Rainforest World Music Festival 2014: Music Workshops and Jams Across Borders and Genres




This is my seventh time at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching/Sarawak, Malaysia, one of the top 25 world music festivals across the planet! (See some of my earlier articles here: http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/rainforest-world-music-festival-global-jams-international-improvisations/).

One of the most creative features of the Festival is the afternoon workshops and jam sessions (http://rwmf.net/daytime-workshops/). They are of different kinds: instrumentals (such as all guitars, or all percussion), vocals (eg. traditional) or dance (mixed or by genre). Three workshops in parallel across three venues in three slots make for a good twenty seven sessions in three days – but also a tough problem in deciding which one to attend! And there were bigger challenges than that – how to juggle an already packed music schedule with the late night FIFA World Cup football games?!

Day One

I started off with the session on music of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Author, filmmaker and music researcher Werner Graebner described the evolution of musical trends along with the country’s growth – starting off with the colonial era, the Cold War era and the liberalised economy after that. It used to be very difficult to import electronic instruments into Tanzania, and in the 1970’s and 80’s a lot of the local instrumentation was augmented by accordions from churches and tablas and harmoniums from Indian stores. Some drums were even made from large plastic water pipes.

The 1990’s onwards ushered in a new electronic music revolution spurred by keyboards and amplifiers, which added to the earlier layers of Arabic and Swahili music. The seven members of the band Jagwa Music brought the culture to life with two short pieces of live music.


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The next workshop, appropriately titled Big and Round, featured a host of amazing frame drum percussionists from around the world: Manu Theron, Rodin Kaufmann, Denis Sampieri, Sebastien Spessa and Benjamin Novarino-Giana (Lo Cor de La Plana, France), Mauro Durante and Giancarlo Paglialunga (Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, Italy), Iolo Whelan (Jamie Smith’s Mabon, Wales), Ahmad Ridwan, Kamarul Baisah bin Hussin and Dzafaruddin bin Zainuddin (Geng Wak Long, Malaysia), Onn bin Jaafar, Mohamad Amin bin Sarju and Anuar bin Md Salleh (Yayasan Warisan Johore, Malaysia) and Thierry Biscary and Jean-Michel Bereau (Kalakan, Spain).

[flickr id=”14511367531″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”false” size=”medium” group=”” align=”right”] Bendirs, tamburello, pandeiretta, rebana, hadrah, rebana, tambourine and gongs started off one by one and then blended together in two jam sets coordinated by Mohammed Kamrulbahri of Geng Wak Long, who switched between the groups at regular counts of four. The audience joined in on claps and chants, and gave the musicians a standing ovation for the percussive high.

Mohammed Kamrulbahri and members of the family troupe Geng Wak Long joined Onn bin Ja’afar and the Yayasan Warisan Johore for a joint presentation of Malaysian rhythms: joget, mak yong and zapin. The music of south and east parts of Malaysia joined in the workshop, which had the audience on their feet as well. Arabic, Western and Malay instruments blended together in a rich texture.

[flickr id=”14328092110″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”false” size=”medium” group=”” align=”left”] A community drum circle then took place in front of the main stages, a regular daily evening feature at the Festival for the first time. Meanwhile on the beach, there was a mind-boggling sunset display of hundreds of flying kites by the Sarawak Kite Association, with some members flying over 200 kites on the same string, strung together one after the other in a period of half an hour!

Day Two


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Among the workshops of Day Two, I caught another one on percussion called Beat Boxes. Anchored by Dave Boston (djembe), it featured congas (Rene Azahares of Son Yambu), cajon (Yom Hardy of Blackbeard’s Tea Party), Chinese drum (Goh ek Jun of Ding Yi Music), bedok, ketubong, dumbak (Gema Seribu, Malaysia), taiko (Ryuz, Japan), dumbak, msondo, mkwasa (Jagwa music, Tanzania), marwas (Yayasan Warisan Johore, Malaysia), chenda, maram, thudi and otta (Karinthalakoottam, Kerala).

Japanese drummer Shigeri Kitsu, the only woman percussionist in this workshop, received the loudest applause for her pure energy on vocals and taiko drum (why aren’t there more women in percussion?!) After a ‘roll call’ of countries and styles, the musicians presented two interactive jams, with guest artiste Horomona Horo from New Zealand leading the audience in a Maori stomping session! Who said percussion only involves drums, hands and sticks?


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The same venue gave way to another workshop on urban Tanzanian dance by Jagwa Music. The audience gave the musicians a rousing standing ovation, and moved on to the next percussion event: the community drum jam, led by Shameer Narindra of 1Drum.org. With over a hundred small instruments shared with the audience, jammers formed two circles and went through the moves of rhythms and chants for over an hour.


Day Three


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The last day of workshops and jams covered a wide range of musical territory, from history to participatory dance. New Zealands’s Haromona Horo conducted a high-energy workshop on Haka and other Maori dances. His towering presence and charismatic expressions endeared him to the audience, even he told them to look fierce and determined while going through the moves!

“When women stand tall, some men feel scared,” he joked. In one of the sequences he asked the men to slap their chests hard – and the women to just continue looking beautiful! At the end of the thunderous workshop many children came up to him to get the traditional Maori noserub greeting. Other workshops featured the rural dances of Kerala and Johor.


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German multi-instrumentalist Stephan Micus showcased some unusual flutes in the workshop titled Vibrating Air. “I almost fainted when I first played the shakuhachi flute, it requires so much breathing. And I almost went deaf when I first played the nokan flute from Japan, it makes such a loud shrill noise,” he joked.

The Sarawak noseflute (selingut) segment by Baun Lenjau also drew loud applause for calling attention to an endangered tradition. The saluang, sarunai and bansi from Indonesia were played by Muhammad Halim of Talago Buni, who was followed by Sufian bin Asran from Yayasan Warisan Johore.


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The last workshop I caught was appropriately titled Taut and Tight, with plucked strings. Led by Adam Rhodes on guitar, the lineup included guzheng, zhongruan, daruan, pipa (Ding Yi Music, Singapore), oud (Mohd Syafiq bin Awang from Yayasan Warisan Johore), kecapi zither (Susandra Jaya from Telago Buni), tres guitar (Oscar Vazquez Romero, Son Yambu, Cuba) and nanthuni (Renjith M.S., Karinthalakoottam).

The audience asked questions of the musicians as well; I asked which of the featured instruments could be plugged into an amplifier, and apparently most cannot. The jam ended with Bob Marley’s classic No Woman No Cry, with a terrific Latin-style solo by Oscar Romero of Son Yambu (see my interview with this Cuban band here http://jazzuality.com/interview/exclusive-interview-with-son-yambu/).


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The crowd then moved outside for the last of the three Community Drum Circles, followed by the final night-time performances. We look forward to next year’s Rainforest World Music Festival already, with its delightful ambience, gracious hosts, outstanding artistes, interactive workshops and creative jams!
Workshops & Jams coverage and photos by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ; World music & Jazz
Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com



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