The Reluctant Hippie’s Guide to Borneo’s Rainforest World Music Festival

Posted by - March 16, 2016 | Category: Asia, Escapes, Malaysia

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia 038

There’s something slightly terrifying about folk festivals. At least to non-folksy folks like me. Truth is, I lean a little towards the square side of things in the grand scale of hipdom. And folk festivals bring out the inner outsider in me. Substitute “world music” for folk and pretty much the same feeling befalls me, so I knew how this would play out. Bands I couldn’t recognize playing instruments I couldn’t pronounce. Potheads named Leaf and Willow and Wolfsong dancing barefoot in drum circles, throat-singing their way into nirvana.  Me eye-rolling my way through the entire ordeal, deep down wishing I could be just as carefree. The age-old struggle to fit in where you feel you don’t really belong. Those were my immediate thoughts when I heard I’d be attending the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysian Borneo.

Would I need to wear a flower in my absentee hair? Tie-dye my polo and figure out how to work a bong? Or even worse, a bongo. These were pertinent questions.

All jokes aside, RWMF as it’s called (because Rainforest World Music Festival is a mouthful) was a lot more groovy (the kids still use that term nowadays, right?) than I had anticipated. I’m not saying I was dancing barefoot with Congolese Pygmies by the end of it all, but I’m not saying I wasn’t either.

The reluctant Hippie s Guide to Borneo s Rainforest World Music Festival

The Rainforest World Music Festival

Organized each year by the Sarawak Tourism Board, the Rainforest World Music Festival is spread out over 3 days, using the stunning Sarawak Cultural Village as a backdrop for the event. It brings together a wide assortment of ethnically diverse musically acts from around the globe. From throat singers to Cajun bands, from African tribes to Asian instrumentalists. There’s no one type of music you’ll find at the festival — it’s world music, it’s folk music, it’s traditional music, it’s instrumental, it’s voice-driven —  all showcased across a series of stages, intimate workshops, and interactive demonstrations.

For the 2015 Rainforest World Music Festival, more than 25 acts converged at the Sarawak Cultural Village just outside Kuching, Malaysia.

The Acts

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia - Lindingo, from the Réunion Islands

Lindingo, from the Réunion Islands, performs on the main stage

For the nighttime performances, the early acts played generally for 20 to 30 minutes across the two main stages. The two final headliners each night played for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.

One nifty thing I liked about the festival was that the two stages prevented those awkward moments that usually occur when bands change out equipment between sets.

Also, after an act on one of the main stages would finish, someone would appear in the middle of the crowd on a slightly raised platform or rock and do their thing. It was a great way to highlight some of the performers that didn’t make it to the main stage (throat singers, yodellers, and the like,) as well as bridge the silence between acts while still capturing the crowd’s attention. Nicely done RWMF.

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia -- Scotland's Shooglenifty

Scotland’s Shooglenifty celebrated their 25th anniversary together by playing RWMF for the third time.

To get an idea of some of the types of music you’re bound to hear during the event, take a look at this RWMF higlights video from Stefan and Sebastien over at the Nomadic Boys.

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia - Sona Jobarteh from Gambia

The lovely Sona Jobarteh from Gambia performs at one of the daytime venues.

The Workshops

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia - Harubee, from the Maldives

Harubee, from the Maldives, performs during one of the drumming workshops.

This was probably my favourite part of the Rainforest World Music Festival. I’m not a lover of big crowds (sorry crowds,) so the opportunity to be in a smaller venue was quite welcome. Workshops were centred around drumming, dance, vocals, and even a deeper dive into the history of some of the instruments among other topics.

My only complaint for the entire festival was that there was so much going on during the day, it was easy to miss out on some of the workshops. At times there were three workshops and a performance happening at the same time. I’m sure this happens at other festivals as well, so be prepared and get yourself a programme, take a long hard look at the performance schedule, and decide which workshops or performances you’d really like to see.

The Crowd

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia -- festival goers

This was the part that worried me (you know, Willow and her gang of bong-wielding tree-huggers), but the truth is, the crowd was as welcoming as any event I’ve attended.

Most nights the main stage area was filled with a healthy mix of locals, travellers, and one annoying CouchSurfer guy with a sign that read “CS Party Animals meet here.” I think he was alone through much of the event. There was no crazy drunkenness (although alcohol is available — and no long lines to boot,) there was no Greenpeace contingent mocking my “petrol slippers” (seriously, that’s what a German dude here in Ubud, Bali called my plastic flip flops), there were just plenty of folks out for a good weekend of entertainment.

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia -- Mexico's Son de Madera

Mexico’s Son de Madera performs at one of the free preview events at CityOne Megamall in Kuching, Borneo.

If you’re still on the fence about attending the Rainforest World Music Festival and happen to be in Kuching, Malaysia prior to the event, the festival marketing team organizes several events at local shopping centres to give you a taste of what the festival offers. It’s a great way to listen to some of the acts in a more intimate environment (for free!) and decide if the festival is for you. With such low ticket prices though (see below) it would be a shame if you were in the area and didn’t attend.

Rainforest World Music Festival Tickets

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

Local artists perform at the main entrance to Sarawak Cultural Centre.

Rainforest World Music Festival 2016 takes place August 5th to 7th, 2016. Tickets can be purchased online at the Rainforest World Music Festival website.

Ticket prices start at a very reasonable 100 MYR ($23.75 USD) for a one-day early bird pass (buy it before March 31, 2016). Three-day passes range from 270 MYR ($64.10 USD) for early bird buyers, up to 380 MYR ($91.20 USD) if purchased at the venue.

The Rainforest World Music Festival is also VERY family friendly — family packages for 2 adults and 2 children are only 200 MYR if purchased in the early bird window, or 300 MYR at the door.

The Rainforest Music World Music Festival is a cash-free event — which means that you need to top up the barcode on your day- or weekend-pass with money at one of the top up stands located throughout the venue. When you purchase something at the festival, your code is scanned and the funds deducted — the cashier even shows you how much money you have left. Just be sure not to top up too much — RWMF is a pretty cheap weekend as far as festivals go. So what I’m trying to say is don’t end up like me — guzzling beers on the last night to make sure I didn’t leave any money unused.

The Verdict

Rainforest World Music Festival Sarawak Borneo Malaysia -- Ndiga from Brazzaville, Congo

“Hey man, nice bongo” — Ndiga from Brazzaville, Congo performs at one of the preview events.

The Rainforest World Music Festival is not the type of festival that I’m normally drawn to (I’m usually at odd type festivals, like Malaysia’s Squid Jigging Festival, or the International Bornean Frog Race), but you know what — it was fun! And I’d do it again. And at the end of the day, even if something is outside your comfort zone, but you’ve done it, and even enjoyed it, doesn’t that mean you’ve grown as a person? Whoa. Heavy stuff there.

In any case, at least I proved that if even a very square peg like me can fit in this very hip hole, then just about anyone can. And that’s something just about everyone should experience.

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Beginners Guide to Borneo s Rainforest World Music Festival

If you haven’t been to the Rainforest World Music Festival yet, what’s the best music festival you’ve ever attended?

Note: I was a guest of Tourism Malaysia during my time at the Rainforest World Music Festival.

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10 comments - add one
  1. Wow, I really love the layout of your website really stands out, I’ll definitely remember it 🙂 The festival sounds so quirky and fun too.


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