In this excerpt from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth, one Rough Guides writer experiences a memorable three-day music festival.
Afternoon, the first day of Sarawak’s Rainforest Music festival. People are mingling ahead of show time when the famous Malagasy band Tarika will perform. For now though, a local Melinau musician with a hat made of bark and bird feathers strums the lute-like sape as we wander around the site, comprising a dozen small longhouses which open daily for demonstrations of local culture. The music mingles with the screech of tropical birdlife, the scampering of chickens and the sing-along refrains of local children.
As evening progresses, crowds arrive from the nearby city Kuching, primed for the evening’s fun. We first gorge ourselves on a Dyak feast of local delicacies: baked fish in banana leaves, spicy fried pork, rice and a salad dressed in lime and chili. Dusk swiftly becomes night as the festival hits its stride with sets from international folk, jazz and world fusion artists. I’m reminded of WOMAD in the early days, and expect to spot a beady-eyed Peter Gabriel on the lookout for new talent, hunting perhaps an upriver Iban rapper with a fleet of gongs and pipes for accompaniment.
By the time the opening night of the three-day jamboree draws to a close, and with the tropical heat cooled by a refreshing south-westerly, we are on our feet jiving crazily to Tarika lead singer Hanitra’s robust sounds. We have made – or at least bumped into – many new friends from all over the world.
Some have been coming to the festival for years, know the bands and appreciate the attention this little outpost of Malaysian camaraderie gets over this hot, hot weekend. Others, though, confess to not knowing what has hit them – how is it that all this world-class music is being performed in a tiny little jungle enclave at the bottom of a narrow road in a place called the Damai Peninsula?
We head for bed, luckily a comfortable hotel room with a balcony that’s only a five-minute stagger away, to awake not just to a hangover but to the delicious promise of another two days of groovesome beats deep in the jungle.
The yearly festival takes place in the first half of July; check www.rainforestmusic-borneo.com for more details.