This is my eighth time at the annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia), one of the Top 25 world music festivals and now in its 18th edition! One of the most creative programming features of RWMF is the afternoon workshops and jam sessions, which bring together musicians from the various groups by category – such as instrumentals (all guitars, or all percussion), vocals (eg. traditional) or dance (mixed or by genre).
Three 45-minute workshops in parallel across three venues in three daily slots make for a good 27 sessions – but also a tough problem in deciding which one to attend! The jams and workshops reveal new aspects of creativity and collaboration, beyond the staged and rehearsed performances of the main acts, and are a delight for fans of jazz, folk and world music.
See also my articles on the music jams from the 2014 and 2013 editions of RWMF: Music Workshops and Jams across Borders and Genres: http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/rainforest-world-music-festival-2014-music-workshops-and-jams-across-borders-and-genres/ and Global Jams, International Improvisations: http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/rainforest-world-music-festival-global-jams-international-improvisations/
The RWMF 2015 lineup of 17 international and 7 local groups included Alaverdi (Georgia), Bargou 08 (Tunisia), Driss El Maloumi (Morocco), EPI (Mongolia), Harubee (Maldives), Kapela Maliszow (Poland), Kobagi Kecak (Indonesia), Kobo Town (Trinidad&Tobago), Korrontzi (Spain) , Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band (Australia), Lindigo (Reunion Island), Ndima (Congo), Sangpuy (Taiwan), Shooglenifty (Scotland), Son De Madera (Mexico) Sona Joberteh (Gambia/UK) and Ukandanz (France/Ethiopia). The Malaysian lineup featured Culture Shot, Kenwy Yang-Qin Ensemble, Lan E Tuyang, Mah Meri, Sayu Ateng, 1Drum.org and Sarawak Cultural Village group.
The workshops on the first day began with the music and way of life of the Pygmies from Congo, Brazzaville in Central Africa. The Aka community from Kombola has formed the group Ndima, and showcased their polyphonic yodeling and the amazing mouth-harp called mbela.
The Mexican group Son de Madera from Vera Cruz performed the zapateado fiddle and requinto styles to loud applause and cheers. They cited the influence of Spanish and Indian culture in their music. “The fandango music just cannot stop,” the band members joked; performances often carry on all night long.
Drew Gonsalves and musicians of Kobo Town regaled the audience with the humour and wit of calypso music from Trinidad and Tobago. Calypso survived strict periods of censorship earlier in the 20th century when the artistes would protest against unfair government policies and corrupt politicians.
Each cross-cultural jam session had an anchor, who let all the musicians begin with brief introductory samples of their country’s music, and then laid out a tune or groove for others to improvise on. The first collaborative jam featured dulcimers, xylophones and gongs, with terrific performances on the yangqing by Ho Khong Wee & Eugene Yip (Kenwy Yangqing Ensemble), engkerumong by Mohammed Khairil (Sayu Ateng), and pratuokng by Arthur Borman (Sarawak Cultural Village). The youthful members of the Kenwy Yangqing Ensemble wowed the audience with the shimmering sound of their dulcimers.
The workshop and jam called ‘Hour Glass Curves’ featured guitars and their cousins, such as requinto by Ramon Hernandez and Jarana by Andres Vega (Son de Madera), and cuatro by Drew Gonsalves (Kobo Town). The guitarists were Derek Johnson (from Sona Jabarteh group), Patrick Giunta (Kobo Town), Mohamad Kedari Abu Bakar (Sayu Ateng), Alberto Bengoechea (Korrontzi), Andrew Le Blanc and Kimberly Wheeler (Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band).
The audience was inspired, humbled and completely floored by Mohamad Kedari from the group Sayu Ateng – though he is blind, he showed his amazing skills by playing the guitar over his head, with his teeth, and even flipped over onto his left side!
Each afternoon’s workshops ended with a one-hour drum circle conducted by 1Drum.org from Malaysia. They brought along a range of drums, shakers and other percussion instruments, and some audience members brought along their own instruments. Over a hundred people took part in each drum circle, chanting and drumming to the tunes of music forms like garba.
The workshop and jam titled ‘At my Fingertips’ featured a wide range of plucked stringed instruments, such as mandolin by Ewan Macpherson (Shooglenifty), dotar by Nidhal Yahyaoui (Bargou 08), chonguri by David Kavtaradze (Alaverdi), lang ting tang by Ang Eng Bok (Culture Shot), oud by Driss El Maloumi, sape by Salomon Gau and Lawai Ngau (Lan E Tuyang), kora by Sona Jobarteh (The Gambia), and banjo by Garry Finlayson (Shooglenifty). The sounds of Sona Jabarteh on kora were so mesmerising that Garry Finlayson of Shooglenifty jokingly complained that it was not fair for him to follow such a spectacular performance!
Among the dance and drum workshops, one of the highest-energy sessions was titled ‘I Got Rhythm!’ The percussionists and instruments included bodhran by James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), daf and darbuka by Lahoucine Baqir (Driss El Maloumi), muyu and bamboo clappers by Orville Lee, Tan Yan Kung and Liew Shan We (Kenwy Yangqing Ensemble), gendang and bedok by Ismail Idris (Sayu Ateng), onugandu by Mohamed Hindhaz and Abdulla Miushadh (Harubee), calabash and djembe by Mouhamadou Sarr (Sona Jabarteh group), bendir by Ramzi Maaroufi and Benjamin Chaval (Bargou 08) and gendang by M. Sivasilan (Culture Shot).
As if this amazing lineup wasn’t enough, the performers were also joined by ‘body percussionists’ from Bali: Wayan Sutapa, Ketut Sariana, Cok Nala, Gung Eka, Made Suwi, Nyoman Adiarta, and Made Sudira (Kobagi Kecak)! They showed how the chest, shoulders, thighs and bellies could also be percussive surfaces between rounds of clapping and finger-snapping. The performers had the audience on their feet by the end of the jam, with rousing calls for two encores.
One of the most exciting workshops on the last day of RWMF was called ‘Sing a Different Tune,’ and featured singers and songs from different communities. Anchored by Kaela Rowan (Shooglenifty), the singers were Sangpuy (Taiwan), Sona Jobarteh (The Gambia), Anthea Chai (Kenwy Yangqing Ensemble), Enkhjargal Dandavaanchig (Mongolia), Olivier Araste (Lindigo), Faizal Jamil (Sayu Ateng), Ibrahim Mamdhooh (Harubee) and Ang Eng Bok, Clarence Ewe and Rebby Sim (Culture Shot).
Anthea Chai moved the audience to tears with her Chinese song celebrating the love and devotion of mothers, and Epi from Mongolia blew the audience away with his spectacular command of the full vocal range, from deep bass to shrill tunes.
Sona Jabarte then laid out a chorus called ‘Iniche’ (thanks) to which the audience clapped, and the vocalists took turns improvising with various twists and turns. The chanting moved to such a crescendo that Olivier Araste of Lindigo got up and began to dance, and had the entire audience on their feet as well.
The workshops were followed by night performances on the main stages, but the audience will always remember how these music stars were also able to step out of their own boundaries and genres, and jam with joy with other musicians in the afternoon workshops. We look forward to the 2016 edition of RWMF already, and its unbeatable combination of workshops and jams!
Photo courtesy of STB and Madanmohan Rao .