This is my ninth 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 19th 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 strings, or all percussion), vocals (eg. traditional) or dance (mixed or by genre).
There were many more workshops this year than in previous years, including special sessions for children and demonstrations of art forms like textile weaving. The 45-minute workshops in parallel across four venues in three daily slots made for a good 12 sessions a day, or 36 sessions in all – 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 earlier articles on the music jams from the 2015, 2014 and 2013 editions of RWMF: The Joy of Jamming: http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/rainforest-world-music-festival-2015-workshops-the-joy-of-jamming, 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 2016 lineup at RWMF featured 17 international and 8 Malaysian groups. The overseas bands included Dol Arastra Bengkulu (Indonesia), Auli (Latvia), Broukar (Syria), Derek Gripper (South Africa), Dya Singh (Australia/Malaysia), Krar Collective (Ethiopia), Lan Dieu Viet (Vietnam), Naygayiw Gigi (Australia), Nukariik (Canada), Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band (Ghana), Shanren (China), Stelios Petrakis Quartet (Greece), Teada (Ireland), Chouk Bwa Libete (Haiti), Vassvik (Norway), Violons Barbares (Bulgaria, Mongolia, France), and Vocal Sampling (Cuba). The Malaysian lineup consisted of Alena Murang, Gendang Melayu Sri Buana, Mathew Ngau, Sape’ Sarawak, The Thunder Beats Of Nanyang Wushu Drums, Unique Arts Academy, and 1Drum.
Instructional workshops were held on Indian percussion (Dya Singh), Haitian chanting (Chouk Bwa Libete) and Indonesian rituals (Dol Arastra Bengkulu). It was a beautiful sight to see small children coming up to play on the massive dol drums from Sumatra, as the musicians explained the different kinds of rituals and rhythms of their art. The tassa drums along with the deeper dol drums laid out intricate rhythms celebrating heroism during war.
Each cross-cultural jam session had a moderator and 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.
One of the outstanding jam sessions was on string instruments, anchored by krar player Temesgen Zelekeis from the Ethiopian band Krar Collective. The ancient African instrument was modified with electronic amplification, and provided a base tune with which the other artistes jammed: Taoufik Mirkhan (kanun) and Hadil Mirkhan (oud) of Broukar from Syria, Qu Yabo (dabiya) of Shanren from China, and Stelanios Petrakis (lyre) from Greece.
The vocal workshop was led by Dya Singh, and culminated memorably in a Sufi chant set to the Latin beats of a capella group Vocal Sampling from Cuba, along with Caribbean and African singers from Krar Collective (Ethiopia), Pat Thomas (Ghana) and Chouk Bwa Libete (Haiti).
Another interesting workshop was on throat singing, and featured mind-blowing vocals from Epi (Mongola), Torgeir Vassvik (Norway) and the sister duo Kathy and Karin Kettler (Canada). Sami and Inuit chants mixed with steppe roars of Mongolia, covering an unbelievable range of tones.
The workshop on bowed instruments featured some really ‘unusual’ ones like the Vietnamese dan bau monochord and Bulgarian gaduka (three-string violin), played along with violin, fiddle and cello. The guitar jam included award-winning South African guitarist Derek Gripper, who played with a range of artistes including ‘voice guitar’ by Rene Banos from Cuban a cappela band Vocal Sampling!
An instructional workshop on finger drumming was held by Dheeraj Shrestha (tabla) and Modar Salama (tambour), and the most outstanding percussion workshop was held on the last day, aptly titled ‘Explosive Percusison!’ It was anchored by Dheeraj Shreshta who used the konnakol percussion language style from India to conduct ‘dialogues’ with two dozen artistes on an astonishing range of instruments.
Drums and other percussion instruments from Vietnam, Latvia, Ireland, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Norway, India, Syria and Indonesia provided a spellbinding range of sounds. The massive tree-trunk drum from Latvia and the dol drums of Indonesia provided deep bass foundations, on which the frame drums from the Middle East, hand drums from India and kebero drum from Ethiopia provided additional rhythmic layers. Pedro Guillermo of Vocal Sampling from Cuba added an unusual touch with a capella congas and timbales!
Interactive folk dance workshops were held in indoor venues by members of Auli (Latvia), Teada (Ireland), Dya Singh (Malaysia/India), Krar Collective (Ethiopia), Sarawak Cultural Village (Malaysia), and Stelios Petrakis Quartet (Greece). Some of them were individual dances, but the couple and circle dances proved to be the most popular, especially for the children in the audience. The afternoon dances primed the audiences well for the following performances of the evening.
“In a jam session, your spirit must become one with the musician you are jamming with,” said Dya Singh. “Music is a universal language, we believe it can be received by everyone,” said members of Dol Arastra Bengkulu (Indonesia) during their media interviews earlier in the day.
Each afternoon’s workshops ended with a one-hour drum circle conducted by 1Drum.org from Malaysia. Headed by Sam Kumar, they brought along a range of drums, shakers and other percussion instruments, and some audience members brought along their own instruments. Members of the bands Chouk Bwa Libete (Haiti), Unique Arts Academy (Malaysia) and Dol Arastra Bengkulu (Indonesia) also joined the drum circle on separate days.
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 2017 edition of RWMF already, and its unbeatable combination of workshops and jams!
See more pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jazzuality/albums/72157672213085686
Written by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ, World Music and Jazz;
Bangalore Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com