Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Rainforest World Music Festival


The kayaking wound on my knee was a lucky break. The brightly colored bandage got me out of numerous crowd-participation workshops, including one that scared me stiff: African dance.

I limped to the back of the sweltering longhouse to take photos as the crowd surged forward to do their best booty shake. With temperatures at the sweaty, afternoon workshop already elevated to that of the average sauna, the last thing I had in mind was trying to shake the junk in my trunk in a fearful manner.

Fortunately, the other workshops turned out to be less painful and incredibly interesting. Musicians from all over the world jammed together in unstructured, unpracticed sessions that turned out surprisingly excellent. The workshops ran simultaneously through the afternoons, allowing you to choose by interest. Most were highly entertaining.

I wrote about one of the percussion workshops — my absolute favorite — here.

Busy but unforgettable.

That’s the way I would describe my recent press trip to Sarawak in Borneo to cover the 16th annual Rainforest World Music Festival.

This was my second visit to the festival, but unlike the first trip in 2010, this time the Sarawak Tourism Board provided me with media passes, VIP access, and even a room at the hotel which provided an opportunity to hang out with the performers. A whopping 21 different international groups educated people with workshops during the days then took to the two stages to play in the evenings.

We stayed busy. Media and performers all stumbled the 20-minute walk back to the hotel around 1 a.m. each night. Wake up for breakfast the next morning, hit the press conferences, share some gossip, then repeat.

As an unexpected bonus, I found myself sitting with Nikki, the editor of Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine, at the pre-party on opening night. I’ve been reading her magazine for years and she’s certainly hardcore. Like myself, she incorrectly sat at a reserved VIP table and decided to follow the old mantra I learned from a mentor at IBM: “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

‘World music’ is a pretty wide genre so unsurprisingly there were a few acts that I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to see again. I’ll play nice and won’t name any names, but if your act involves spinning tassels attached to your head for 45 minutes while a woman shouts “oooohhhhh…” into the microphone, it’s hard to rock out. Even the culture vultures and ‘spiritual’ travelers in fisherman’s pants looked confused.

Fortunately, a majority of the bands did rock. The Pine Leaf Boys from Louisiana were a taste from home and even though they played Cajun/Creole, it was close enough to my beloved Bluegrass to get the adrenaline flowing.

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