Bastiaan Springer experiences the many wonders of the Rainforest World Music in Sarawak, Malaysia
With its magical jungle setting the Rainforest World Music Festival is one of the most scenic music festivals on the globe. This three-day event is held every summer at the Sarawak Cultural Village near Kuching, a laid-back town on Sarawak, the Malaysian part of the island Borneo. The festival not only showcases music from all continents, it also offers workshops and cool vibes. This year – the 19th edition – attracted an audience of 20,000, a mix of world music aficionados, backpack travellers and young Malaysian kids, who were open for all kinds of music. Greece’s Stelios Petrakis Quartet concert was plagued by a violent tropical rainstorm. A portion of the visitors braved the rain and responded exuberantly to the traditional Cretan music from this great ensemble. It was not the easiest music to dance to, especially when you’re unfamiliar with it, but the crowd transformed the muddy pitch into a wild dance orgy reminiscent of a Cretan wedding party.
The emblem of the Rainforest World Music Festival is the sapé, a traditional wooden lute of central Borneo. A few decades ago this elegant instrument with three to six strings was hardly played but thanks to sapé master Mathew Ngau Jau (pictured) this large plucked string instrument has enjoyed a revival. Living proof of this was Sape’ Sarawak, consisting of 17 sapé players who performed the opening night. The next day Mathew Ngau Jau duelled with the young female sapé player Alena Murang, demonstrating that the Sarawak lute is no longer taboo for women.
A truly unique performance was given by the group Nukariik made up of the Canadian sisters Kathy and Karin Kettler. This charming duo engaged in Inuit throat singing, traditionally done by women while the men were out hunting. Kathy and Karin stood close facing each other and locked in friendly competition as one singer took the lead and the other followed. During their vocal exchange they imitated sounds from the natural world, or those of tools and animals. The one who laughed or stopped first, ‘lost’ the competition. The result was mesmerising.