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About This Festival

Through the lush, green canopy of the trees, beyond the haze of humidity and the chirp of tropical birds, you hear it. A drum beats in the distance, steadily thumping out its tribal rhythm. Have you unwittingly wandered into the camp of a mysterious indigenous people? Is this a movie set where the natives will sacrifice you to a hungry jungle monster? No, it's the Rainforest World Music Festival.

Every year the Sarawak Tourism Board welcomes thousands of music enthusiasts from around the globe to the Sarawak Cultural Village, a hamlet nestled at the foot of Mount Santubong, just 35 kilometers outside of Sarawak’s capital, Kuching. Celebrating the diversity of world music, the three-day festival runs workshops (which are more like mini-concerts) in the afternoon, followed by full-scale evening performances held on the two main stages in the village. The festival usually features approximately 20 bands over the course of the weekend, andis now one of the largest musical events in Malaysia with a total audience approaching 30,000.

Every Kind of Music You Can Imagine

The festival features a wide range of musical performances from traditional to world fusion and contemporary. While electronic instruments are fairly commonplace at the festival now, the festival emphasizes the use of traditional acoustic instruments. Invited performers come from all over Malaysia, as well as Australia, Colombia, Ireland, Africa and beyond. If you find yourself needing a break from all the didgeridoos, lutes and sitars, you can wander over to the Food & Village Mart, where local craftspeople sell everything from henna tattoos to jewelry and fabric, and food stalls hawk kolo mee (a typical Kuching noodle dish) and sautéed wild fern. You know, just your average festival fare.

Founded in 1997, the festival was the brainchild of musician Randy Raine-Reusch; former head of the Sarawak Tourism Board, Robert Basiuk; Edric Ong, the President of the Society Atelier of Sarawak (which, not surprisingly, supports traditional arts); and his brother, Edgar Ong, a film producer. From its humble beginnings less than 20 years ago to being voted one of the "25 Best International Festivals" by renowned music magazine, Songlines, for the fourth year in a row, RWMF is blossoming into a music festival force to be reckoned with.

The Vibe

Although there is a set schedule for the workshops and evening performances, the atmosphere at the Rainforest World Music Festival is extremely relaxed, and attendees are free to wander the village, coming and going from the festival over the three days. Daytime workshops are held inside traditional houses in the village, where the performers are often on the floor with the audience, allowing guests to get up close and personal with the musicians. You won't find performers hiding backstage or in private trailers here. Instead, artists roam around the village, mingling with curious festival-goers who chat them up about the music and the events of the day.

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