Full disclosure, this year’s edition of Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) was this writer’s first time experiencing it – a total Rainforest virgin. But prior to getting there, stories of previous RWMF had been building up a nigh mythical expectation of what it was and supposed to be, even if most veterans of the fest would rather yap about the glory days of RWMF. But you know what? With no point of reference to make comparisons of, this year’s felt like the greatest sex ever – because it was the first and only one thus far, that is.
So forget all about tales of legendary bonfires by the beach, camaraderie among strangers on festival grounds, shared halluciogenics, and a freer and more intimate festival, let’s look at this from a complete newbie’s perspective that’s unperturbed by allegations of exorbitant commercialisation. Never convinced by those accounts, the only expectation that we had was that at least we got beer to help us enjoy ‘world music’, a nebulous all-encompassing genre that doesn’t really describe anything. Turned out it wasn’t all modern-day Sting BS, in a day and age when music festivals are du jour in Malaysia, RWMF ’13 was the most fun we ever had at a festival. And to think this writer had missed all previous iterations when it had been around the longest!
Checking into our hotel at about 5pm, we didn’t get to experience the first day’s round of workshops, which was what we were told is the heart and centre of the festival. It was a loss, but we had 2 more days of RWMF to soak in – and as the next couple of days proved, we had some of the best times of our lives this year.
The hotel – One Santubong – was quite a distance from the festival grounds. Rather adroitly, the organisers had a consistent line of shuttle vans on service. However, maladroitly, their media centre (where we were supposed to get our media tags from) was situated at a completely different hotel, so some media who were unfortunately placed in One Santubong had to shuttle to and fro 3 different venues before finally being able to get into festival grounds.
Regardless, once we got there and had a couple pints of beer at the Heinekabana – an area designated exclusively for those with special Heineken passes – what little setbacks were quickly forgiven. By this time the evening show had already started as we were busy undoing our sobriety. But it was only after watching the first few initial performances on a live feed aired on a television there that we decided it was nigh time we head to the stage – a wise decision considering the first highlight of RWMF was about to play; French group Chet Nuneta.
Fancying their music as ‘new imaginary folklore’, this 5-piece band performed facsimiles of ethnic music from all over the globe; Arabia, Gypsy, Eastern European, Chinese, Safarade, and more. Effortless going from one to another, their borderless approach to sound and language was the very definition of world music. We were especially impressed by the 3 ladies of the group. Later on, Australians Nunukul Yuggera showed that traditional native music can pump your adrenaline just like any other banging concert or rave. Consisting of (amazingly just) teenagers, their tribal scatting and chants coupled with the rhythmic feet-stomping and didgeridoo drone got our hearts fired with near primitive energy. But lest you think these were war chants, they were in reality sensitive folk tales of the aborigines.
To bookend the first night of RWMF was Irish folk band Kila, whose combination of violin, drums, guitars, and more traditional Irish instruments reminded us of the same animated dynamism of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. In fact, here’s a JUICE suggestion for the good folks at RWMF – bring them next year, we guarantee they’ll bring the house down.