Global Gathering

Global Gathering

Rainforest World Music Festival brings beats and rhythms to the jungles of Borneo

Global Gathering

As the haze cleared in the region, musicians, fans and journalists alike descended on Malaysian Borneo for the coveted jamboree that is the Rainforest World Music Festival.

Dizu Plaatjies.

The setting for the 16th incarnation was again Sarawak Cultural Village, nestled between rainforest and sea an hour's drive from the regional capital Kuching. It's a spectacular site, ideally suited for such an event with its natural amphitheatre affording two stages for the evening performances, and handful of permanent structures to host the workshops during the days. For this reason and more, London-based Songlines world music magazine has included the festival in the top 25 of the world for the past four years, this year being no exception.

Performances got under way on June 28 with a native festival blessing ceremony, followed by Juk Wan Emang, who graced the main stage in full costume playing his nose flute. Such local presence in the line-up is crucial to the success of the festival, even as a short set, and was enjoyed by all.

Then, Rhythm in Bronze delivered traditional and hypnotic Malay gamelan music before Paris-based French group Chet Nuneta unleashed three strong female voices singing in many languages, driven on by a steady percussive backing. Continuing the groove, Columbian group Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica charmed with their steady and infectious rhythms, which also entertained elsewhere throughout the festival.

The Pine Leaf Boys.

Other noted faces of the first night were Australian aboriginal group Nunukul Yuggera, who proudly showcased their culture with songs and dances about their environs and rituals. They were clearly happy to be present, engaging photographers in the crowd with their body paint, costumes and poses. Group leader Donald Dodd gathered the microphone in the press conference to say that his people believe the land owns them, contrary to the vice-versa Western notion, and said he would sign any petition against the actions that resulted in the regional haze, signalling the potential power of such a meeting of cultures, creativities and minds.

With around 20,000 through the turnstiles over the three days, the crowd peaked on Saturday evening at 10,000 with many locals from Kuching making the trip regardless of creeping ticket prices. Among the diverse audience, one standout was couch surfer Bryce from Australia, who wielded a "CS Party animals meet here" sign that appeared every time a deep rhythm or beat was dropped.

After some strong acts from local groups to open Saturday's proceedings, Rafly Wa Saja from Aceh, Indonesia, took to the stage. His strong vocals and presence was matched by his enthusiastic band to fuse Latin rhythms with an Aceh soul. With the crowd warm, it was time for the enigmatic Dizu Plaatjies and his Ibuyambo Ensemble from Xhosa, South Africa, to be heard.

Dizu's strong stage presence was lit up by colourful dancing and vocal performances from the large group, sounding studio-fresh with their clicking/singing patterns. He made some stirring references to the unwell Nelson Mandela throughout the set. The Pine Leaf Boys from Louisiana then took everyone on a journey to the Deep South of the US with some Cajun and Creole sounds to show why they have been nominated four times for a Grammy (which they also confessed to having zero financial impact on their lives). Kries closed out the Saturday with their considered electro-folk before speaking particularly well at the press conference the next day on a variety of topics.

Although threatening, the rain held off again for the final day on Sunday. The most striking performance of the evening came from Mohsen Sharifian and The Lian Band, who stirred with regional storytelling through songs on bagpipes and percussion instruments. Mohsen confessed at the press conference earlier to defying his government's wishes by performing at such festivals, highlighting the diversity of backgrounds present. Seoul-based Palsandae then roused applause with their colourful costumes and fluid movement as they showcased Korea's last nomadic nongak dancing.

It was left to Habadekuk from Denmark to close out proceedings with their laddish and contagious ensemble folk jamming. They were then joined on stage by all performers for the traditional finale, knowing that sadly the music is over for another year, with everyone involved vowing to attend again in 12 months. Hopefully the strong support from the Sarawak Tourism Board will continue in what has become a strong cultural focus of the region.

Revellers enjoy the finale on Sunday.

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