Rainforest World Music Festival performers.

Rainforest World Music Festival performers.

A sea of people, bodies swaying, almost touching each other, as they sat cross-legged on woven mats, covered the hillside in front of the main stage at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. It was a night to celebrate music. And what a celebration it was!

Black Umfolosi, a group from Zimbabwe, mesmerized the crowd with their aceppella singing and dancing. Lyrical words reverberated through the audience, gaining the strength of a swinging hammer, as the song took us from Capetown to Cairo, brick-by-brick, laying the railroad. Action and song told the sad, sad story of hardship and eventually, success.

It had taken until my fourth invitation from Tourism Malaysia Canada for the times to work out so I could accept. One trip on the list had jumped off the page and virtually yelled, “PICK ME!” It was a three week tour starting with the annual Rainforest World Music Festival.

The festival was started in 1997 by Randy Raine-Reusch, who performed the year that I attended.

Randy Raine-Reusch studied at Woodstock, New York’s Creative Music Studio in the 1970s and 80s. He followed that up by traveling and training with masters around the world, many of them from Asia. Here are some comments from Randy during the festival: “I started the festival with the Sarawak Tourism Board and a few others interested in preserving music…many instruments in the world are endangered — 3,000 to 5,000 instruments disappeared around the world in the 20th century. The festival encourages people to find traditional instruments and give them rebirth…the Festival is built on volunteers and the excitement…It’s a treat to come back — it’s bigger and better than when I left it.”

I was lucky enough to be at the Sarawak Cultural Village for the morning press conference that started the festival. Each group of performers on the weekend schedule was introduced and gave a little bit of information about themselves, which was helpful in selecting the afternoon workshops I wanted to attend.

Group giving a music workshop at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Group giving a music workshop at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Workshops were in a few different venues, but all featured enthusiastic, talented musicians willing to share their experiences and ideas. One presenter was a shepherd in Southeast Sibera. Another group consisted of a 30-member band from all walks of life–the thing that linked them was that all of their instruments were made of bamboo. A trio featured musicians using a guitar and a washboard.

Between workshops, I wandered around the Sarawak Cultural Village, becoming familiar with the area’s multiple traditions, much the same as the colorful past of my home back in Saskatchewan. The scenery though, was vastly different with the palms and lush tropical forest!

The park has a representative home and artifacts from the main cultures of Sarawak. This slideshow of my photos takes you on a walk through the park during the Rainforest Music Festival:

And just in case you’d like to hear some of the music yourself, here’s a YouTube video of the 14th annual (2011) Rainforest World Music Festival from Music Earth:

And so, why is this festival #28 on my list of memories to revisit for my Web Staycation?

Randy Raine playing the small stage at the Rainforest World Music Festival.

I’ve learned that some moments in life are etched into memory as solidly as a photographic plate.

My eyes close and I’m gazing up at the trees behind the stage–they seem to stretch right to the black sky above. The air touches my arms, hot and damp, smelling of trees and leaves. Music fills the stage and spills out its open sides, speaking to me of experiences I’ve never known, never felt, but somehow I sense them anyway, picking up a note of happiness, a twang of despair.

As Arnold Bennett said of music, “Its language is a language which the soul alone understands, but which the soul can never translate.”

There really aren’t words enough to explain most of my experiences in Malaysia, although you’ll find a number of them on this countdown of memories for my taycation.

It takes years–maybe even a lifetime–to fully understand the affect of moments such as those I experienced listening to the homemade instruments and voices from around the world at that simple stage in the rainforest.

If you go:

  • The Rainforest World Music Festival will take place July 13-15, 2012, outside Kuching in the Sarawak Cultural Village in Sarawak, Malaysia.
  • The official site of the Rainforest World Music Festival is at: http://rwmf.net/
  • The official website for the Sarawak Cultural Village is at: http://www.scv.com.my/ Check under “Attractions” for a full photo tour of each part of the village.


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