Live Reviews, News — August 19, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Review: Rainforest World Music Festival hits adulthood – 18 years old and still going strong


Who would have thought you could headbang at a World Music Festival? The Rainforest World Music Festival recently completed its 18th successful run and it’s still as full as surprises as ever. rainforest-world-music-festival


For the 18th time, Sarawak Tourism Board brought the annual 3 day Rainforest World Music Festival to life in the heart of Borneo. Held in Sarawak’s Cultural Village on the Damai Peninsula, the event has gained increasing attention, attracting guests from across the globe. The festival has become increasingly popular in recent years and this year tickets even sold out on the second day, leaving some disappointed.

As a veteran of the event it is great to see organizers approach an ‘if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it’ mentality to the festival, with one of the few exceptions being the integration of cashless facilities. Sarawak Tourism Board brought in external vendors providing wireless payment in the form of a tag on your wristband. This meant no more worries of losing your cash at a festival!

A stroll around the grounds is relaxing, watching excited and curious visitors at the arts and crafts stalls. As I wandered around, it dawned on me that the two main outdoor stages named ‘Jungle’ and ‘Tree’ were still in their respective spots of yesteryear. The use of the cultural houses such as Iban, Bidayuh and Malay house for the afternoon workshops remained the same as well as the location of food stalls. This made navigating through the festival easy and a sense of knowing what to expect and to plan ahead. Most importantly, having the knowledge that an afternoon siesta is integral to making it through the evening’s activities, it felt good not to be a RWMF rookie.


Festival Highlights

Standing amongst the masses in the sweltering heat was one of my favourite acts, Bargou 08 from Tunisia. Their music, a blend of trance, electro with tribal accompaniment was purely unexpected. Although, a modern touch could be heard throughout the band, it was secondary to the heritage they were showcasing and keeping alive. Bargou 08 plays music from the north west of Tunisia which, as they describe it, is the gateway to old Tunisian traditions and stories. Combining singing and composition duties is Nidhal Yahyaoui Ben Youssef, who deftly commands the stage, singing of old Tunisian traditions and stories.

Bargou 08'

Nidhal vocalist of Bargou 08 / Photo Credits: RWMF


Ukandanz, of French and Ethiopian origin took to the stage the next day, in an energetic performance exploding with vitality. This translated through the audience as the crowd began dancing and head banging even to a point of a mosh pit. Although they played without their vocalist who couldn’t make it last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, the band still managed to rock out without a singer!


Ukandanz of France/ Ethiopia Rockin’ it Out Photo Credits: RWMF


The 3 night excitement didn’t stop as more bands such as Kobo Town from Trinidad/ Tobago belt out Caribbean tunes inspired by Calypso music left people aching for more. Merry festival goers were seen dancing the night away.

One of the highlights of the day that really captured the hearts of the audience was Epi, a performer of the traditional Mongolian Moorin Hoor (Horsefiddle).  Set in the theater stage, his enchanting vocals that ranged from the low bassy tones to the highest of keys granted him a much deserved standing ovation at the end of his performance. His unique vocals showcased the difficult techniques of overtone and throat singing.

To go through all the bands is nearly impossible as they were all astounding but another standout was Sona Jobarteh. Whilst her band is from the UK, Jobarteh herself is of Gambian descent. The singer had a simply angelic voice, singing tribal tunes while playing the kora, a traditional 21 string lute-bridge harp. Seemingly dissatisfied with conventional instruments, her band also made use of a calabash, a dried out fruit turned into a percussion.

The closing act of the festival, Lindigo from Reunion Island couldn’t have been a better choice. Their showcase of traditional Maloya music was a combination of dance and rhythmic percussion and they closed the show with a bang.



Lindigo of Reunion Island closing the festival / Photo Credits: RWMF


After Hours

As expected, the performers and festival goers were friendly and very approachable. After parties were set on the beach and all around the festival grounds. From an EDM party by a bar, or the choice of a more intimate set up by the pool in Damai Hotel where musicians, media and festival goers chilled and jammed while sharing their knowledge of music. You could also find bonfires on the beach with people gathering and sharing their experiences of the day.

While listening to merry music making by the pool, I even got the chance to try and yodel with the band Alaverdi from Georgia. As they were very encouraging, they didn’t mind showing how it was done and bear with the awful sounds from one who does not yodel. Yodeling is definitely one tough technique!


Workshops Galore

Where do you begin when you’ve got over 30 workshops to pick from? You try and go with what your gut tells you. How else do you pick? During one of these workshop/ jams  I got to see the renowned and highly anticipated blind guitar virtuoso, Mohamad Kedari of Malaysian band Sayu Ateng. The one truly amazing thing about him is how he shows the world that having an impairment is no reason you can’t be great at what you do!

Out of the many tunes played during the workshop/ jams was Malaysia’s notable folk song ‘Rasa Sayang’ which is always a crowd pleaser. Out of the many renditions played, you can find the crowd chanting as Kedari runs his solo in the video below.


Video Credits: Guim Zik


At the end of it all, Rainforest World Music Festival is still a festival you should experience once in your life. The wide variety of genres of RWMF 2015 was an eye opener of how music can be translated in so many ways and a memorable experience that will surely stay in the hearts of all those that attended.


Cassandra Chong was a guest of the Sarawak Tourism Board.