs.
From amazing acrobatics to ngoma music, Safi Theatre brought the energy and positivity that wove the whole show together. In between performances, the nine-member group from Tanzania wowed the crowd with their traditional African drumming and captivating choreography on the main stage.
Fun, entertaining and upbeat as ever, internationally-acclaimed reggae band Big Mountain ended the RWMF with a rousing performance of their latest album, reminding us that the band is so much more than just cover songs that made the band famous.
As the band walked onstage, the crowd roared with applause, especially when Joaquin McWhinney and his brother, James graced the main Jungle stage with their presence, blessing the crowd with their versatile vocals.
Big Mountain’s performance highlighted their much-loved fusion of modern pop and reggae vibe. The band played many hits off of its album ‘Unity’ and ‘Resistance’ as well as older songs and covers too including ‘Sweet Sensual Love’, ‘Carribean Blue’, ‘Touch my light’, ‘Busca La Luz’ and more.
The energy from the crowd reached its peak when the whole festival sang and danced along when the soul-stirring rendition of the fan-favouite “Baby, I Love Your Way” reverberated through the air. Their energetic performance throughout the evening remains unmatched.
In the final moments of the festival, banding together on stage with all the genre of musicians, Big Mountain closes the show with Bob Marley’s ‘Could You Be Loved’ song, providing a fitting end to the festival.
More than just a music festival
Beyond the diverse lineup and the stunning setting, what truly made the Rainforest World Music Festival an experience to remember was the sense of unity, community and sustainability it fostered.
There is a lot more than just music that makes the festival worth traveling to, there is also a place for delicious food, a market area and cultural and social activities.
With most of the live performances taking place from the early evening into the night, it gave us an opportunity to explore the many corners of the festival in the daytime.
From interactive workshops and music demonstrations to dedicated to children’s activities including terrarium pot painting, there was something for everyone to do regardless of age or interest.
Taking place at the Iban Longhouse, we had the chance to disconnect and relax to the sound bath meditation by the Shaman Tea Room.
During the sound art and sensory session, our inner took centre stage. The 30-minute sound bath features a multitude of instruments from the vibrations of metal and crystal bowls to calming ocean drums.
Another highlight of the festival was the vendor market which showcased products from over 200 Sarawakian vendors including crafts, fashion, lifestyle and many more.
Moreover, a wide selection of food vendors was also available throughout the festival grounds, offering a variety of delicious food options. From Malaysian favorites to international flavours, festival-goers had a chance to indulge in mouthwatering dishes that cater to all tastes.
Not only that, Festivalgoers also had the chance to take part in a bid to set the record for the most percussionists in a music festival.
Bringing along their own percussion instruments from wooden spoons to drum on pots and pans, eventually, the festival broke the Malaysia Book of Records with 2,763 participants playing percussion together.
One important aspect of the festival was its evident commitment towards sustainability with biodegradable tableware, eco-stations that segregated recyclable waste and water stations throughout the festival.
One such green initiative was the introduction of food composting by Biji-biji Initiative alongside with WormingUp, a Kuching-based social enterprise collecting and channeling leftover food into compost bins
Not only that, but vibrant colourful outfits were also the highlight of the day as fashion and music lovers from all across the globe graced the big event, all dressed up and ready for a good time.
In an interview, Reza, a freelance journalist based in London expressed his excitement for finally making it to the festival for the first time. “It was our first experience at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching and it was really a magical one,” Reza said.
“I really enjoyed the performances and workshop, particularly my favourite performances were from Rastak Group and Big Mountain but also enjoyed the local bands from Kuching especially those using the traditional instruments which are more interesting and influential for me. We would love to come back to the festival next year,” he added.
On her part, Patty from Australia last attended the festival in 2013. Ten years later, she has now returned to Sarawak to witness the live performance for the second time. She said this year her favourite performance was from Rastak Group, Olena UUTAi and participating in the “Most Percussionists in a Music Festival” event.
As for future plans for the festival, The Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) announced that the 27th edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival will be held from June 28 to 30 next year.
Overall, stringing together tremendous talent and a wide assortment of genres and activities throughout the three-day festival, the 26th Rainforest World Music Festival was surely a monumental and memorable moment for music lovers.
THE BRUNEIAN | KUCHING