The annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia), celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a terrific lineup of musicians from around the world! One of the unique programming features 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).
The 45-minute music workshops in parallel across three venues in three daily slots made for a good nine sessions a day, or 27 sessions in all – but also a tough problem in deciding which one to attend! Due to their spontaneous nature, the jams and workshops reveal new aspects of creativity and connection, 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 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013 editions of RWMF: Demonstrations, Dialogues and Jams http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/rainforest-world-music-festival-2016-workshops-demonstrations-dialogues-and-jams/, 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 RWMF 2017 lineup of 22 international and 5 local groups included Abavuki (South Africa), Achanak (UK/India), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Belem (Belgium), Bitori (Cape Verde), Calan (Wales), Cimarron (Colombia), Dom Flemons (US), Hanggai (China), Huw Williams (Wales), Kelele (South Africa), O Tahiti E (Tahiti), Okra Playground (Finland), Pareaso (Korea), Radio Cos (Spain), Romengo (Hungary), Saing Waing Orchestra (Myanmar), Spiro (UK), Svara Samsara (Indonesia), Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe (Taiwan), The Chipolatas (UK/Australia), and The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band (Thailand). The Malaysian lineup featured At Adau, Ilu Leto, Lan E Tuyang and Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak from Sarawak, as well as Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca.
The afternoon workshops are held in three venues: the smaller intimate Iban Longhouse, the larger Bidayuh Longhouse, and the largest hall, Dewan Lagenda. The evening performances are held outdoors in two parallel stages: Jungle Stage and Tree Stage. All venues are in the picturesque rainforests of the Sarawak Cultural Village, between Mount Santubong and the South China Morning Sea.
The ‘Dialogue of the Drums’ jam session kicked off Day One with a lineup of percussionists from India/UK (Achanak), Guinea (Ba Cissoko), South Africa (Abavuki) and Indonesia (Svara Samsara). Anchored by Ninder Johal on tabla, the other artistes showed that the djembe, talking drum, kendang sunda and tamani may be from different continents but can still communicate with one another.
The vocal workshop filled the stage: with Dom Flemons (US), Chando Graciosa (Cape Verde), Alena Murang (Malaysia), Bethan William-Jones (Wales), Camake Valaule (Taiwan) and others. Each showcased some of the unique stories from their cultures, which were performed as a poem or song.
Another melodious jam session featured accordions from around the world – Spain, Finland, Cape Verde, Wales, Belgium and Scotland. Tristan Glover from UK/Australia troupe Chipolatas lead the musicians through a round of introductions and brief musical snippets, and kicked off two segments of improvised foot-tapping music.
Each day ended with a terrific one-hour drum circle conducted outdoors by Drum1.org. Audience members formed layers of concentric circles and took part in many rounds of coordinated percussion, a perfect sedgeway to the subsequent night-time performances.
The jam sessions on Day Two afternoon kicked off with violins and ‘other instruments that have a stick of some kind.’ Musicians from China, Wales, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Finland and Hungary joined in. Some similarities between the folk traditions of Europe clearly emerged as the workshop progressed, with Asia adding a new twist to the melodies and emotions.
Some of the most popular dance workshops were conducted by O Tahiti E. Founded in 1986, it is one of the oldest dancing troops in French Polynesia and has a mix of seasoned percussionists and talented young dancers. For two workshops, they led the audience through rounds of sensuous dance moves for men and women, and even chose winners from the audience in the second round.
Another packed workshop on African dance was conducted by members of Abavuki, with Siyabulela Jiyana and Thulani Mtyi leading the crowd through a whole hour of pan-African dance steps. The same venue hosted a bhangra workshop earlier by three members of Achanak, featuring the folk dance from Punjab. Other dance workshops at the festival featured samba, gypsy dance, and Welsh clog dance.
The indoor halls of the Sarawak Cultural Village featured a number of workshops on weaving techniques as well as playing the sape, the traditional instrument of many of the tribes of Sarawak. There were also collections of string and percussion instruments from around the world on display.
One of the final jams on Day Two featured Hadrah Drums (frame drums) from Southeast Asia, with percussionists from Malaysia (Sarawak Cultural Village) and Indonesia (Svara Samsara). Each group showcased some of their regional rhythms, followed by a high-energy jam, aptly titled ‘Wild Beats.’
Day Three had some of the most eye-opening workshops. It kicked off with a superb jam session called ‘Fingers and Thumbs,’ with instruments such as harp, saung (Burmese harp), mbira (Africa), gayageum (Korea), kantele (Finland) and kora (Guinea). The range of instruments blew the audience away, many of whom had never before seen such instruments. Despite the diversity, the musicians also found common ground in the collective improvisation following their round of introductory segments.
A dozen musicians on wind instruments from different bands took the stage for the next session. Anchored by Patrick Rimes from Calan, artistes from nine nations showcased bagpipes, flutes, pigborn (made from cow horn; Scotland), selingut (Malaysia), khaen (Thailand), and gaita (Spain). While the instrumental variety and musical introductions were great, the jam session didn’t quite take off partly due to the very wide volume differences between instruments like the delicate nose-flute and high-powered bagpipes, but the audience applauded loudly anyway.
Another strings workshop featured plucked instruments: this time with geomungo (Korea), harp (Venezuela), sape (Malaysia), tobshuur (inner Mongolia), mandolin (Spain), phin (Thailand) and banjo. The sheer musical diversity again won the day, along with two memorable improvisational rounds with cumulative instrumental build-up over an initial melody.
The last jam was the most spectacular, with almost 20 percussionists on stage from around the world: Spain, Malaysia, Venezuela, Korea, Hungary, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Cape Verde. The instruments ranged from the deceptively simple ferrinho (iron scraper) to the larger jangu drum from Korea. The lead percussionist from the Sarawak Cultural Village troupe superbly anchored the jam, from low rumble to thunderous crescendo in successive waves, drawing the audience to their feet clamouring for another hypnotic encore.
Many of the featured bands drew loud applause for their 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 for the jam sessions. Even though many of them did not speak a common language, music showed its universal nature as these artistes jammed with joy with others from around the world in the afternoon workshops. We look forward to the 2018 edition of RWMF already, and its unbeatable combination of workshops and jams!
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Written and photographed by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ, World Music and Jazz;
Bangalore Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com .