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One with the Rainforest

From her college years and well into adulthood, Haze Jalalludin had heard so much about the world-famous Rainforest World Music Festival ranging from incredible experiences to head scratching anecdotes. It was time for her to personally check the rainforest legends and play mythbuster in the jungles of Sarawak, Malaysia.

Since I was a college kid, I had always wanted to go to the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF), held annually at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching , East Malaysia. Every year I promised myself it would be “this year, for sure” and this year, I finally made good on my promise.

     When I mentioned that I was going a number of comments were thrown around by my friends; avidly curious I started collecting these myths and urban legends as I went about my days before the festival, and sure enough I had a solid checklist for me to tick off during the event itself.

      After getting my wristband for the festival, I took a deep breath and stepped into the little village that would be my home for the next three days, and hoped for the best. My eyes started to dart around for signs as I had my checklist ready, and I slowly relaxed as I crossed out the first point on my list: 

1) RWMF is for hippies [BUSTED]


No hippies in sight.

It’s green, it’s in a cultural village and it’s centred on World Music. Most people would associate it with hippies who preached flower power like they did in the 70s. Though there were a few people who walked barefoot around the festival and some did look like they were very connected with Mother Nature, the event was pretty much hippie-free. 

2) There’s nothing to do during the day [BUSTED]


Look ma! I’m batik painting!

Looking within the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village, I was surprised at the number of stalls selling not only beautiful jewellery made with local hand-painted beads but also miniature sape (traditional boat-shaped guitar of the Orang Ulu), airbrushed tattoos and even hair tattoos! (Yes, hair tattoos, where they closely shave the hair to your scalp in interesting patterns) There was also a stall by local art students that encouraged everyone to try their hand at art. I even took up a bit of batik painting and that piece of batik felt like the best (and only) piece of art I’ve ever made! *beams proudly* 


Tall, sturdy and protective – now to find a man like that.

      After dabbling in art, I roamed the entire village and spent a good few hours at the various cultural houses experiencing a day in the life of the Iban, Ulu, Bidayuh, Malay and Chinese of yesteryear. The scariest house, only because of my fear of heights, was the Melanau Tall House as denoted by its name was a REALLY tall house made with 40-foot stilts. The carved tree trunk stairs tested my fears as the descent was narrow and seemingly never-ending. Right below the Melanau Tall House, the World Craft Bazaar featured works of art from all over the region ranging from Indonesian batik to modern tie-dye art. 

3) The workshops are boring [BUSTED]


RWMF workshops were fun, fun, fun!

Mention the word workshops and an air of boredom somehow makes its way into my mind. At least that was the other ‘myth’ surrounding the daytime activities on the grounds of RWMF. Visions of a singular person addressing a hall of people on history didn’t seem quite interesting as I read the programme for the day. As I entered the hall, I was surprised by the sheer number of people waiting for the workshops. There were definitely more than 200 people waiting for the performers to start. When Palsandae Korean Performing Arts took to the stage, I was strangely taken in by their off-beat rhythms as they danced in their colourful costumes and masks. It was unlike anything I’ve heard before; even though I was brought up in with a culturally diverse background, the music surprised me and drew in more crowd.   


You don’t attend the workshop, you ARE the workshop!

      After one performance, the Palsandae group motioned and taught the crowd a few simple steps and coached them through the beats. As the beats grew faster, the whole hall was alive with people dancing and laughing full heartedly, literally making circles in the middle of the hall. The energy they brought was so amazing that I even took part in a few rounds of dancing. It was so much fun that no one wanted to stop! 


All the string instruments of the world united as one for the workshop.

      That was just a taste of the many wonderful workshops they had throughout the event from Irish folk dances to Australian and African war dances. With nine sessions a day in three different venues, the workshops were far from boring. My only problem was that I had to choose to go to only three a day as they were three shows running simultaneously.  

4) World Music is not for everyone [BUSTED]


Yup, he’s blowing into a decorated goat alright.

The general consensus about World Music is that it’s only good as background music for spas or documentaries. That’s why for someone like me who’s into Indie bands, the thought of mellow background music for the whole festival was something I was prepared for.  But lo and behold, once dusk arrived, the festivities kicked up with intriguing sounds from bag pipes that were clearly made out of goats and wondrous melodies that I would have never fathomed could have been produced by the human vocal chords.   


Chet Nuneta belting out tunes in languages thought to be long forgotten.

      One of my favourites was the French group Chet Nuneta that sang in nine different dialects that included Komi, Pygmy, Mashi, Sibirskoj, and from the regions of Mongolia, Morocco, Romania, Macedonia, China and of course France.  It was amazing that these four people could have such a wide vocal range and represented the entire world in just one performance. After two albums in the past six years, their polyphonic style has mastered the many dialects just to give the audience a refreshing twist at every performance. 

 5) The festival lacks QUALITY performers [BUSTED]


Pine Leaf Boys rocking out Creole style!

While I was clearly stunned by Mohsen Sharifian‘s goat bagpipe, imagine the surprise I got when one of the performers were actually nominated for the Grammy Awards four times for their past albums. The Pine Leaf Boys were from the south side of the USA and passionately played their funky upbeat Cajun/Creole music. Just like Creole food, every song had something French mixed with a little spice and a little surprise–guaranteed to keep you happy and bopping all night long. 


Lan E Tuyang’s warrior dancer showed that strength can be seen within graceful dance.

      Pine Leaf Boys were not the only ones with a claim to fame. Lan E Tuyang was the most acclaimed sape player who performed with two percussionists and a warrior dancer. Every flick of his finger produced tales from the heart of the Sarawak forest that appealed to the audience; I couldn’t help but be transported to a deep sense of serenity song after song. 

6) Only foreigners attend the event to hook-up with locals  [Half-truth]

Honestly, this happens at any event regardless if it’s RWMF or not. Locals or foreigners alike were just there to have fun and if they happened to click during the event and hooked up later on, then to each their own. One thing for sure, there weren’t any indecent exposures or public displays of affection at this event. It definitely had the most chilled-out crowd that respected each other’s space, compared to other events that I’ve been to.  


Everyone just having fun while dancing the night away!


Three days of incredible fun and a list of busted myths and legends, I can say I ended the weekend with a smile. RWMF was an experience that was more than I expected as it smashed away the nonsense that I had heard days before. It also cemented another fact: I will be going to the next few years’ RWMF and I’ll be bringing along a boatload of friends.


I’ll be back!

What’s your favourite music festival in the world? Share with us in comment box below!

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  • eli

    mohsen sharifian is the best every where every times.

    • http://www.airasia.com/travel3sixty Travel 3Sixty

      Yup! Did you also attend the Rainforest Festival last year? :)