Drumming at a music festival in the Borneo Jungle

The Rainforest World Music Festival has just celebrated twenty years of family friendly fun: that’s two decades of unique, worldwide, musical experiences and talents in the heart of the Borneo jungle.

It started over twenty years when a Canadian, Randy Raine-Reusch, a musician and student went to Sarawak to learn their traditional music. He particularly became enamoured with the Sape, and this instrument has become an enduring, recurring theme of the festival which is held at the living heritage museum – the Cultural Village – just out of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo.

A much-loved tradition, that started a few years ago, is the drumming circle led by 1Drum.org Drums, and other percussion instruments, are provided for 100 people at each session – and each seat in the circle is highly sought after – and it’s first in first served.

Judy, from Los Angeles, and who was travelling with, was lucky to get a seat – ‘lucky’ as I pushed her into it. 🙂

Emerging thirty minutes later she said she was thrilled to have taken part and also said “I can see the attraction of playing music or singing on a group – the conductor was marvellous and easy to follow I can also see why you wanted me to experience it – it’s wonderful”. I suspect, had not everybody been asked to give up their seats for others, she could still be sitting there now. However, the second ‘sitting’ of musicians were just as enthusiastic!

The ‘outer circle’ of people (swaying, dancing, and flag waving) are just as much part of the noise and fun of the drumming circle as those sitting in the front row. So, when you get to this wonderful event make sure you too participate in the drumming circle.

Here’s a video from 2015 when, I too, was in the drumming circle https://youtu.be/NsFAvbL4UEw

Diary in these dates: 13th – 15th July 2018 for the twenty-first festival (#rwmf) and your turn to get drumming.

NOTE: this is a great stop-over destination between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

Some general scenes from the drumming circle:

I’ve always stayed at Damai Beach Resort while at the #RWMF

It’s all about jazz! Borneo Jazz Festival

Shortly I’m off to my favourite Asian country – Malaysia – in time to be at the Borneo Jazz Festival (9/11 May) in Miri, Sarawak. (Staying at the Park City Everly Hotel)

The Borneo Jazz Festival was suggested around 2006 as a way to  increase visitor arrivals to Miri and the northern region of Sarawak. I’m expecting a fun-filled and entertaining musical experience while also exploring Miri – I have only had 2 days there and as I had a cold I didn’t get to explore as I would usually. I’m also looking forward to Sarawak Laksa for breakfast!

All About Jazz  said “The Miri International Jazz Festival [now called the Borneo Jazz Festival] in Sarawak province Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, can lay claim to being the only jazz festival on the South China Sea. A long line of tankers and cargo ships stretches across the horizon like buttons sewn on a vast blue cloth and attests to Miri’s century-old history as an oil town. Located in the lush grounds of the Park City Everly Hotel, the stage facing the sea was the scene for two days of music, drawing artists from Thailand, Indonesia, the USA, Brazil, Holland and Switzerland. Now in its fifth year, the festival is the cultural jewel in the crown of the Sarawak Tourism Board, whose stated aim is to use the festival as a magnet to draw tourists to the province.” Read more on the All About Jazz website.)

Miri is the birthplace of Malaysia’s petroleum industry – oil was discovered in the early 1900s – and it remains the major industry of this city. With a population around 300,000 people, it is also a resort city and is near to the Sultanate of Brunei and Sabah.

The city is surrounded by four world-class national parks which is Gunung Mulu National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the world’s largest caves), Niah National Park (Historical and archaeological site), Lambir Hills National Park (diverse species of flora and fauna) and Loagan Bunut National Park (largest natural lake) – I hope to see at least one of them!

Jazz lovers from around the world will no doubt have a great time enjoying renowned jazz performances by the international jazz artistes and here are some of the performers:

Among the bands that will be performing will be Iriao, the eight-piece ethno-jazz band from Georgia. Iriao’s repertoire is based on Georgian authentic folk instrumental and polyphonic music, which has been recognised by UNESCO as being a masterpiece of oral immaterial heritage. However the band is not aiming to modernize the unique polyphonic Georgian music but to saturate and adorn it with Jazz elements. This is the first time that a Georgian band will be performing at the Borneo Jazz.

Another interesting line-up is Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella musical group from Cuba who are expected to be a hit at this year’s festival as they are a well-known band and crowd pleaser. Their album “Cambio de Tiempo” was nominated for 3 Latin Grammy Awards.

Other favourite Jazz bands listed for this years’ event will be Brassballett from Germany – the first and only show worldwide where musicians are dancers at the same time. They will perform a choreographed show on stage whilst playing their instruments.  Mario Canonge – a great virtuoso and showman playing creole jazz with West Indies rhythms from Martinique/France. YK Band from Indonesia who will feature Jazz with hints of Borneo flavour. Anthony Strong – hailed as “England’s new jazz superstar” from UK. He became No 1 on iTunes and No 2 jazz charts in the USA.

Local artist Diana Liu, the Sarawakian born artist plays pop, jazz, bossa nova, gospel and funk/soul and will represent Malaysia.

Will you be part of the crowd this year?


World music festival for your bucket-list: Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Damai Beach Resort beside the Sarawak Cultural Village and the RWMF
Damai Beach Resort beside the Sarawak Cultural Village and the RWMF

World-wide the music festival circuit is full of competitors looking to use our travel dollars to introduce and support local and international musicians and, of course, promote their area. Here’s a great one for your bucket list – either as a destination, or as a stopover or side trip while in Asia.

Heineken provided recycling bins & sponsorship
Heineken provided recycling bins & sponsorship
Part of the beautiful Cultural Village grounds used for the festival
Part of the beautiful Cultural Village grounds used for the festival

Let me introduce you to the annual Rainforest World Music Festival which is set wonderfully between a great beach and a rain-forest mountain peak in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. In the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village, 35 kilometres from Kuching, the two stages are nested among trees at the foot of the legendary Mount Santubong, and throughout the village screens are up so everyone has great views no matter where they are. I sat on the ground on the rise in front of the stage.

Talking to a couple of the music writing professionals while I’m at the 16th festival I’m told

  • Kate Welsman, from ‘The Good, The Dub & The Global’ on Australia’s largest community radio station, RRR  told me she was “gob-smacked with the phenomenal Rafly.
  • Will Hemes, senior critic for Rolling Stone, said of the festival (while he and I were on a bus trip around the city of Kuching) “While individually there are no big stars, collectively  and the setting makes it outstanding.”
  • And a writer (whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten)  from Songlines said, at one of our press interviews, “Without a doubt this is the most spectacular festival I’ve ever been to. Never have I felt I learnt new things about cultures as while here.”

With praise such as these quotes from experts, all I can tell you is

  • What it was like to be a travel writer there. Fabulous!
  • Would I go again? Yes!
  • Would I recommend you add the festival to your bucket-list? Of course!
Will Hemes and i share lunch with another writer .. at the fabulous "Sunday Market"
Will Hemes and I share lunch with another writer .. at the fabulous “Sunday Market”


To quote from Will Hemes blog on NPR;

“ . . . many of its most stirring moments came from local musicians relegated to brief opening slots and afternoon workshop performances. There were the hypnotic hammered bamboo zithers (called “gongs”) built and played by Arthur Gorman and Madeeh, a group from a jungle-based Bidayuh tribal longhouse community about 65 kilometers from Kuching. There were soulful performances on the sape, the ornate lute that is the icon of Malaysian traditional music, by Matthew Ngau and Maya Green and a remarkable bit of Kayan nose-flute playing by the 71-year-old Juk Wan Emang.” See much more in his NPR blog here.


So who were my favourites?  Well I really liked about 85% of performances so will not go into detail as of course in 2014 the RWMF line-up will be different – although no doubt some favourites and locals be back on the calendar. (See this blog for more about the various groups from many parts of the world and here too and other blogs I’ve written about both the festival and Sarawak.)

rafly IMG_2624 (2)

The charismatic Rafly especially was great and carried the crowd with him and his band. He sings traditional songs (in his Aceh language) with modern instruments. Many of the songs are about rain-forests and mangroves. Interestingly, during his press interview, translated by a fellow band member, he talked about the 2004 December tsunami and how many of the so-called ‘quake-crazy’ reactions are now found to be alcohol and drug related.



use santubong
Santubong Mountain, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Word-wide musical talent in the rainforest!

More of the talent that will be at the Rainforest Word Music Festival (#rwmf) that I’ll be at in Kuching, Sarawak soon … I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort.

Do you know any of these groups? Follow me for find out more and, see my other blogs about and for links to many of the other performers who will be in Malaysia for this big music festival.

Alp Bora www.alpbora.net

Moshen Sarifian and Lian https://www.facebook.com/mohsensharifianofficialpage (Persian)

Habadekuk www.habadekuk.dk

Dizu Plaatjies & the Ibuyambo http://www.myspace.com/dizuplaatjiesibuyambo#!

Madeeh http://rwmf.net/performer/madeeh/

Spiritual Seasons http://rwmf.net/performer/spiritual-seasons/

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