Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Last year I went to the Rain Forest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak , Malaysian Borneo, for about the fourth time. My longtime friend, writer, and tour guide, Judy Shane, there for the first time, said ‘it was so amazing it is hard to put it in words.’

The next one is in three weeks – 13th – 15th July 2018 – so, for this years performers check out the official website

Mornings started with media briefings with a panel of artists and we were then left to explore the tribal villages, the musical workshops, and the schedule of performances. Add delicious local food and its a festival not to e missed. (Its a great stopover destination between the hemispheres too) But for me, Sarawak IS the destination.

The highlight for Judy was being part of this drum circle which I insisted she participated in – I had done so every other year and had a ball – so I just ignored her almost kicking and screaming, protesting she was ‘not musical’. She loved it! I believe it was her festival highlight .

As befitting a rainforest, two out of the three nights had a downpour and while some fans left, others danced and slipped in the mud. Next morning the international musicians commented on what a great sports the fans were and how they had never seen such enthusiastic dancing in the rain before.

We avoided the downpour by slipping into a van to go back to our room at Damai Beach Resort. While escaping into a van in the dark I had a young man sit on my knee – their drums and other instruments were taking up the rest of the van – He thought it was only fellow band members in the vehicle – I laughed, but the boy leapt out of the van with mortification – fancy sitting on an unknown Aunties knee.

This festival has thrived for two decades and is for all; young ,old, couples, families and people alone – it is the friendly festival.

Here are just a few photos from one of the drumming circles which is set in the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village

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

20th #RWMF in Malaysian Borneo – music music music


Rafly … everyone’s favourite at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2013
Lots of cats … Kuching waterfront.

The Rainforest World Music Festival is an amazingly eclectic group of international ethnic and folk musicians performing. It lasts 3 days and the musicians, as well as performing on one of the two main stages each evening, they also lead amazing workshops.

Part of the beautiful Cultural Village grounds used for the festival

All this happening in the Sarawak Cultural Village  only a short distance from The City of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

I’ve been to the festival three times, and my fourth magical weekend starts in 51 days – at the 20th Festival (14-16 July 2017) This award-winning festival has, this year, musicians from: USA, Wales, China, Malaysia, Belgium, South Africa, UK/India, Cape Verde, Guinea, Colombia, Tahiti, Finland – to name just a few! As I said, eclectic with a capital E. Check the performers list on the #RWMF website – and follow the hashtags. (and this blog of course – more links to my social media here)

A typical day starts around 2pm with many workshops and interactive activities with the bands and other performers in the wonderful setting. It goes on until midnight, culminating with a live performance from each band on the main stage to a large, and always, enthusiastic crowd.

It’s not fair to try to sort out my favourites to check out, but I will. They are: Two South African bands – Abavuki and Kelele  – who will be performing at the #RWMF) at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

  • Abavuki means ‘Wake up, early birds!’ in the Xhosa language, and it seems they will offer “energetic and multi-instrumental performances which mix traditional rhythms of the South African people as well as more modern styles of kwaito, samba and Jazz.”

Based in Cape Town, it seems Abavuki’s high-energy afro-beat music “reflects their optimistic outlook on life, music-making and the resilience of the South African people.”

  • Kelele –  a minimal-instrument band – use their voices as the focal instrument.

They are keeping traditions alive with melody and harmony, maintaining the age-old African oral tradition of storytelling through song, passing on history, folktales and lessons in life over generations.

Accompanied by tradition instruments like the mbira dzavha dzimu (the finger piano), the uhadi (the traditional bow instrument of the AbeXhosa people), the umrhubhe (another bowed instrument) and the talking drum of the Nigerian Yoruba people.

  • On a very different note – and continent – I’m also looking forward to hearing Pareaso from Korea. These four young musicians will blend “serene spirituality and rhythmic pulse on the daegeum, geomongo, saenghwang,  janggu, gayageum and vocals”.

Of course, with so many to choose my favourites from, I have no doubt that when I next read the bios about more talented musicians, I will add more to my list.

Will I see you there? Who are you looking forward to hearing and, or, dancing to?

Damai Beach Resort beside the Sarawak Cultural Village and the RWMF




Looking forward, looking back, living in the now

IMG_2649Looking forward, looking back – while living in the now, almost seems impossible. However, living in the ‘right now ’ is how I try to live my day, every day.

use fish market OMAN (45)
Muscat fish market

That doesn’t mean I can’t contemplate the past – in fact as a travel writer I’m often looking at the past as I write stories about something I did last week, last month, or last year. Photos, whether on the wall or on my electronic frame, are constantly reminding me of a great time I had in Oman, Thailand, France or New Zealand.

And of course, photos of special people, now dead, absolutely have me looking back. Nevertheless, all this looking back is very different to wallowing in the past and beating myself up for wrongs done, or praising myself for good achievements or actions. These memories do not stop me living in the now but often inform my now so I hopefully don’t repeat mistakes but do make sure of recurrences of good deeds.

plane overheadLooking forward is easy, especially as I have a wonderful life. A visit to Mongolia later this year means I had to book tickets and make reservations ready for my travels. However, now that is done it’s no use wondering if my flight will be smooth, there will be no delays, or conversely, all my planes will be late, but stay in the now and know that I can and will deal with those events on the day.

Part of living in the now while looking to the future means I’m also reading about Mongolia so when I arrive I will have a little background knowledge to its history and places I’d like to visit. So, I’m reading about Mongolia and living in the day – and doing exactly the same for another trip except that one has all 3, past, present and future.

Planting mangroves before the RWMF

Malaysian Borneo, had been on my bucket list for many years before I finally got there so planning for another visit means I have evidence from past visits to enhance my current preparations. The Rainforest World Music Festival (in Kuching, Sarawak) is again high on my to-do list. Nearly 2 years ago, I spent some of a birthday there in the middle of a drumming circle – such fun. Meeting people from around the world will again be a highlight there as well as the fantastic international musical programme they’ve planned. As you can see once again I’m in the present, looking at the past, and planning for the future. As I said earlier, I do have a wonderful life – one I do not take for granted, and over the years have worked hard to live this ‘easy and fabulous’ life that people often comment on.

‘Living in the now’, also gives me the luxury of being able to consider my past and plan my future. This is not how I used to live my life -I was never in the now but always wallowing in the past and how awful life had been or looking forward to a day when, somehow, without any effort, I would be plucked from my current position into fame and fortune: it never happened.

luggage 20141001_091331

What I didn’t realise was all that time I spent in the past or future was taking up energy for today. I learnt about living in the now but it wasn’t until I started travelling – around the world for a year with no bookings – that I really understood and valued its practice. It didn’t take long for me to realise that if I was worrying about crossing a border tomorrow I could not value the beach I was snorkelling on today. A fabulous lesson that I continue to use.

So, living in the now does not mean I cannot make plans for tomorrow – what it does mean I can make tomorrow’s plan and then carry on living today, not worrying about what the weather will be like or if I will enjoy the movie, all I have to do was buy the ticket or plan to meet someone and then carry on with today’s tasks.

I’m so glad my life does not require me to make New Year resolutions but to keep learning from mistakes and moving forward.




Planting mangroves in Malaysian Borneo

we arrive at the park
we arrive at the park

Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort where I’m staying under the shadow of Mt.Santubong and beside the Sarawak Cultural Village ), is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) – the estuarine reaches of the two rivers.

It’s also where I will be planting mangrove trees next week as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts – this time with wonderful Rainforest World Music Festival. I did the same a year ago, helping to offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.

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I plant mangroves in the Kuching Wetlands National Park in 2014

The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.

An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shorebirds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork.

In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.

We walk the plank from boat to the site we will work at
We walk the plank from boat to the site we will work. Note: Mount Santubong is just visible behind the tents


Love music? Meet me in Malaysia!



Rainforest World Music Festival August 2015 – its really good to see the Drumming Circle will be back this year with 1DRUM.Org – so meet me in the circle!

Here are some pics from last year.

IMG_2649 IMG_2658 IMG_2663 IMG_2669



Back in the rainforest #RWMF2014


Only  2 days until the acclaimed Rainforest World Music Festival starts again here in #Sarawak.  Malaysian Borneo. The rhythm of the jungle fits well at the foot of the legendary Mount Santubong. For three days an eclectic mix of traditional, fusion and contemporary world music will delight us all I’m sure. Last year I valued the workshops and ethno-musical lectures and jam sessions during the day…. with the main performances in the evenings on the stages.

If you haven’t been make sure you plan on being here in 2015. See my blogs from last year for more info … andcome back here to see what this years treats have been.


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

Countdown to world music festival – in a Malaysian rainforest!

 The Kuching (Malaysia) Rainforest World Music Festival (#RWMF) is all set to take centre stage (June 28-30) at the Sarawak Cultural Village said Datuk Amar Abang Zohari Tun Abang Haji Openg – Minister of Housing & Minister of Tourism, last week.

Yet again this year the Festival was voted as the top 25 best International Festivals by the renowned world music magazine, Songlines, in UK. This award and recognition has elevated its status in the international music scene as a festival and has put Sarawak, Malaysia on the world tourism map.

This year will be another exciting year and the organizer has promised the best line-up yet!

On stage will be 21 bands (13 international and 8 Malaysian) playing a diverse range of world music genres. The festival will continue its unique formula of having the afternoon informative musical workshops, ethno-musical lectures, jamming session and mini concerts held in the ethnic houses within the village. This session precedes the evening performances on two main stages outdoor with the jungle ambience.

The festival will also showcase more of Sarawak’s local talent in line with feedback received from festival-goers in previous festivals.  Among the traditional music from Sarawak will be the rare art of the nose flute along with Malaysian folk music interwoven with Chinese traditional instruments.

The exciting and eclectic line-up for this year’s RWMF has now been finalised and  the organisers have confirmed performers from Indonesia (Rafly Wa Saja), Iran (Mohsen Sharifian & The Lian Band), Australia (Nunukul Yuggera), Denmark (Habadekuk), South Africa (Dizu Plaatzies & The Ibuyambo Ensemble), Ukraine (Spiritual Seasons), USA (Pine Leaf Boys), France (Chet Nuneta), Columbia (Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica), Croatia (Kries), Ireland (Kila), Austria (Alp Bora) and Korea (Palsandae). They will be joined by Sarawak and Malaysian bands like Madeeh (Bidayuh traditional root), Juk Wan Emang (nose flute of Kayan), Native Chanting (oral blessings from the various indigenous tribes of Borneo), Maya Green (Sape), Rhythm in Bronze (Gong and Gamelan), Lan E Tuyang (Sape and Orang Ulu dance), Sarawak Drums (percussion instruments of Sarawak) and Shangyin Chinese Chamber Music Ensemble (Chinese traditional interwoven with Sarawak flavour).

This promises to be a not-to-be-missed occasion and organisers hope to attract a crowd of 23,000 for the 3 nights – about 80% are expected to be from outside Sarawak, and that includes me!

Daily tickets, or a 3-day pass are available on line at www.ticketcharge.com.my

For more details:  www.rwmf.net

For more about the area see the Sarawak Tourism Board web pages

RWMF bus DSC_0115-2x

Minister of Tourism Sarawak, Datuk Amar Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari Tun Openg (3rd from left) and STB CEO, Dato’ Rashid Khan (2nd from right) looking at the bus advertisement on Kuching city public-link bus after the press conference.

I’m off to the Rainforest World Music Festival

In June,  I’m off to the  Rainforest World Music Festival (follow @kiwitravwriter on Twitter using #RWMF)  which has again been voted, as one of the 25 best International Festivals by renowned world music magazine, Songlines. This is it 4th consecutive year to be awarded the accolade.

Rainforest World Music Festival stands among other renowned festivals like WOMAD in  Australia and New Zealand, and the Ulsan World Music Festival, South Korea. According to the editorial team of Songlines the “Selection of the festival is based on the broad representation of the quality and scope of music festivals around the world”

Now in its 16th year the the festival is  held annually in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) and  has put Sarawak on the world map with its “dazzling performances from across the globe” which  attracts more than 20,000 international and local festival-goers to Borneo for three days of daytime music workshops and action-packed nightly shows. This year it will be held June 28-30 – and I’ll be there too!

Sarawak Tourism Board’s (STB) CEO Dato Rashid Khan said,” The event has no doubt been a contributor of tourist arrivals to the state and as the organizer of the festival, we are proud to note that our efforts have been recognized for the 4th consecutive year. We are putting together another great act this year and are finalizing the bands”.

I’ll be staying at the Damai Beach Resort while at the music festival and then after that I’m off exploring  Sarawak, then the rest of Borneo. ( Sabah, Kalimantan, Brunei.) Should be lots of stories for me to find in 6 weeks .. follow this blog or like me Facebook to see links to my stories.

Tickets to the festival can  be bought online. For more information see  www.rwmf.net.

Night market, Kota Bharu, Malaysia
I’m looking forward to more Malaysian food
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