Jul 10, 2011

Rainforest World Music Festival 2011

Rainforest World Music Festival 2011 will be held from July 8-10 at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching bringing together some of the world’s most electic performers in the world music scene. A sneak preview of the bands will be held at Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus today. For details, call 03-2080 8305 (Angel Ng).

Caught in the moment
By Sharmilla Ganesan
Friday July 15, 2011

The Rainforest World Music Festival was the place to let your inner flower child dance free.

For the three days that you are at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Santubong, Sarawak, it’s easy to believe that the hustle and bustle of everyday life has completely faded away. After all, you are tucked away inside the lush rainforest at the base of the towering Mount Santubong, and music – almost every kind you could think of – envelops you wherever you go.

What more do you need to let your inner flower child dance free?

And dance the festival-goers certainly did as they revelled in the huge array of music that was on offer this year at the festival, and none induced as much frenzy or screaming as bhangra-rock band Kissmet. Marrying the beat-heavy Punjabi folk music with guitar riffs and wails, the British act was the perfect finale for a festival that saw the coming together of the traditional and the cutting edge.

Awesome: Revellers in a hypnotic trance at the Rainforest fest in Santubong, Sarawak.
Awesome: Revellers in a hypnotic trance at the Rainforest fest in Santubong, Sarawak.

Now in its 14th year, the RWMF has become a major draw for Sarawak, evolving from a humble music festival in the rainforest to a full-blown three-day event. Held last weekend at the Sarawak Cultural Village, the 20,000-odd visitors (over three days) to the festival were treated not only to a variety of world music styles, but also a huge range of cultural activites, food and craft stalls.

Despite what many perceive as the increasing commercialisation of the festival, however, one aspect remains firmly loyal to its roots: the music.

RWMF co-founder and artistic director Randy Raine-Reusch said the aim of the festival was to showcase bands that are taking traditional or folk music forms and bringing it into contemporary times.

“Each band performing at the festival was selected for one reason,” he added. “That is, they are simply the best at what they do.”

Featuring 22 acts this time around (including two from Malaysia), RWMF is still undeniably Malaysia’s premiere world music event, and was even named one of the 25 best international festivals in the world by the British magazine Songlines.

The festival’s unique format of coupling the evening concerts with performers’ workshops in the afternoons is a winning idea that highlights not just the various acts’ music but also the skills, stories and processes behind their music. The acts themselves were as varied as you can get, with everything from zydeco and blugrass to Sufi music and bachata popping up during the evening concerts.

One of the most infectious performances had to be by Lisa Haley and the Zydecats of the USA, with their irresistably catchy neo-traditional Cajun zydeco music. Thanks to Haley’s incredible energy, powerful fiddling and even more powerful voice, the audience was soon boogeying along to the band’s Louisiana-style sounds.

Persian beats: Mamak Khadem (left) from Iran showing off her skills on a traditional drum from Kurdistan.
Persian beats: Mamak Khadem (left) from Iran showing off her skills on a traditional drum from Kurdistan.

Equally energetic was the performance by Kamafei, a south Italian band that plays folk dance music known as pizzica-pizzica, which is built around the frenzied rhythm of the tambourine. Putting their own spin on it, the band blends in reggae, dub, rock, flamenco and hip-hop stylings that add an urban edge, and practically demands that the audience dance.

Frigg, a “Nordgrass” (Nordic bluegrass) band from Finland, was another highlight of the festival, with four extremely talented violinists who simply took our breaths away with their flawlessly frenetic fiddling. Combining the homestyle simplicity of bluegrass with classically-trained techniques, it was a performance that was as fun as it was impressive.

Talking about fun, the members of the Kenge Kenge Orutu System of Kenya definitely had a rollicking time onstage as they accompanied their traditional Luo music with self-made instruments, strong percussion and rich, lively singing and chants. Their enthusiastic dancing added a cheeky flavour, and really got the crowd moving.

Another favourite was Kamerunga from Australia, a Celtic-influenced band that incorporates funk, jazz and reggae with a multitude of instruments, including the mandolin, guitar, saxophone and didgeridoo. Their music spoke of Australia’s many influences, from Aboriginal sounds to sea shanties to bush ballads, but with a healthy dose of rock and classical music.

One got the feeling, however, that some of the acts would have worked much better in a more intimate setting. Iskwew from Canada, who perform songs in the plains tradition of the North American aboriginals, for example, did not hold the audience’s attention in the concerts as much as they did during workshops.

Perfect finale: Ron Singh of Kissmet from Britain wrapping up the fest with his performance.
Perfect finale: Ron Singh of Kissmet from Britain wrapping up the fest with his performance.

Bluegrass band Blue Canyon Boys from the USA, too, would have been much more enjoyable in a music hall-type setting than such a wide open venue. Their skill with their instruments and beautiful harmonies needed a closer audience for full appreciation.

Many also felt rather sorry for Malike Pathe Sow and his band, who were shifted from playing on the opening night to just before Kissmet, due to their instruments being misplaced by their flight. Their lyrical and melodious North Senegalese music, while pleasant and perfect for chilling out, didn’t quite capture the attention of the crowd that was eagerly waiting to rock out to the next act.

The major sour note in this year’s RWMF, though, was the uneven sound quality during the concerts, which short-changed some of the performers. Iranian singer Mamak Khadem’s performance, for example, was plagued with sound issues and microphone pops, marring an otherwise enchanting set filled with hypnotic Persian poetry, music and percussion.

As the RWMF wound to a close, all the bands performing at the festival got together onstage, jamming together to the same beat (quite a challenge considering the number of different instruments!). The stars were out, trees surrounded the stage, and the dark outline of the mountain watched over the proceedings. People were sprawled on the ground listening, or danced to the music in the clearing. Caught up in the moment, even a cynic could look around and think, there was some sort of magic here. --The Star Music

The music flows
By Sharmilla Ganesan

Vanuatu’s Leweton Women are helping to splash around the word on a rarely-heard type of music.

The closest most of us have come to making music with water is splashing around in the tub or pool. But for the Leweton Women, water itself is an instrument that is coaxed into producing a rarely-heard, hypnotic type of music.

Hailing from the remote northern islands of Vanuatu, the group of six women was the most fascinating act at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) held last weekend at the Sarawak Cultural Village – in fact, one can even go so far as to say their music was the most unusual the festival has ever seen.

Cecelia Lolonun, a member of the Leweton Women, explained that water music is unique even in Vanuatu, as it is played only in two islands in the northern part of the archipelago. A tradition that is typically passed on from mother to daughter, Lolonun estimated that there are only about 20 groups of water music players still in existence.

Riveting ripples: The Leweton Women from Vanuatu playing their water music in the lake.
Riveting ripples: The Leweton Women from Vanuatu playing their water music in the lake.

The Leweton Women themselves are all members of the same family, and Lolonun, 31, first started learning water music when she was about five years old. With the RWMF being their first time performing outside their country, they were both excited and slightly nervous about showcasing their talents.

“We are really happy to come here and show you all what water music is,” Lolonun shared with a shy smile. “Most people don’t know much about Vanuatu, so we really want to show some of our culture.”

The result of thousands of years of traditions, water music is created by beating the water with bare hands to produce a wide range of rhythmic sounds. The Leweton Women, clad in traditional garb made from leaves and flowers, stand in waist-high water and beat out perfectly coordinated rhythms.

The right hand produces a deep, persistent bass rhythm while the left hand creates beats and notes from splashes and ripples. The result is an extremely intoxicating sound that is both deeply primal and totally fun, not just to listen to but also to watch.

It was obvious that visitors to the RWMF were completely amazed by the water music. For obvious reasons, the Leweton Women couldn’t perform onstage during the evening concerts, so they presented two 15-minute slots every day in between the afternoon workshops, playing in the lake at the centre of the Cultural Village.

Spectators crowded the lakeside to catch the sets, and many were heard asking whether drums were positioned underwater, or a recording was being used, to produce such strong percussive sounds.

Water music has its roots in the close relationship the people of Vanuatu have with water, and traces its origins to the simple sounds people made when they did their chores or washed themselves in bodies of water.

“Water is a very important part of our daily life. Our ancestors went to the (lakes, rivers or ocean) for housekeeping, gardening, swimming, bathing, fishing and so on. And they would try to make any sounds they could with the water just for fun,” Lolunun said.

Around 1974, she explained, water music started becoming more formalised, as the players started listening to the sounds of nature around them and incorporating them into the rhythms they produced. By then, the music form had also evolved into a communal ladies’ gathering of sorts, with singing and dancing also a part of the activity.

Traditionally performed in a circle or half-moon formation, their rhythms are inspired by the many different sounds in bodies of water, such as waterfalls crashing down, dolphins leaping out, fish swimming in rivers, and raindrops plopping into lakes.

With pieces like The Sound of Thunder, Big Whale Fish Playing With Small Whale Fish and Waves Breaking on the Reef, their music speaks of a deep cultural connection with the environment.

Their performance costumes too, pay homage to their ancient culture and reverence for nature.

“Each lady makes her own costume from flowers and leaves that are around the area. For the RWMF, for example, we used the native leaves that were growing around the Cultural Village,” said Lolonun, adding that their costumes usually take about an hour to make.

Best of all, water music lets the women have a splashing good time.

Watching them expertly strike the water, one can’t help but notice the huge smiles on their faces – rather than playing music, they truly look like they are just playing.

Lolonun admits with a laugh that the sheer fun of water music makes them keep on doing it.

“We can play water music all the time, anytime! Whenever we are in a pool or the sea, we can’t help ourselves, we just start doing it!” — The Star Music

Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) among 25 top festivals
Friday April 8, 2011

KUCHING: Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) has been voted for the second consecutive year as one of the Top 25 Best International Festivals by renowned world music magazine Songlines.

This most recent award adds yet another feather to its cap and elevates its status in the international music scene as a festival which has put Sarawak on the world tourism map.

According to the editorial team at Songlines, “This year’s selection of festivals is a broad representation of the quality and scope of music festivals around the world, from city-based events to ones in remote locations such as the RWMF in Sarawak and the festival in the Desert in Mali. The selection represents some personal favourites of Songlines staff and contributors as we feel that what these festivals are doing complements what we’re interested in at Songlines.”

The full list of all 25 international festivals will be published in the June issue of Songlines.

Among the festivals lauded are Ulsan World Music Festival, Korea; WOMADAdelaide, Australia; Chicago World Music Festival, USA; Essaouira Gnawa & World Music Festival, Morocco; and Forde Folk Festival, Norway.

RWMF, an annually event, will be held from July 8 to 10 at the Cultural Village, about 35km outside Kuching and set against the magnificent backdrop of the legendary Mount Santubong.

Limited tickets for a three-day pass to the festival will cost RM260 during the promotional period while daily tickets for Friday and Sunday are going for RM85.

All promotional offers are limited and are available on-line until April 15 on a first come, first served basis.

For purchase/booking/enquiries call the TicketCharge Hotline: +6 03-9222 8811 or at TicketCharge @ No 42A-1, Jalan Metro Pudu, Fraser Business Park, Off Jalan Yew, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or check online at www.ticketcharge.com.my

For details, visit www.rainforestmusic-borneo.com

Rainforest festival’s success shows what Sarawakians can achieve, given the right support
Midin Salad By Yu Ji
Wednesday May 25, 2011

THE Sarawak government got it right when it chose to support the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) 14 years ago.

Its success shows what Sarawakians can achieve given the right kind of support. The festival is good because it is based on a sound idea with good execution.

Let more projects be based on good ideas and by the right people.

On the eve of the festival’s birth in 1997, members of Kuching’s well-known Ong family and Randy Raine-Reusch — a Canadian songwriter for Aerosmith — must have sat around lamenting that maybe their plans for a music festival could fail entirely.

The Ong brothers, Edric (Sarawak Atelier Society president) and Edgar (a producer at Southeast Asia Film Locations Services) were no strangers to tourism and the arts.

Roaring time: Weekend crowds number more than 20,000 every year.
Roaring time: Weekend crowds number more than 20,000 every year.

Multi-instrumentalist Raine-Reusch, having just finished his involvement with The Cranberries’ badly reviewed 1996 album ‘To the Faithful Departed’, was eagerly looking for a side project.

On the first day of the festival, hundreds showed up. There seemed to be no official record, but those who were there estimated a crowd of 400. Then, as now, it took place at the Sarawak Cultural Village. But unlike the current concert grounds, which is the size of two football fields and two stages, the first was held next to the Village’s canteen.

An ex-Tourism Minister reminisces about how organisers had to “beg for” people to come. But the event was enjoyable enough for it to be held a second time, and then a third, leading to the fourth, which proved to be the crucial turning point.

The World of Music, Arts and Dance, better known as WOMAD, is one of the largest festivals internationally. Founded in 1980 by Peter Gabriel, the ex-frontman of Genesis (yes, that Genesis), WOMAD’s concerts today span seven countries, from the UK to Spain, from Italy to Australia.

WOMAD launched a take-over bid of RWMF during its fourth year.

By then, the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) was already the festival’s main organiser, having assumed Sarawak Atelier Society’s role. Long meetings into the night were held. WOMAD Borneo certainly sounded like an attractive proposition. But in the end, an audacious decision was made to reject the offer.

STB has never looked back since.

Under the leaderships of Gracie Gekkie (2005-2009) and Datuk Rashid Khan, the festival has grown beyond the Ong brothers and Raine-Reusch’s wildest dreams.

Raine-Reusch continues to play an important role. He is the artistic director of the show, making important choices on band selection, and when the Miri Jazz Festival was created six years ago, he was appointed its consultant. -- The Star

In 2006, RWMF broke the 20,000 attendance record. Buoyed by confidence, STB launched a massive marketing drive for the festival’s 10th anniversary.

Promoted as a “best of” show featuring the return of well-loved acts, media included the BBC, Channel News Asia, MTV, among others, descended on the foothills of Santubong.

The anniversary show was the first I attended. I remember thousands of hands in the air during Black Umfolosi’s closing performance and the stunned silence when Jerry Kamit took to his sape.

I remember a young Australian asking for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage, and saw the Santubong peninsula in new light, literally, as it was awashed in hues of gold and green during sunset.

At 23 then, I never felt more proud to be Sarawakian.

I’ve attended the event three more times since, which is always held on the second weekend of July.

STB says that, aside from direct and spinoff revenue generated during the weekend, RWMF’s more important role is to extend Sarawak’s international media “reach”.

“It is one of the best ways of selling our image,” Rashid said recently during a media briefing.

Indeed, in next month’s edition of Songlines — a UK-based magazine — RWMF will be included on its annual list of Top 25 Best Music Festival. Where we rank is presently kept under wraps. No Malaysian could have foreseen how successful the seeds that the Ong brothers and Raine-Reusch planted 14 years ago could have become.

It is proof that success will follow good intentions. I very much doubt the original organisers had financial gains as the goal.