The Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak (Malaysia Borneo) is a 3 day musical extravaganza of ethnic and folk acts from all around the world.
This festival has attracted music lovers from across the world for their annual music pilgrimage to Sarawak to enjoy the weekend of ethnic and traditional music in the midst of a lush tropical rainforest. So we bought our tickets, packed our bags and flew there. We arrived one day earlier so we rented a car and visited the amazing Fairy cave, where I really felt like I was in some fairy tale! On the way back we stopped in the national park to try our luck and see orangutans. We were lucky and we saw four of them! More about this trip will be on my blog next week:)
This year it featured 25 bands from around the planet. Each year, the bands show how they blend entertainment, education, empowerment and empathy. Many of them are protecting endangered cultures, or are building empathy for struggling refugee communities. The festival sends out progressive messages of creativity along with responsibility, and promotes cultural preservation as well as respect for the environment.
It’s organised annually by the Sarawak Tourism Board in July/August at the Sarawak Cultural Village. The village is beautiful by itself! It was amazing to see so many different houses all from different cultures around Malaysia.
At the same time The 4th Borneo Tattoo Expo was happening directly opposite to the Cultural Village and it looked amazing. I hadn’t seen so many tattooed people in one place together till that day. They have their own stalls where you could design and get your tattoo right away. Some of them were using the traditional way of tattooing with a bamboo stick. I was amazed.
We attended the 19th Rainforest World Music Festival in August 2016 but we could stay just till Saturday afternoon as we had to go back to work. Despite not seeing it all we had the time of our lives! There is a short video from our trip at the end of this post – I’m really sorry for the quality of the sound (I will probably have to buy a microphone) 😀
A TYPICAL DAY AT THE RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL
The Rainforest World Music Festival unites an eclectic group of international ethnic and folk musicians to perform over 3 days and lead various workshops.
The festival kicks off around 2pm in the afternoon with concurrent musical workshops featuring various ethnic and unique musical instruments. Following that, the two tree stages come alive at 7pm in the evening, as festival-goers interact with the musicians to experience the music and dance presentation and it goes on until midnight.
A Rainforest World Crafts Bazaar was also held alongside the music festival, featuring a range of indigenous instruments and handicrafts.
The workshops were one of our favourite things of the entire festival. They take place in the intimate setting of the traditional houses within the Cultural Village.
We loved the workshops because you learn something new from each performer and you get to know their customs and traditions. Performers teach and interact with the audience, showcasing their different styles of singing and dancing.
For us the biggest problem was trying to decide which one we should attend as there are 4 different ones at the same time.
Interactive dance workshops
What is a good music festival without dance? The interactive dance workshops are where you get to dance till you drop and learn about folklore dances from all over the world. I had so much fun learning Irish step dancing and Latvia folk dancing.
These workshops are led by a variety of artists such as the musicians from the Latvia, Ireland, Estonia, India, and Ethiopia.
Instrumental and singing workshops
There are a variety of interactive workshops showcasing the instruments used. For example, artists showcasing the various plucked and percussive string instruments, or a unique vocalisation from three different cultures of the North.
I was amazed by Syrian string instrument called Qanun which unbelievably has 78 strings!
THE AFTERNOON PERFORMANCES
There is an indoor theatre style stage where each performer gets the chance to feature and showcase their music. It’s in a more intimate and quiet setting then the outdoor stage for the live performances in the evening. Also there are air cons so when you can’t stand the hot and humid weather any longer, this is the perfect escape for you.
Our friend’s sister Alena Murang is from Sarawak and she has visited this festival many times and she has became one of the few women to play the traditional sape instrument. It used to be taboo for tribal women to even touch it, but she now plays it at the festival and sharing stories and songs from Sarawak culture together with her amazing paintings.
THE EVENING PERFORMANCES
Every evening at 7pm the bands start to perform. I was speechless! I was listening to the traditional music from different countries in Borneo surrounded by the green scenery of the rainforest! Thinking about how lucky I was, my eyes welled up with joy.
We’ve seen bands from Ethiopia, Ireland, India, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the last band was from Latvia. The bagpipe and drum music group Auļi from Latvia featured a wide range of percussion instruments. The most memorable one from the festival was this giant ‘tree trunk drum,’ one of the largest in the Baltics.
Since we had to leave on Saturday we saw just the Day 1 performances but still it was so worth it! Hopefully next year we can go there for the whole festival.
TIPS FOR THE RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL
Tickets are cheaper if you buy them in advance. Check the Rainforest World Music Festival website for more up to date ticketing information.
When we went, tickets cost 120 Ringgits (£23/$30) for a day pass and 320 Ringgits (£62/$80) for a 3 days pass.
Family package day tickets for 2 adults and 2 children (7-12 years old) are available for 240 Ringgits (£47/$60).
HOW TO GET THERE
The Sarawak Cultural Village is located around 45 minutes drive away from Kuching, the nearest city.
There is an hourly shuttle bus service between the Cultural Village and Kuching, which costs 20 Ringgit (£4/$5) each way and runs at various times throughout the day. Or you can buy a 3 days shuttle pass for 100 Ringgit (£19/$25).
Since we arrived already on Thursday and were planning to visit some spots around Kuching we rented a car at the airport for 100 Ringgits a day (£19/$25).
WHERE TO STAY
We decided to camp in the DamaiCraftworld and Events Centre directly opposite the Cultural Village. You can bring your own tent and pay 42 Ringgits per night (£8/$10) or you can rent their tent as we did for 74 Ringgits (£14/$18). Toilets and showers are provided in the area as well with few restaurants, hawker stalls and 7/11 shop.
However, the tents are not water proof and the first day our tent was wet after a short down poor. They gave us a piece of plastic to cover our tent but it was too small. Luckily, they were still building new tents so we moved to a dry one, but it got wet a bit from the wet grass – the flooring was not waterproof as well.
DAMAI BEACH RESORT
This 4* hotel is located on the beach, 10 minutes walk away from the festival. I was trying to get a room at first, however they were fully booked.
Rooms start from 236 Ringgits ($55 / £36) a night. More info on their website here.
Good budget option, which is also based in the DamaiCraftworld and Events Centre directly opposite the Cultural Village. It looked really nice and cozy.
Beds from 78 Ringgits (£12/$19) a night. More info on their website here.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
There is a food village mart based at the Cultural Village, offering a mix of western and local food. I really enjoyed their beef with coconut – don’t remember its name.
When we were there, you could buy a can of Heineken beer for 11 Ringgits (£2/$3), however there was an outside bar right next to our tent in the DamaiCraftworld and Events Centre where you can get a can of Tiger for 7 Ringgits. The only problem is that you cannot take it with you to the festival. Outside food and drinks are no allowed (except a water bottle). They are checking your bags at the entrance.
Also, in this centre you can find 10 hawker stalls with cheap Malay, Chinese and Indian food – Roti Cheese with orange juice for breakfast is the best and just for 6 Ringgits (£0.90/1.50$)!
An estimated 20,000 fans of all ages, races and religions flock to RWMF each year, from across Asia and the West. They help make the festival one of the most diverse – and safe – in the region. We look forward to the 2017 festival already, the special 20th anniversary edition! Hopefully next time we will stay for the whole festival!