World Music Festival

Huon Valley Midwinter Festival: Wassails, Bonfires and Storytelling

It can get pretty cold in southern Tasmania in the winter – so why not have a festival with dancing round a bonfire, drinking cider, singing and evoking ancient spirits? The Huon Valley MidWinter Festival will scorch your blues away, for sure.

Tai-Chi, Yoga, Fitness & Culture - Highlights of Rainforest World Music Festival 2017

Sarawak’s headliner tourism attraction – the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) – will include Tai-Chi, yoga, and other health and fitness activities. Music tourism. Cultural Tourism.

Culture, Nature, Social Enterprise at Rainforest World Music Festival 2016

From recycling to upcycling, Rainforest World Music Festival 2016 showed its commitment to lower environmental impacts while staging higher musical and social impacts on fans. Mallika Naguran hangs out at the event to bask in the festivity and deliver this report.

Highlights of Rainforest World Music Festival 2016

From kiddy workshops, traditional crafts, spontaneous music workshops to energetic stage performances by international artistes - here are a few highlights of the one and only Rainforest World Music Festival 2016. By Mallika Naguran

Singapore 7 July 2016. The Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) brings together renowned world music artistes from around the world including indigenous musicians from the heart of Borneo. The all-day-long festival for all ages takes place this year from Friday 5 August to Sunday 7 August 2016 at the Sarawak Cultural Village, Santubong. Kuching, Sarawak.

The acclaimed Cimarron from Colombia will get you dancing with its rippling "joropo"!

The acclaimed Cimarron from Colombia will get you dancing with its rippling "joropo"!

This year’s acts include bands such as Shanren from China, Auli from Latvia, Torgeir Vassvik from Norway, Chouk Bwa Libete from Haiti, Cimarron from Colombia, Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band from Ghana and many more.

A must watch gig would be Violons Barbares, which brings together a rare mix of traditions from Mongolia, Bulgaria and France. Look out for Dandarvaaching Enkhjargal on the morin khoor and jaw dropping overtone singing!

RWMF is most loved for its fun formula of interactive workshops, ethno-musical jamming sessions and mini concerts in the afternoon… prior to the actual show itself at night. To loyal fans of RWMF, the afternoon sessions are most entertaining, often making it the highlight of the festival itself.

Local and international food and drink can be purchased at the festival grounds. There will also be an arts and crafts area - get a temporary tattoo there! Buy festival memorabilia, Sarawak souvenirs and CDs by the performing artists. 

Rare chance to hear rare voices and blends of traditions at RWMF, especially with Violons Barbares.

Rare chance to hear rare voices and blends of traditions at RWMF, especially with Violons Barbares.

So yes, we are talking about festivity and feasts at the Sarawak Cultural Village from afternoon to past midnight. So bring lots of cash - Malaysian ringgit of course, although credit/debit cards may be accepted by certain merchants.

Something for Mom & Dad… and the Kids

There will also be fringe events to highlight Sarawak culture namely the Rainforest World Craft Bazaar and the Food and Village Mart, where one can purchase the local arts, crafts and cuisine of Borneo, as well as the Borneo Tattoo Expo at Damai Central, where one can see the traditional tribal tattoos of the indigenous tribes of Sarawak.

Look out for Pustaka Bookaroo, an event which combines music, stories and crafts from around the world for children aged between seven and 12.

RWMF Gets Bigger on Local Sounds

This year at the RWMF, eight Malaysian groups will share the stage with 26 international artistes.

Alena Murang sings as she plays the sape bringing the oral tradition of the Kenyah and Kelabit people from Ulu Baram alive.

Alena Murang sings as she plays the sape bringing the oral tradition of the Kenyah and Kelabit people from Ulu Baram alive.

Five artistes and groups from Sarawak will be featured, including sape maestros Alena Murang and Mathew Ngau Jau, Gendang Melayu Sri Buana, Thunder Beats of Nanyang Wushu Drums, as well as a performers from the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Two bands from Peninsular Malaysia, and the Unique Arts Academy and the Band Girls of Sabah State Cultural Board will also take the stage.

“We are proud to provide a stage for our own talented performers to shine, showing that we too have leaders and groundbreakers in World Music as a genre.” says Angelina Patricia Bateman, Director of Corporate Communications, Sarawak Tourism Board and Project Director of the festival.

Local and international treats await you at this year's most unique Rainforest World Music Festival. Don't delay anymore - plan your trip today.

Visit the Official Website for more information:

Visit RWMF Facebook

How to get your tickest for RWMF?

Practical tips for festival goers at RWMF

Threatened dialects revived at RWMF

Nature Tribute at Rainforest World Music Festival 2015

Nature lovers can look forward to songs being sung and music being played that are dedicated to elements of nature. How apt, since the setting is by the rainforest of Santubong in Sarawak.

Rainforest World Music Festival 2015 Brings Memories

The 18th edition of the festival on the weekend of 7th to 9th of August 2015 will be set among lush forest greenery, crowned by the lofty Mount Santubong.

Beto Jamaica Rey Vallenato in Rainforest World Music Festival

Sarawak’s top musical event, the Rainforest World Music Festival 2013, featured Colombian folklore music performed by accordianist Alberto (Beto) Jamaica and Vallenato ensemble. An exclusive by Mallika Naguran.

Review of Rainforest World Music Festival 2013

Mallika Naguran checks in to Sarawak to check out the region's popular world music festival.

Kuching, 1 July 2013. The 16th edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Santubong, Sarawak was a highlight in Asia's world music calendar. As before, the organisers Sarawak Tourism Board and artistic director Yeoh Jun Lin brought in mega international acts to perform alongside lesser known ones – striking varied rhythms to unleash vibrations of energy – from meditational low to fever pitch high. Festival-goers of nearly 20,000 over three days lapped it all up, 80 percent of which were mostly from West Malaysia and beyond, according to Angeline Bateman, communications director of Sarawak Tourism Board.

Sarawak native chanting for blessing

Dizu Plaatjies & The Ibuyambo Ensemble

Australian native gig Nunukul Yug

This year, RWMF 2013 showcased great acts from the corners of the world. Literally! Australian aboriginals Nunukul Yug; Ukrainian Spiritual Seasons; Habadekuk from Denmark; Kila from Ireland; Dizu Plaatjies & The Ibuyambo Ensemble; Kries from Croatia; Alp Bora from Turkey; Pine Leaf Boys from Lousiana; Chet Nuneta from France; Mohsen Sharifian & The Lian Band from Iran; Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica from Colombia; and Palsandae from Korea.

Nunukul Yug

On the home front were heritage showcases of culture set to music. The audience loved the local Borneo and Southeast Asian acts for their authenticity. From Sarawak, we had Maya Green, Gema SLDN-SCV, Lan E Tuyang (led by Matthew Ngau Jau) and Madeeh (featuring Arthur Borman “Bai Kas” Kanying). Malaysian Rhythm in Bronze gave uplifting gamelan and gong sounds, a pleasure to watch and listen to. Rafly Wa Saja crunched the spiritual nuances of Acehnese folk with groovy vocals using scat technique improvisation.

Australian aboriginals Nunukul Yuggera commanded attention with their narrative styled acts relating stories close to the heart of the people. There were adulations of dolphins for their role in saving mankind. There were calls made to the spirits for the protection of earth. There was a live demonstration of the art of making fire from sticks and hay. Yes, the way things used to be back in the good old days before the invasion of electric stoves and microwave ovens!

High-energy performances by Kila and Habadekuk stole the limelight, got audiences raving and dancing on their feet, while Colombians sent Latino-styled currents to the crowd but with authentic Cumbia and Vallenato performances. Alberto “Beto” Jamaica had a few years ago gotten a name for being the best accordionist in Bogota for Vallenato style music, pitting against 100 others to clinch the first position. Indeed, the Latino Vallenato folk compositions were among the highlights of the evening.


While smoothly run most of the time, the festival programming seemed halting with Sarawakian performances coming on in between with bigger sounding acts. The music revelers that had their hands high and feet thumping before suddenly stood still to soak in meditational sequences and chants. From the programming perspective, this might have been deliberate, to try to inject some variety, alternating the pace for some relief. For some, it was time to visit the loo and grab the beer, passing over the rather pricey wine at RM18 for a puny glass. 

Korean Palsandae

Kries from Croatia was beautifully dark, haunting and gothic, but not quite the right band to slot in as the night’s anchor. Prior to it was Dizu Plaatjies & The Ibuyambo Ensemble - the pride of South Africans.  Once again, as in most world music gigs, the Africans delivered!  There were every minute mesmerizing, culturally engaging, danceable and melodioius with amazing vocal harmonies. The call to remember ailing Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black President and all that he brought to South Africa was touching. After all what is world music if there aren’t any activist rejoinders? 

But there’s only so much that one can write about music. To appreciate these musicians, you’ll have to buy their CDs and listen to their tracks. Hook up with their vids online, or watch this space for Gaia Discovery video posts. Better still, be there in Sarawak next year to enjoy some wonderful world music, actually among the best in this region, and that can only happen at the Rainforest!

Photography by Mallika Naguran and Sarawak Tourism Board.

Read Gaia Discovery's article on Chet Nuneta's reasons for singing in disappearing languages.

Penang World Music Keeps Folklore and Traditions Alive

What does it take to keep world music alive? Mallika Naguran checks in with world musicians at the Penang World Music Festival 2013 from Iran, Portugal, Brazil, Bali, Malaysia and Latin America, just to list a few, to find out.

Penang World Music Festival 2013: Heritage Set to Tune

More than just musical acts, the Penang World Music Festival brings audiences closer to seasoned musicians and their precious heritage in afternoon workshops and nightly concerts, reports Mallika Naguran.

14th Rainforest World Music Festival a Wonder

From 'pathos in purity' to 'high-wire energy', Borneo's famed world music festival is all of this and more, describes Mallika Naguran.

Rainforest World Music Festival 2011 Showcases Record 22 Performing Acts

Once again the magic of Sarawak's iconic Rainforest World Music Festival has begun. World Music lovers from around the world can look forward to an incredible line-up of world class acts among the 22 bands - the highest in its 14 years of existence. Presented by Sarawak Tourism Board, the RWMF has a reputation for rocking the worlds of concert-goers, folk instrument aficionados and plain fun seekers over three days.

Mount Ramelau Music Festival 2010 Features Traditional Sounds From 13 Districts in Timor-Leste

Come end of October magical sounds will reverberate from the lofty peaks in Timor-Leste. For the first time, youths, tribes and mountain folk will hit their drums and blow their horns in a folk music festival happening where the sun rises – over the misty mountains.

Dance Workshops, Ancient Traditions and More to Feature in Rainforest World Music Festival 2010

With three weeks to go to the 2010 Rainforest World Music Festival, Mallika Naguran finds out what festival director Randy Raine-Reusch has in store for die-hard RWMF fans that travel all the way to the heart of Borneo each year in July from around the world.

Rainforest World Music Festival 2010 to Feature 20 International Artistes from 9-11 July

This year’s Rainforest World Music Festival will see 20 international bands performing at the foothills of the legendary Mount Santubong in Kuching, Sarawak from 9 to 11 July 2010.

Gardon, Jouhikko, Nyckelharpa, Sape, Bamboo Pipes: World Music Celebration

Rainforest music festival highlights the sounds of cello-beating, hurdy gurdies and mouth organs.

By Michael Switow

SARAWAK, Malaysia — Nestled at the base of Mount Santubong, in a land made famous by the head-hunters, who only decades ago still fought here for honor, a Kenyah elder holds a dagger in his right hand and a hand-carved wooden shield in his left. He moves quickly, genuinely shocking his foe, a bare-chested Maori warrior, who moments earlier was intensely focused on the crowd in front of him.

Bats fly overhead.

Matthew Ngau is an artist and sculptor who rarely leaves his forested Borneo home and Te Hira Paenga is in training to become an Anglican minister, when he's not performing the Hakka and other traditional arts.

Only on the stage of the Rainforest World Music Festival is it likely that these two men would cross weapons. Cross-cultural surprises and jam sessions define this three-day festival, created 12 years ago to introduce Sarawakian musicians to the world and world musicians to Malaysia.

The festival also likely presents the world's best showcase of indigenous instruments.

“I'm looking to excite, amaze, enjoy, have a good time and also educate a little bit,” says artistic director and festival co-founder Randy Raine-Reusch. “This is a voyage of discovery for the audience. I want concert-goers to say `WOW, I've never seen that before!'”

The festival features an eclectic mix of bands including American country & bluegrass, East African drumming, Indonesian gamelan, Portuguese hard rock and Korean shamanistic tunes rarely heard outside traditional ceremonies. But every group has one common trait: each integrates indigenous instruments into its music. Some instruments have exotic names like the sumpoton, a free-reed mouth organ made with a calabash and bamboo pipes by villagers in northeast Borneo, or the hurdy gurdy, a European fiddle popular during the Renaissance which is played not with a bow but by cranking an attached wheel. Others like the Swedish nyckelharpa — an elongated fiddle with sixteen strings and an overlay of wooden pegs to control the pitch — are even more bizarre in appearance.

“These instruments are disappearing and I want that culture to survive,” explains Raine-Reusch, who plays hundreds of instruments as well. “I want to hear what that culture sounded like on the real thing. I'm not interested in hearing Balkan music on an electric guitar. I want to hear authenticity, even if it is in fusion music.”

Raine-Reusche estimates there are more than 5,000 instruments in the world — and that's if you don't count all the bells and rattles. Throw those into the mix and the count tops 10,000. At this year's Rainforest festival, 17 bands performed, yet only six used a guitar, well, seven if you count the one made from bamboo by Kinabalu Merdu Sound. Even fewer had a drum set.

Instead of drums, the Hungarian group Muszikas uses a gardon, an instrument that at first glance appears more suited to a string ensemble. The gardon player sets the tempo by hitting the instrument's strings with a stick. This “cello-beating” technique must have been tiring for traditional Hungarian musicians who earned their living by playing up to 40 hours non-stop at wedding parties.

This is not a festival of purists. Don't be fooled by the instruments. More than 20,000 music-lovers flock to the Sarawak Cultural Village each year for the Rainforest World Music Festival. Teenagers (and the not-so-young) dance for hours, but instead of partying to guitars, bass and drums, the mainstay of most pop bands, they jam to the sounds of the sapé, llimba and jouhikko.

(The sapé is a four-stringed instrument from Borneo whose lyrical melodies belie its cricket bat shape. llimba is an African thumb-piano, traditionally played by herders to mark their distance travelled. Jouhikko is a Finnish word, pronounced “yo-hee-ko”, for horsehair and Europe's oldest bowed instrument. )

“The tunes we are playing were really very cool two to three hundred years ago,” says jouhikko player Pekko Kappi. “We're still kind of shaking a little bit from how much fun we had,” says American musician Jeff Burke of the Jeff & Vida Band. “First of all, it's kind of packed here tonight, so there's a sea of people, in the middle of one of the most pristine areas that we've ever played a concert in. And the crowd here responds to what we do and music in general totally different than an American crowd would.”

Fans weaved a conga line through the crowd and sang along with every chorus, even though the tunes sung by Vida Wakeman in a raspy southern voice were original compositions they had never heard before.

“In the States, there's an etiquette, especially in bluegrass music” Burke explains. “ You sit quietly and listen and even if you love it and it's the best thing you've ever heard, you'll be quiet and when the song is over, you'll clap real loud and then stop really quickly so that the next song can happen, which always seemed nice until now, because it seems much more fun to have a crowd like this who kind of really throws themselves into the experience.”

Editors note: Visit our video section and picture gallery for more pictures and music from the event

Rainforest World Music Festival Puts Sarawak on the Map

Sarawak’s Rainforest World Music Festival began 12 years ago was not without pain and anguish. It started with just an audience of 300; and half were compelled to go! Even the media refused to go as it required them to travel for more than 20 mins. This year, there were 260 media from around the world attending the event.

Spirits Soar at Sarawak Rainforest World Music

by Mallika Naguran


What’s a Rainforest Festival without some rain?

That’s the attitude that got half the audience up on their feet, grooving at the 11th Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival 2008.  Squelching ankle-deep mud could not stop them, while the rest – families, locals, foreigners from around the world – picnicked on sheets and mats on drier grounds, enjoying the party atmosphere from afar.

After all, this was the time they had waited oh so impatiently to be at Sarawak where the magic of music uncurls. Torrential rain on the opening day after ten consecutive years of great weather marked a first; in fact, organizers considered it bad timing. It was very, very, very wet.

However, musician Jean Claude from Kasai Masai was of the mind that it was auspicious. “If you don’t mind, I will tell you that in Congo where we come from originally, it rains everyday. This is because of the equatorial rainforest which is a lot bigger that Sarawak’s. Let me tell you that we, performing here for the first time, have brought our rainforest spirit with us. It is no coincidence.”

Tuku Kame of Sarawak.

It is hardly coincidental that the event brought together diverse spirits and cultures to produce colliding sound waves.

Foreign bands, 12 of them, and five local groups, oozed non-stop wide-ranging sounds such as traditional, folk, fusion, Celtic, rock, Baul and Socca.

The performers were New Rope String Band (United Kingdom), Yakande (Gambia/Guinea), Pinikpikan (The Philippines), Adel Salameh (Palestine), Ross Daly Quartet (Greece), Fadomorse (Portugal), Kasai Masai (Congo), Hiroshi Motofuji (Japan), Oikyataan (India), Beltaine (Poland), Sheldon Blackman and The Love Circle (Trinidad & Tobago).

Malaysian bands were Akasha, Anak Jati Bisaya Orchestra, Kan’id, Senida and Tuku Kame.

Pinikpikan thumps through hearts.

Appreciating the spirit of the community, environment, even the wild, form part of Pinikpikan’s life values. Guitarist and group director Samy of Pinikpikan talked about whales being poached and killed, and his song Butan Ding renders this point. “It’s a huge beast, yet it is vegetarian, eating plankton. So why kill it?” he asked.

The eight-member band from The Philippines spread the message of whale protection with traditional musical instruments such as the tungatong (bamboo shaker), derbuka (drum) and kutyati (two-stringed instrument from Mindanao) with Western instruments through an eclectic mix such as Afro-Cuban, Arabic and Asian.

Hendrix reinvented with Akasha.

They were among the youngster favourites who also included Akasha (Malaysia), Beltaine, Kasai Masai and Sidney

Sheldon over the three-day concert from 11-13 July at Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong. Taiko drummer Hiroshi Motofuji put on a pounding performance with a spread of drums, including the Indian mridhangam with mastery of interpretation.

Adel Salameh trio thrill.

Oud player Adel Salameh’s finger work held me in awe, accompanied by wild honey vocalist Naziha Azzouz, an Algerian. I especially enjoyed watching their unassuming drummer play expertly on the tambourine in the opening solo – a simple instrument we often take for granted – yet capable of soaring the spirit.

Photos by Foto Polo Singapore ( and for Sawarak Tourism Board.

Make plans now to attend the 12th Sarawak Rainforest Music Festival on 10-12 July 2009. Fringe events being planned in town, plus spend time at the world craft bazaar and folk art forum. Hotels get full during the event, so make plans early. And while you are in Sarawak, visit their many eco destinations.

Coming soon: recommended eco destinations in Kuching and Sarawak.