Sunday, May 20, 2012

Borneo Jazz Festival - An enchanting fusion of music and adventure

The event was an exceptionally rich musical spectacle not to be missed 

Alif aka Chief from Brunei amongst the thousands enjoying the performances

Nita Aartsen, described as the 'rising star' of Classical and Jazz in Indonesia 

Special performance by a local ethnic group at the Borneo Jazz Festival 201

Magnificent drum solo by the 'New Cool Collective' band 

Mr Saxman performing at the event

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to Sarawak Tourism Board

By Aziz Idris in Miri, Sarawak

The Borneo Jazz Festival, now in its 7th edition, has undergone a certain amount of re-branding in an effort to promote its growing stature as one of the leading jazz festivals in the region.

What hasn't changed from previous years is the variety of music on the programme - jazz and it's many splinter genres and blues were performed by veterans from across the globe.

The musical extravagant offers a little of everything, and a capella jingles, groovy fusion jazz, some South African and Latin rhythms completed a diverse and mostly engaging set of performers.

In 2011, the event attracted some 7,811 festivalgoers with 3,668 coming on the first night and 4,143 on the second night. An estimated 20 per cent were foreigners.

Borneo (or Miri to be exact) is a unique setting as it is an unlikely one for a jazz festival. "There's no other place like it on earth," says Datuk Amar Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari, the Minister of Housing and Urban Development and Minister of Tourism.

"The aim is clear, we hope the Borneo Jazz will become an iconic jazz festival in the region, just as the Rainforest Music festival in Sarawak is," he told the international media during a press conference.

He told the Sunday Bulletin that a "substantial number" of audiences are from Brunei (locals and expatriates). The Sarawak Tourism Board is working closely with the Brunei Tourism Board in creating attractive packages not only for the Borneo Jazz but also other events.

The minister believes that with strong "team spirit" between both nations, it will benefit them in promoting both countries as well as Borneo as a whole.

The Borneo Jazz got underway on Thursday (May 10) at ParkCity Everly Hotel with an opening ceremony by the minister. Dozens of local performers from rich ethnics groups beautifully attired provided colourful greetings while traditional musicians performed the 'sape' (a long -bodied string instrument).

The opening band of the festival programme (May 11) to take stage was FVE Project, a local band who ran through an enthusiastic set of jazzy numbers as well as their own jazz rendition of popular nursery rhythms. Miri-born Dean Sim of the FVE Project gave an electrifying performance for his home crowd and family members.

Next up was Nita Aartsen from Indonesia who has been described as the 'rising star' of Classical and Jazz music in the country. She wooed the crowd with her own indomitable style that turned from a sombre-like-classical into a feet-tapping, hip-swaying Latino music with a generous helping of Jazz. At one point it looked as if Nita was smashing her piano to smithereens with her energetic style but her performance was simply phenomenal.

The night breeze from the nearby beach was a perfect setting for jaw dropping performance by 'The Slixs', a German a capella group, comprising six vocals virtuosos which make a band. Slixs brought audiences to their feet, dancing, swaying and some even tried to mimic their sounds. They also performed classic hits from The Beatles, the 'boogie' sounds of the 70's and R&B hits from the 90's including Waterfalls by TLC.

The first night closed with an eight-piece band from the Netherlands called 'New Cool Collective'. They brought their own 'hipper-than hip' jazz sounds to the concert with band members playing different instruments from saxophones to drums, guitars to percussions and piano to bass.

Looking smart with a 'clean cut' appearance, the band wooed the ladies playing their own original music which was fast-paced Jazzy beats and a little intermission in the middle that makes a remarkable build-up towards the end of their set. It was equally entertaining to watch the New Cool Collective band and crowds shouted for an encore performance, which they did with style.

The second night (May 12) opened with a Singapore based band called the 'Tropic Green'. The band is made up of musicians from the UK, USA and Japan, which brings a lot of different influenced jazz sound into the band.

Playing all original materials, Tropic Green sounds were captivating, intriguing amalgam of fresh ideas and jazz performances, which credits Susan Harmer, the Singaporean-born composer and main musician.

Tangora's compositions are characterised by dynamic, propulsive rhythms, orchestral passage with an inherent melodicism, and impassioned soloing. The three-pronged front line bass guitar, piano and strong vocals introduced the melody in most of the numbers, sounding as one voice. Her sumptuous vocals, singing in Spanish, French, Portuguese and a mixture of free flowing lyricism stirred the crowd. She shared the stage with her accomplices and brilliant musicians filled the night air and breezy Saturday night.

Another musician that made a remarkable effect at the Borneo Jazz was Mr Sekpol Unsamran, more famously and affectionately known as Mr Saxman. Born and raised in Thailand, Mr Saxman was joined by the Takeshi Band who played groovy and charming jazz tune. A slower number by Mr Saxman, provided another example of emotive content overriding shows of techniques with his two decades performing on stage.

Next up was Schalk Joubert's Three Continents Sextet, which is an ensemble, made up of seven new generation jazz musicians. Playing on bass was Schalk Joubert himself accompanied by the trombone, Karin Hammar from Stockholm. His percussionist Rich Armstrong hailing from the San Francisco has 'blues' roots that gave an unbelievably diverse sound performance.

Other musicians in the band include Kevin Gibson from Florida, Shannon Mowday from Oslo, Melissa Van der Spy from Holland and Hildegunn Oiseth from Norway. Although the band members hail from around the world speaking different languages, music has brought them together and provided a definite highlight of the festival.

The lush grounds of the ParkCity Everly Hotel by the sea, and spectacular sunsets seared the sky a myriad of colours each evening. One of the many Bruneians who came to see the festival for the first time was Alif aka Chief who commented that it was a relief to attend a live Jazz concert in close proximity from Brunei. "It was a great show. I had fun and definitely coming back next year."

Another Bruneian Jazz fan Fina, brought her colleagues from Norway and Venezuela along to see the concert for two-consecutive nights. "Listening to Jazz music from musicians around the world at one venue is definitely a great experience."

For Marcus and Wafiy from Brunei who came during the second night, said that the festival was amazingly fun especially seeing how the musicians played their instruments with techniques they have never seen before.

To end the festival, all the musicians literally crammed on stage for a twenty-minute jam session and put the seal to the Borneo Jazz 2012. It was an electrifying ending to a remarkable edition of the festival of enchanting fusion of music and adventure.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday