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Published: July 13th 2010
We stood in mud that smelled like elephant dung for hours on end the other night. Our clothes are speckled with dried, red mud. Our feet are just now fading from the red mud dying them a jaundice color. It was all worth it though to experience the Rainforest World Music Festival. Held annually in Kuching, the festival was incredible, despite the standing area in front of the stage being a mud pit that stunk like so much elephant poop. The mud actually ended up being pretty fun to stomp around in.
The festival takes place over three days with workshops during the day followed by six main-stage performers in the evening. It's held at the Sarawak Cultural Village where they have replicas of longhouses that the local tribes live in. We arrived early to check them out before the music started for the evening. We attended the second day of the festival, deciding against attending the first day reasoning that things might not be quite set up, our assumptions turned out to be correct. After we walked through the entrance mid-day on the second day of the festival the first thing we saw was someone painting a booth. Things
take much longer than we would think necessary here in Borneo. Another example being our bus that took us to the festival. It should have taken a half hour. Instead it took an hour and a half. Why? I have no idea; just the way Malaysia operates. At times, this can be incredibly trying.
Arriving early gave us the chance to wander through the village replicas they have set up. It was fascinating to see how people still live here today. We also arrived early enough to attend workshops put on by the festival performers. This ended up being great because we got to see tiny performances by almost every group performing over the entire three-day festival. The Musafir Gypsies of Rajasthan produced music unlike anything I've ever heard before and probably will never hear again. The audience was silent in awe of the music they make.
After the workshops we left the festival to take a two minute walk to the nearby beach resort of Damai where we had a chance to cool off. And catch some crabs!
Highlights of the evening main-stage performances for me (aside from an excuse to kick around mud) were the
group of brothers from Iran called Shanbehzadeh Ensemble. Incredible. They played a bagpipe unlike anything I've ever seen before. If the festival had only one performance and that was it, I would have been satisfied. If you have a chance, look up some of their performances on You Tube. We also saw a great group from the Czech Republic, BraAgas, that played really cool traditional gypsy songs. We also saw a wonderful group from the Reunion Island (which I found out are off the coast of Madagascar) called Leilla Negrau.
As I stood there watching performers from all over the world it struck me that I was incredibly fortunate to be there; in the middle of the rain forest in Borneo listening to music from far reaches of the world. It was a nice reminder of why I'm out here wandering Asia which is at time more stressful than seems worth it. In the end it always is, but sometimes it takes a reminder like the Rainforest World Music Festival to keep me going.
If you have some time, check out some videos on You Tube of the bands I mentioned above. All of them were spectacular.
Sarawak Cultural Village Youtube Rainforest World Music Festival 2010
One of the longhouses from a local tribe
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