[Review] Rainforest World Music Festival – 20 Years of Song and Rhythm in Sarawak

I wrote this review last year for The Borneo Post but the article was published with all traces of its reviewer removed. I was so traumatised, I filed it under “selective amnesia”. Here is my unedited copy, which I found this week sorting my folder.

‘Rainforest World Music Festival – 20 Years of Song and Rhythm in Sarawak’ contains all you need to know about Sarawak’s internationally acclaimed music festival on it’s 20th year of existence.

Officially launched by Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah on July 12, the 164-page book sounds like a hefty tome but the writing manages to be both light and to-the-point, leaving the spreads of colour photographs to paint their thousand words and dredged up memories of the years I attended.

For regular festival goers, this book contain information on RWMF that you may have wondered but never wondered enough to ask. When the festival gets going, there is too much to keep up with to even try keeping up with everything.

The typical audience member only wants to know who is playing that night, where a workshop venue is, and where to get food. The logistics and machinery of what makes the festival run is something that few think about. Fortunately, this book addresses a lot of that.

Gracie Geikie with a copy of the book.


The authors, Gracie Geikie and Lah Wan Yee, spoke to key personalities behind the festival, and honoured their role in making RWMF happen.

People like Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Jemut Masing, who was the Tourism Minister in 1997, had the task of presenting the idea to the then Chief Minister Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Taib asked him if he could guarantee that this idea would work, probably because he was just asked to drop a total of RM250,000 for the festival.

Masing responded with, “I cannot guarantee that, but I can guarantee that it will not work if we don’t start.”

It would be impossible to capture and sandwich the true atmosphere and the music of the festival between the pages of a book, and the authors did not bother trying.

Instead, they looked into the evolution of the venue, Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV). They looked into the complementary events and bazaars springing up around the venue, and how other aspects of indigenous culture – crafts, food, tattoos – are being brought forward.

It’s easy to think that the book is about the festival but it is really about the people – those who pushed for it to begin, those who guided its baby steps, those who came as volunteers and stayed as part of the backbone, and those brought word of it out of SCV and in to the greater parts of Malaysia and the world.

It’s about those who went to earlier festivals, and left dreaming that one day they will be the ones on stage playing to the audience. It’s about longtime guardians of indigenous music and instruments, and about how more young people are playing the sape today than back when RWMF started.

It’s about personal and corporate responsibility, and of countering any environmental damage created by bringing thousands of people to Kuching and the Santubong Peninsular for a weekend.

At 20 years old, it’s safe to say that RWMF isn’t going anywhere, so drop by and say hi.

‘Rainforest World Music Festival – 20 Years of Song and Rhythm in Sarawak’ comes in hard cover (RM200) and paperback (RM180) and contains 164 pages. It was published by Place Borneo Sdn Bhd.

It is available at the festival site this weekend, or online. It will soon be available via Amazon.com. Like their Facebook page for updates.

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