STARTS FROM 11.00AM
As each evening drew in at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, the crowds began to swell. A packed schedule of performances was promised, from over 100 performers drawn from 20 different countries. The Spirit of the Hornbill from neighbouring Kalimantan twirled in graceful, natural Ngajat and the Ballet Folcloric de Chile Bafochi shimmered and shook across the stage to the sounds of Polynesian percussion. Kila from Ireland stoked up the crowd with their rousing Celtic rhythms, before changing pace if not energy for a final night collaboration with Oki from Hokkaido. Darmas from Malaysia gave a steel drum spectacular and Sarawak’s At Adau wowed with indigenous tradition to a Borneo beat. Macka B and the Roots Ragga band were the big stars of Saturday night, rhyming all kinds of rarities from women’s rights to vegetable delights while Tabanka from Cape Verde closed out the show with a high octane, endless energy performance that left the crowd swooning with dance fever. Every year, the festival is a musical feast that has put it on ‘Best of’ lists around the world.
But, for many of the crowd, especially the 3-day devotees, the evening performances are only the last stop in a long and eventful day. While Macka B might have put up a compelling set piece performance, even more exciting was the sight of him rhyming ad lib to the combined sound of the stomp of Morocco from Mehdi Nassouli and the drum of Ronan from Kila to a backdrop of Mongolian throat singing and a soaring flamenco vocal from Olga Cerpa. The mini-sessions at Rainforest World Music Festival are often a highlight for festival aficionados and these are only one small part of the entertainment on offer as the sun still shines on Rainfest. So, for next year, consider coming early and making a day of it so you can truly get more than your money’s worth!
The day at Rainfest starts and ends with a bit of self-care to fortify festival-goers for the evening onslaught. A relatively new addition to the festival lineup, there is a huge range of options in this category from the more restful tai chi, pilates and yoga to full on bodyjam, boxing and bellydance. The emotional freedom technique saw participants tapping their meridians, hip hop saw them body popping and Brazilian jiu jitsu saw them stopping a potential attacker in his tracks. Starting at 11am with two sessions then again at 5pm for a second round, you have the option to chill out or rev up as you feel fit!
While RWMF might be a world music festival, pulling in performers from across the globe, many of the revelers come to Borneo for the world we have right here. The festival has come back round to the fact that our own indigenous identity is the great draw and has put it on display. This year saw Iban mirings aplenty, Bidayuh Gawai rituals (where a chicken strikingly and authentically lost his head) and the Gathering of the Tribes, in which indigenous people from Nagaland, Kalimantan, Sarawak and elsewhere around the world came together for a full-costume, full-colour, full-connection celebration of indigenous identity. One tribe, one world, wholly worth it!
The mini-sessions are a unique feature of RWMF. Each is based on a theme from a dance style to an instrument group, bringing together musicians from multiple bands for an intimate individual performance and a final foot stomping jam session. The solos are worth it on their own – all kinds of animal skins, musical tubes and melodious gourds, often only for accompaniment, take centre stage. But the final jam is where the magic happens and the musicians really show what they are made of. This year heard the massed vocals of three island nations – Madagascar, New Zealand and Mauritius – all in perfect harmony with big island brother Borneo. Equally compelling is the obvious enjoyment the musicians get from the process. Nothing beats the awe when four world-class guitarists hear the opening notes of jazz improvisation from Nguyen Le of Hanoi Duo and realise that they have the chance to match him. The result is always unpredictable, inevitably amazing and the audience loves it.
Getting in with the art and culture
There were talks galore around the festival ground on every subject from Sarawak’s coffee culture to Orang Ulu art. For those who wanted to get more hands on, Borneo Bengkel had a stand at the event. This Borneo-wide artists collective brought Pangrop Sulap from Sabah and Kadal Kolektif from Kalimantan together with Sarawak’s artistic community to share woodcuts and workshops with the most creative people on this island. Everyone was just etching and sketching while laid out on the grass. Meanwhile, budding musicians were able to strum a sape and bang their own drum in Rainforest World Music Tutorials. An event and a pace to appeal to every taste.
Ink, henna and handicrafts
The Rainforest craft bazaar is a permanent fixture at the festival, the ideal spot to get that souvenir of your stay – beads, bags, batik and the colourful creations of Sarawak’s own Safar Gaffar are all on the table in a winding warren of Borneo-based creativity. For many, Borneo art is displayed on the body and some took the opportunity to while away the hours with a handtap tattoo and a lakeside view (henna also on offer for the faint hearted!). There is an endless array of Sarawak style to take away.
When the final notes of the closing act fade, the audience is still pumped and looking for a party. This year saw the Big Tent in the festival grounds playing big beats in Reggae and Bhangra until the early hours of the morning and, outside, Escobar kept the music playing until late. In fact, Damai Central is full of people over festival weekend, looking for a leisurely beer by the beach, a simple meal or even an alternative party. This year had programming from an entirely different event – October’s What About Kuching festival – aiming to persuade all those Rainfest visitors to make a return trip. So even those who don’t have a ticket for the big event can make it a long day at Damai.