Rainforest World Music Festival 2012

Kanda Bongo Man and Zee Avi to Headline 15th Annual RWMF

Sixteen bands from Nineteen Countries to Perform from 13 - 15 July

Yeoh Jun Lin Returns as RWMF Artistic Director

Congolese 'Kwasa Kwasa' music is set to rock Sarawak as African icon Kanda Bongo Man takes to the stage of the 15th anniversary Rainforest World Music Festival, which runs from 13 - 15 July.

Kanda Bongo Man, a pioneer of Soukous music, helped bring African music to the world stage.  The kwasa kwasa beat is infectious and fast-moving. Festival-goers will quickly appreciate what West African music lovers have long known:  “if Kanda Bongo Man doesn’t make you want to dance, call an ambulance - you're dead."

If you'd like to practice up on your kwasa kwasa dance moves before the festival, check out this video.

Another headline act at this year's festival needs no introduction to local fans.  Sarawak singer-songwriter, guitarist and ukulele player Zee Avi, who is originally from Miri but is now based in the United States, is returning home to perform against the backdrop of Mount Santubong.  The 25-year old international sensation is perhaps best known for her song 'Bitter Heart'.  Her self-titled debut album went gold in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.  Her second album, "ghostbird", features a song about seizing the moment, 'Swell Window' in which she says a 'new voice came (out)' for her.

If you'd like to get up close and personal with Zee Avi, be there early – she's conducting a 2pm workshop on Friday 13 July, before taking to the main stage later that same night.

Of course, the Rainforest World Music Festival is not about just one or two great acts. 

"The Rainforest World Music Festival has the most extraordinary setting I've ever seen for a music event," says World Music Expo (WOMEX) General Director Gerald Seligman,  "ringed as it is by dense forest and dramatically high and ragged mountains. There is no better backdrop for performance stages. The performances themselves  (are) wide-ranging and incredibly well presented.”

The Rainforest World Music Festival is set against the backdrop of Gunung Santubong in the Sarawak Cultural Village. Photo Credit: Michael Switow, 2010

In its fifteen years, the Rainforest World Music Festival has had only two artistic directors: Randy Raine-Reusch and Yeoh Jun Lin. After a several year hiatus, Ms Yeoh returns to the helm of this year's festival, which has been voted one of the top 25 international festivals by Songlines magazine for three consecutive years.

The three day event -- under the imposing shadow of Mount Santubong and in the midst of a virgin rainforest at the edge of the South China Sea -- brings together renowned world performers and indigenous musicians from the interiors of Borneo. The festival features intimate afternoon workshops that allow festival goers to interact with musicians and five hour evening concerts that carry on past midnight. The percussion and fiddling workshops are among the most popular, though this year watch out as well for a chance to learn to dance bhangra and carimbo.

A performer dances with festival-goers in an afternoon workshop. Photo Credit: Michael Switow, 2011

For this year's festival, Yeoh has prepared a line-up that includes Mongolian throat singers, Brazilian carimbo drummers, Palestinian oud players, Celtic fiddlers, an award-winning Czech band with Pakistani roots and much more.

The Rainforest World Music Fesival “has to appeal to the purists who prefer the traditional roots music, as well as to the ones that like a more contemporary fusion,” Yeoh told World Music Central. “You will see from the program that I swing from completely left to completely right. But in every band, the ethnic identity is powerful and dominant, and I like it like that.”

The RWMF always features an incredible range of instruments from the local sapé (an unfretted stringed instrument made from a single piece of wood in the shape of a cricket bat) to gongs and tablas. One of the more exotic instruments to look out for this year is the txalarparta, a Basque percussion instrument that nearly went extinct. The txalarparta, which is made from long wooden boards and is said to make a sound that resembles the trot of a horse, was played by only a handful of Basque peasants in the 1950s, until folklorists like Jesus and Jose Antonio Artze from the group Ez Dok Amairu (“Solid Air”) revived it a decade later.

More information about the performers, tickets and where to stay at www.rwmf.net.

How to Get There

AirAsia flies regularly to Kuching from a number of cities, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.  From Singapore, there are flights twice a day, leaving from Changi Terminal 1 at 11:45 am and 5:35 pm. If you plan on checking in a bag or buying an in-flight meal, pre-book to save money.  You can also check in early online from your phone or computer.

Tips for an enjoyable Rainforest World Music Festival experience:

  • Be there early. There are usually long queues at the gate for tickets or access to the venue, particularly for the evening concerts, due to ticket verification and other security measures.
  • Please do not bring non-permitted items (knives, sharp items) as they will be confiscated.
  • Outside food & drink is not permitted.  No pets either. 
  • Food, beverage, CDs, souvenirs and crafts will be on sale at the event.
  • There's no ATM at the venue, so bring enough cash.  Most sales are on a cash-only basis
  • Limited car-parking facilities are available near the festival site. However shuttle buses run regularly from Kuching and from One Hotel Santubong.
  • You can bring your own lawn chairs or mats.
  • Bring along a desire to be at one with nature and a yearning to celebrate and unite with kindred spirits from around the globe.

Photos of Kanda Bongo Man, Zee Avi and Oreka Tx are courtesy of the Sarawak Tourism Board and the Rainforest World Music Festival.  This article was compiled and edited by Michael Switow.