Rainforest World Music Festival = PICK OF THE MONTH!

Traditional Sape (Orang Ulu guitar), gongs and bamboo harps mingle with the ancient oud (an ancient string instrument). A thousand harmonies seemingly at odds and yet in unison, a world apart but here, one world, together… We were there last year – and would recommend it to anyone with a pulse! Festival-goers will soon be flocking to the mythical land of Sarawak, Borneo in their thousands as the 16th Rainforest World Music Festival prepares to unleash yet another dazzling spectacle.

Read our blog from last year’s Rainforest World Music Festival!

Courtesy of some of the most renowned performers from all over the globe, an array of daytime music workshops, jamming sessions, and action-packed nightly shows will set the scene at the gorgeous 17-acre Sarawak Cultural Village, just 35km outside of Kuching, and a stone’s throw away from the quiet beach resort area of the Santubong Peninsula. Three days beginning at 2pm with workshops and lectures – and three nights crammed with concert after concert on the main stage, by the lake, under the open sky. What better place can you think of to listen to resounding world beats?! With its central lake, abundant flora, landscaped walkways, and surrounded by thick jungle and the legendary Mount Santubong, this is seriously one of the most breathtaking festival settings in the world!

Rainforest World Music Festival

It’s none too shabby from a music perspective, either. The RWMF has been voted one of the Top 25 Best International Festivals by world music magazine Songlines for the 4th year running. Looking at this year’s line-up, it’s clear why… artists from Austria, France, Denmark, Ireland; Croatia, Iran, Australia, USA; Indonesia, Colombia, Malaysia, Ukraine…

There’ll also be a big traditional representation from Sarawak itself – from huge log drums and gongs to all kinds of innovative bamboo instruments, including the haunting sape, the boat-shaped lute. Add to this a smattering of Native Chanting and the talents of Shangyin Chinese Chamber Music Ensemble, and you should be getting a picture why this festival alone has put Sarawak smack bang on the world tourist map! An annual communion whose spirit is ‘as timeless as our intricate ecosystem’, the Rainforest World Music Festival has thrived on a winning formula since its launch.

Dance to the rhythms of the rainforest, chill out under the canopies of the trees; drink, dine – then pick it up again at the Tree Stage ‘til late. And if it’s anything like the one we experienced last year, then don’t miss the epic finale! All the performers playing onstage as one as the crowds danced unabashed and whooping… We want more!

Bali Arts Festival - Bali, Indonesia

Taking place over an entire month from mid June to mid July, the Bali Arts Festival is a unique extravaganza of arts, music, dance and history celebrating passion and pride in Balinese culture. Amongst other performances, famous masked dances originating from tribal villages are showcased and ancient classic stories retold. There’s a vibrant atmosphere all across the island as celebrations are enjoyed by locals and travellers alike. For first time travellers to Bali, it’s a fantastic introduction to the rich heritage of the spirited destination.

Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival - Laos and North Eastern Thailand

Taking place over two days, with plenty eating, drinking and dancing thrown in, the Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival is one of the most enjoyable (and noisiest!) events in Laos. Villages all across the country gather to create huge rockets made out of bamboo, decorate and paint them bright colours and stuff them with large quantities of gunpowder ready for the big launch! As they are fired into the skies, onlookers watch to see which rocket reaches the greatest height. The owner of the highest fired rocket receives prestige and status amongst the group and woe betide those who fire a dud! The festival is held at the beginning of May, in conjunction with the beginning of the rainy season in Laos. Since ancient times it has been performed by all those working on the land to request rain from the ‘Phaya Thaen’ or the ‘Rain God’ to pray for plentiful rice production for that year.

Gawai Dayak Festival - Sarawak, Malaysia

Gawai is a religious and social festival held every June in the longhouses of lowland tribes in Sarawak to celebrate the New Year and harvest. In local language, Gawai means a ritual or festival, while Dayak is the name for the native ethnic groups of Sarawak. During this important time, families get together for unique celebrations which last a couple of days, with weddings often taking place as it’s one of the few times of year that the community is at home in their ancestral longhouse dwelling. If you happen to be travelling around exotic Sarawak during this Gawai Dayak, it’s a jolly good idea to get friendly with the locals, as no doubt you’ll be invited into the homes of the friendly tribal people to share with them this sacred festival, and spending the night in the jungle as the locals celebrate this exciting time is an experience like no other. Feasts, songs around the fire, ancient tribal stories, animal sacrifice, and lots of betel nut chewing and drinking of the deadly local liquor, Borak, are to be expected! Bruce Parry eat yer heart out! (By the way if you make it to this event, we’d love to hear about your experience, so please write in and tell us more!)

Phi Ta Khon Festival – Dan Sai district, Loei province, Thailand

In Thailand, spirituality is never far away, but it perhaps comes closest with this ghostly festival, unique to the Isaan culture of North Eastern Thailand. (About 450km North of Bangkok.) Similar to the Western Halloween, locals don eerie spirit masks and wear phantom costumes and strange hats, while children play tricks in the street. The festival commemorates an old Buddhist tale, when villagers hold a celebration for the return of their Prince from banishment. It is said that they made so much noise that the dead are awakened from their graves and came out to party! Musical processions pack the streets and rockets fill the sky for three days. On the last day, the villagers meet at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the the monks recite the message of Lord Buddha.

George Town Festival – Penang, Malaysia

George Town Festival (GTF) is a month-long celebration of art, music, theatre, dance, opera and film to commemorate George Town’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage listing on 7 July, 2008. Each year since 2009, GTF transforms George Town Penang into an exciting and unique platform for the arts, heritage and culture.  This year month-long fiesta will happen on June 7 – July 7, showing creative local talents and internationally acclaimed performances of art, theatre, music, dance, opera and film screenings. Check out their website for more information.