World Music Themes at Rainforest World Music Festival 2009

By Mallika Naguran

10 July 2009, Kuching.The sounds of World Music are intriguing backed by quaint strains of faraway bands playing with strange-looking musical instruments. What is more fascinating is the meaning behind the songs. We explore more into some of the stories and emotions that are carried in the songs performed at the 12th Rainforest World Music Festival held at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Moana & The Tribe from New Zealand.

For Moana & The Tribe, the Kiwis tell us that their songs are about spirituality, the environment and ancestors. “We see ourselves as guardians of the land and culture, the link between ancestors and the future,” says Moana the singer, composer and leader of the 12-piece band.

Her songs reflect the struggles faced by the Maoris.“Songs are a medium of storytelling; and we use songs to tell of the struggles of our tribes being marginalized.” She refers to the colonization of New Zealand were the Maori culture was chipped at and eroded.

A few songs question the state of things. One song, says Moana, urges “the keeping of traditional Maori names of mountains and rivers alive, formally and legally, not just within our people”. She spoke about the British renaming a mountain that was once called Aoraki to Mt Cook. Aoraki is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3,754m in the Southern Alps.

The Zawose family rehearsing poolside.

The song “Moko” addresses the difference between moko (Maori tattoo) and contemporary tattoo, to drive home the point that there is meaning in every indigenous moko carved on the skin of the Maoris. This is not to be dealt with flippantly or misused.

Vasco from Dazkarieh says his music unravels the differentways people relate to each other. He hopes to take a new approach in forging the relations between people. Some songs are about working in the field, and some religious. The Portuguese band revives songs played well before an oppressive Portugal regime 40 yrs ago that banned ethnic music.

The Zawose Family sings in Kigogo, their native dialect in Tanzania, retaining the old flavours of the African country before Swahili was nationalized as a unifying language. The late Hukwe Zawose composed songs that stirred the hearts of the people in taking pride in their country.

Robert Zawose

“We sing about the land, about nature, about people coming together, about life,” smiles Robert Zawose, then points to the tree. “See as we sing, even birds are coming.”

Even while keeping to age-old rhythm, listeners can appreciate their songs about the sufferings involved in the Hiroshima bombing as well as HIV disease. “Sumbu” is about how a woman feels when her child has lost her way, then is struck with memories of her difficult childbirth.

Akasha's James

Akasha from cosmopolitan Malaysia is a “rojak” instrumental band with skills in world music, classical and Latin Jazz. It becomes more interesting when the players who are ethnically Indians, Chinese and Caucasian playtraditional Malay music like the joget, and more contemporary tunes like blues, funk, jazz and Latin.

Guitarist James thinks music need not always have a story or a meaning.Music has the effect of bringing out a story within people when they listen to it. It pretty much lies in the eye of the beholder; it's not limited by our own vision of it.”

Photos by Mallika Naguran.

See related articles on Gaia Discovery: Interview with festival director Randy Raine-Reusch on 2009 surprising finds; challenges faced by Sarawak Tourism Board before the opening of the 12th Rainforest World Music Festival.