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Beginners’ guide to the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia

Beginners’ guide to the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia

The Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak (Malaysia Borneo) is a 3 days musical orgy of ethnic and folk acts from all around the world. It is organised annually by the Sarawak Tourism Board and takes place in July/August at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

We attended the 18th Rainforest World Music Festival in August 2015 and had the time of our lives! We twerked with Congolese pygmies, danced with drummers from Reunion island, gawked at the topless dancer boys from Bali, were blown away by the talented throat singing Mongolian nomad.

As first timers, this is our beginner’s guide to the Rainforest World Music Festival and hope to inspire you to attend the next ones.

A typical day at the Rainforest World Music Festival

The Rainforest World Music Festival unites an eclectic group of international ethnic and folk musicians to perform over 3 days and lead various workshops.

A typical day starts around 2pm with a variety of workshops and interactive activities with the acts. It goes on until midnight, culminating with a live performance from each band on the main stage to a large enthusiastic crowd.

Rainforest World Music Festival festive crowd

Enjoying the festival atmosphere of the evening performances at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak

The workshops

The workshops were one of our favourite aspects of the entire festival. They take place in the intimate setting of the Iban and Bidayuh indigenous longhouses in the Cultural Village.

We loved the workshops because you get up close and personal with the performers. They improvise and interact with the audience, showcasing their different styles of singing and dancing.

There are plenty of awesome workshops happening at the same time, the only problem was trying to decide which one to attend!

Interactive dance workshops

  • The interactive dance workshops are where you get to dance till you drop and learn about folklore dances from all over the world.
  • These workshops are led by a variety of artists such as the musicians from the Sarawak Cultural Village or the 16 young and very energetic boys of the Harubee group from the Maldives.

Instrumental and singing workshops

  • There are a variety of interactive workshops showcasing the instruments used. For example, artists showcasing the various wind and plucked stringed instruments, or the human voice itself to accomplish something like yodelling.
  • Our favourite was the final workshop on the last day when the acts joined together to perform, completely unrehearsed, mixing together all their amazing voices.

Imagine a room where a Celtic singer harmonises with a power (male) diva from the Reunion islands, the Mongolian throat singer joining in, Alecia Keys lookalike Sona offering her Gambian rhythms…and more!

Cultural and lifestyle workshops

  • This is where you get to learn about the culture, traditions and history behind the music and dance of each act.
  • We got the chance to learn to dance (twerk!) like hunter gatherers with the pygmies from Congo band called Ndima:
Rainforest World Music Festival Congolese pygmies, Ndima

Stefan and Sebastien learning to twerk with Ndima, the talented pygmies from Congo

One giant drum circle

  • Every afternoon at 5pm, after all the workshops finished, there was a community interactive drum session by the main arena were everyone could participate.
  • Each participant chooses a particular percussion instrument, like a drum, tambourine or triangle. Taking the lead from the charismatic conductor in the centre, together we created quite an impressive sound:

Afternoon performances

There is an indoor theatre style stage where each performer gets the chance to feature and showcase their music. It’s in a more intimate and quiet setting then the outdoor stage for the live performances in the evening.

Here’s a few of our favourite afternoon performers:

Mongolian throat singer Epi

  • Epi (full name: Enkh Jargal Dandarvaanchig) is the ridiculously talented Mongolian throat singer who also plays the morin khoor (horse headed fiddle).
  • Watching Epi perform makes your hair stand on end and was like being transported back to our travels in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. We were left spell bounded by Epi, but it was quite clear he was taught to sing by Sebastien (!!):

Sona Jobarteh from Gambia

  • Sona is the Gambian Alecia Keys lookalike playing her kora (guitar like instrument) with an incredible voice.
  • Sona is famous for being the only female kora player and was featured as a solo vocalist in the film “Mandela – The Long Walk to Freedom”.

Alaverdi from Georgia

  • Alaverdi is a polyphonic group of 4 lads from Georgia performing folk music, sounding very similar to Gregorian monks chanting. They are named after the highest ancient cathedral in Georgia.
  • Georgian folk music was almost stamped out during the Soviet Union times when people would frown on it. Thanks to bands like Alaverdi, who raise awareness of this style of music, we are still fortunate to experience it.

Evening performances: setting the stage on fire

And we had a blast watching and dancing along with them in the outdoor stage surrounded by the green scenery of the rainforest. These are some of our favourite evening live acts:

Ndima pygmies from Congo

  • Ndima are a group of hunter-gathering-nomadic-pygmies from Congo.
  • They sing in a yodel like polyphony, completely improvised, complemented by some awesome dance styles, which are thousands of years old and not dissimilar to twerking:

Kobagi Kecak from Indonesia

  • Kobagi Kecak are an Indonesian band from Sebatu village in Bali, Indonesia. They are quite unique because they use their own body as percussion along with pieces of bamboo as stamping tubes.
  • Kecak is a Monkey Chant trance ritual. It’s described as a spine tingling spectacle…we certainly thought so when you consider it can be performed by up to 150 (topless) men…!

Harubee from The Maldives

  • Harubee are a group of 16 young men exploding with (ahem!) energy, performing boduberu music.
  • Boduberu music originated from East and South Africa, dating back to the 11th Century. This music was developed by the common people as an alternative to court music. Traditionally, the performers wear tight white shirts and mundus (like a sarong or lungi).

Practicalities to bear in mind

1. Tickets

  • Tickets are cheaper if you buy them in advance. Check the RWMF website for more up to date ticketing information.
  • When we went, tickets cost 110 Ringgits (£17/$26) for a day pass and 300 Ringgits (£47/$71) for a 3 days pass.
  • Family package day tickets for 2 adults and 2 children (7-12years old) are available for 220 Ringgits (£35/$53).
Rainforest World Music Festival tickets buy online

Our friend Hani points out that you need 2 adults and 2 children to make up the family pass

2. Transport

  • The Sarawak Cultural Village is located around 45 minutes drive away from Kuching, the nearest city.
  • Most people base themselves walking distance to the Cultural Village or in Kuching.
  • There is an hourly shuttle bus service between the Cultural Village and Kuching, which costs 20 Ringgit (£3/$5) each way and runs at various times throughout the day.

3. Where to stay

There are several places to base yourself for the Rainforest World Music Festival depending on your budget:

DAMAI BEACH RESORT   Book online

  • 4* hotel on the beach, 10 minutes walk away from the festival.
  • This is where the performers and media are based. If you want to meet the artists, this is the best place to stay at.
  • Rooms start from 236 Ringgits ($55 / £36) a night.

NANGA DAMAI GUESTHOUSE   Book online

  • Cost effective option located around 20-30 minutes walk from the Cultural Village.
  • Rooms cost from 120 Ringgits (£19/$29) a night, including breakfast.

BB BUNKERS   Book online 

  • Good budget option, based directly opposite the Cultural Village.
  • Beds from 78 Ringgits (£12/$19) a night.

THE RANEE BOUTIQUE SUITES   Book online

  • Highly rated by Tripadvisor and based in nearby Kuching if options near the Cultural Village run out.
  • Room start from 285 Ringgit (£43/$66).
Photos with the performers from Rainforest World Music Festival

Photos with the performers from the various press conferences at the Damai hotel

4. Where to eat and drink

  • There is food village mart based at the Cultural Village, offering a mix of western and local food (including our favourite: sarawak laksa).
  • Your wristband is your ticket and your wallet so do not lose it!
  • You can put money on your wristband at the top up centre at the entrance and use this to buy food and alcohol throughout the festival.
  • When we were there, you could buy a beer for 10 Ringgits (£2/$3), a small bottle of wine for 20 Ringgits (£3/$5) and a large one for 90 Ringgits (£14/$22).

Watch our complete video of our favourite acts, workshop moments and performances from the 3 days Rainforest World Music Festival:

36 Comments

  1. I was at RWMF this year and LOVED IT. Hope we cross paths soon. love you both xoxo

    Reply
    • We too 🙂 How was it this year Jo?

      Reply
  2. This post makes me realize that I don’t travel to enough festivals… I’ve traveled for music and I’ve been to tons of performances on the road, but usually small clubs. Maybe I should rough it once or twice and check out a large, open air fest. Crowds are not my thing, so maybe that’s why I haven’t really done it.

    Reply
    • We agree with you, but this festival is not roughing it at all – it was a day thing and in the evening we returned back to our local guesthouse/hotel. We learnt on our travels we’re not that good at roughing it ahahahaha!

      Reply
  3. OMG this festival sounds so interesting. Your blog is my favorite at the moment because you both make EVERYTHING look funny. I have introduced your blog to a few of my friends and they are hooked. They often message me to tell me “OMG Nomadic boys are so funny – did you see their new picture?”

    Hehe, so if you ever see a huge spike in your Indian followers, it’s maybe my friends.

    Reply
    • Sonal you are an angel thanks so much 🙂

      Reply
  4. Ah boys I thought this was very different from what you explain being a festival and all but I will actually have a look for next year cause it looks interesting! Congolese pigmies? I met them when I went to see the gorillas in Uganda (as its on the border)

    Reply
    • Niiiiice – did you twerk with them?

      Reply
  5. Great guide! And couldn’t have come at a better time as I’ve just won an all-access pass for next year’s festival! Looking forward to going back to Kuching!

    Reply
    • OMG well WELL jel – you’re gonna love it a lot 🙂

      Reply
  6. This looks like so much fun, and looking at the prices it is quite affordable for a music festival. 🙂

    Reply
    • It’s awesome – highly recommend 🙂

      Reply
  7. This sounds like a blast, though you had me at “orgy” festival. LOL I love to hear throat singers, what amazing talent. I also like how you have covered every base that one would need for attending this festival. Well done. Speaking of the drum circle, I went to a business seminar in Florida several years back and they brought in all kinds of drums and some natives (I assume from the Caribbean) made us all play a song and get up and march. I had no problem but some of the stiff business men were nervous wrecks! It was hilarious and we sounded horrible!

    Reply
    • OMG – bet it was heaps fun though 🙂

      Reply
  8. Seriously, when a story starts with”we twerked with Congolese pygmies” you know you had a great time.

    Reply
    • Ha ha ha – thanks 🙂

      Reply
  9. Not a big festival goer, but really love music and usually prefer smaller venues.

    The cool thing about this one is how different it is. Cool videos and the workshops seem to make a difference.

    Cheers guys!

    Reply
    • Our pleasure 🙂

      Reply
  10. So glad you took some videos during the festival as well! I really enjoyed the energy of the performers and the crowd in some videos and the sheer beauty of human voice and instruments and others. Looks like you had a great time, and on behalf of all people who will probably never get to see this amazing festival, I thank you for bringing it to us through your blog.

    Reply
    • Thanks Jolanta 🙂

      Reply
  11. I am a big music lover and like to attend musical festivals. This year I went to Darwin in Australia. Sarawak looks like a unique music festival with lots of workshops and varied performances. I liked the Kora player from Gambia very much! Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
    • Thanks Michela 🙂

      Reply
  12. SOunds like such a fabulous music festival – I’m often skeptical of musical festivals in Asia because it’s usually backpackers heading to similar festivals like the Full Moon Party somewhere like Thailand and it’s a drink fest. But this sounds fantastic, the interactive hands on approach to discovering new cultures and really immersing yourself into folklore and village life. Sounds right up my alley, I would love to get there!

    And $71 for a 3 day pass is super cheap. Thanks for letting me know!

    Reply
    • Ha – totally agree with you about festivals in Asia, this was initially our first worry about going when we first heard about it but it’s far far from that 🙂

      Reply
  13. What a fantastic range of things to do and enjoy. Particularly like the sound of those work shops – such fun. And in a great setting too.

    Reply
    • Thanks Sarah 🙂

      Reply
  14. I love that you guys find such different stuff to do that I’m not reading about on every other site. You obviously had an amazing time with the different artists, thanks for taking us along with you.

    Reply
    • Awwwww thanks Toni 🙂

      Reply
  15. Ooooooh! This sounds like a festival I would actually like to attend. I saw the Kecak performance in Bali and loved it. I also wonder if there were any Sardinian folk groups of music and dance!

    Reply
    • Not this year – they had a few European acts: Basque, Georgian and Scottish, but none from Italy (let alone Sardinia) this year 🙁

      Reply
  16. Great review Boys! Looking forward to seeing you soon!

    Reply
    • Thanks Sergio!

      Reply
  17. We visited Sarawak, I think around the time the festival was on a couple of years ago. I wish we’d gone to it now, looks like loads of fun 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Amy see you there next year 🙂

      Reply
  18. This is great, boys! Looking forward to seeing you again next year! Heheh xxx

    Reply
    • Thanks Hani! Definitely see you next year 🙂

      Reply

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