Rainforest World Music Festival = PICK OF THE MONTH!

Traditional Sape (Orang Ulu guitar), gongs and bamboo harps mingle with the ancient oud (an ancient string instrument). A thousand harmonies seemingly at odds and yet in unison, a world apart but here, one world, together… We were there last year – and would recommend it to anyone with a pulse! Festival-goers will soon be flocking to the mythical land of Sarawak, Borneo in their thousands as the 16th Rainforest World Music Festival prepares to unleash yet another dazzling spectacle.

Read our blog from last year’s Rainforest World Music Festival!

Courtesy of some of the most renowned performers from all over the globe, an array of daytime music workshops, jamming sessions, and action-packed nightly shows will set the scene at the gorgeous 17-acre Sarawak Cultural Village, just 35km outside of Kuching, and a stone’s throw away from the quiet beach resort area of the Santubong Peninsula. Three days beginning at 2pm with workshops and lectures – and three nights crammed with concert after concert on the main stage, by the lake, under the open sky. What better place can you think of to listen to resounding world beats?! With its central lake, abundant flora, landscaped walkways, and surrounded by thick jungle and the legendary Mount Santubong, this is seriously one of the most breathtaking festival settings in the world!

Rainforest World Music Festival

It’s none too shabby from a music perspective, either. The RWMF has been voted one of the Top 25 Best International Festivals by world music magazine Songlines for the 4th year running. Looking at this year’s line-up, it’s clear why… artists from Austria, France, Denmark, Ireland; Croatia, Iran, Australia, USA; Indonesia, Colombia, Malaysia, Ukraine…

There’ll also be a big traditional representation from Sarawak itself – from huge log drums and gongs to all kinds of innovative bamboo instruments, including the haunting sape, the boat-shaped lute. Add to this a smattering of Native Chanting and the talents of Shangyin Chinese Chamber Music Ensemble, and you should be getting a picture why this festival alone has put Sarawak smack bang on the world tourist map! An annual communion whose spirit is ‘as timeless as our intricate ecosystem’, the Rainforest World Music Festival has thrived on a winning formula since its launch.

Dance to the rhythms of the rainforest, chill out under the canopies of the trees; drink, dine – then pick it up again at the Tree Stage ‘til late. And if it’s anything like the one we experienced last year, then don’t miss the epic finale! All the performers playing onstage as one as the crowds danced unabashed and whooping… We want more!

Bali Arts Festival – Bali, Indonesia

  • Taking place over an entire month from mid June to mid July, the Bali Arts Festival is a unique extravaganza of arts, music, dance and history celebrating passion and pride in Balinese culture. Amongst other performances, famous masked dances originating from tribal villages are showcased and ancient classic stories retold. There’s a vibrant atmosphere all across the island as celebrations are enjoyed by locals and travellers alike. For first time travellers to Bali, it’s a fantastic introduction to the rich heritage of the spirited destination.

Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival – Laos and North Eastern Thailand

  • Taking place over two days, with plenty eating, drinking and dancing thrown in, the Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival is one of the most enjoyable (and noisiest!) events in Laos. Villages all across the country gather to create huge rockets made out of bamboo, decorate and paint them bright colours and stuff them with large quantities of gunpowder ready for the big launch! As they are fired into the skies, onlookers watch to see which rocket reaches the greatest height. The owner of the highest fired rocket receives prestige and status amongst the group and woe betide those who fire a dud! The festival is held at the beginning of May, in conjunction with the beginning of the rainy season in Laos. Since ancient times it has been performed by all those working on the land to request rain from the ‘Phaya Thaen’ or the ‘Rain God’ to pray for plentiful rice production for that year.

Gawai Dayak Festival – Sarawak, Malaysia

  • Gawai is a religious and social festival held every June in the longhouses of lowland tribes in Sarawak to celebrate the New Year and harvest. In local language, Gawai means a ritual or festival, while Dayak is the name for the native ethnic groups of Sarawak. During this important time, families get together for unique celebrations which last a couple of days, with weddings often taking place as it’s one of the few times of year that the community is at home in their ancestral longhouse dwelling. If you happen to be travelling around exotic Sarawak during this Gawai Dayak, it’s a jolly good idea to get friendly with the locals, as no doubt you’ll be invited into the homes of the friendly tribal people to share with them this sacred festival, and spending the night in the jungle as the locals celebrate this exciting time is an experience like no other. Feasts, songs around the fire, ancient tribal stories, animal sacrifice, and lots of betel nut chewing and drinking of the deadly local liquor, Borak, are to be expected! Bruce Parry eat yer heart out! (By the way if you make it to this event, we’d love to hear about your experience, so please write in and tell us more!)

Phi Ta Khon Festival – Dan Sai district, Loei province, Thailand

  • In Thailand, spirituality is never far away, but it perhaps comes closest with this ghostly festival, unique to the Isaan culture of North Eastern Thailand. (About 450km North of Bangkok.) Similar to the Western Halloween, locals don eerie spirit masks and wear phantom costumes and strange hats, while children play tricks in the street. The festival commemorates an old Buddhist tale, when villagers hold a celebration for the return of their Prince from banishment. It is said that they made so much noise that the dead are awakened from their graves and came out to party! Musical processions pack the streets and rockets fill the sky for three days. On the last day, the villagers meet at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the the monks recite the message of Lord Buddha.

George Town Festival – Penang, Malaysia

  • George Town Festival (GTF) is a month-long celebration of art, music, theatre, dance, opera and film to commemorate George Town’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage listing on 7 July, 2008. Each year since 2009, GTF transforms George Town Penang into an exciting and unique platform for the arts, heritage and culture.  This year month-long fiesta will happen on June 7 – July 7, showing creative local talents and internationally acclaimed performances of art, theatre, music, dance, opera and film screenings. Check out their website for more information.

Singapore Arts Festival – Singapore

  • Boasting over 75 dance, music, opera and circus performances from all over the world, it’s no wonder this annual month-long festival is considered the ultimate performing arts festival in Singapore. Edgy, experimental and innovative performances from vastly diverse cultures are bound to have something to appeal to audiences of all ages and interests. As well as headliner performances from internationally renowned artists and troupes, Singapore becomes lit up by outdoor, late-night and children’s shows spread throughout the city for three weeks (with estimated dates for 2014 between June16-July 6). Coinciding with the festival will be the Singapore Street Festival, a national youth event held from June 13-July 6. Budding young artists and performers will enhance the month’s festivities with their engaging and extraordinary talents, including parkour, street graffiti, yo-yo competitions, magic shows, belly dancing, J-rock, rap and urban football. Warning: May walk away with mild feelings of inadequacy (tweens who can free-run across buildings are apparently a thing now. Yep.)

Rath-Yatra – Puri, India

  • Rath-Yatra, or ‘chariot festival’, is a sacred Hindu celebration that occurs across India throughout the month of Ashada (June-July). Essentially, a grand procession takes place in which giant statues of three important deities, Lord Jagannatha (Vishnu), Subhadra and Balabhadra, are towed in a grand procession atop huge, specially made chariots (Rathas). The Puri Ratha Yatra is probably the most famous parade of all, due to the perilously colossal crowd of committed followers it attracts each year. Devotees from far and wide routinely risk their lives in a desperate attempt to simply touch the sacred rope used to pull the chariots along. Many have been crushed if not by the suffocating crowds then by the enormous carriage wheels. In fact, so ominous is the chariot containing the mighty Lord Jagannatha that it spawned the English word ‘juggernaut’, meaning ‘a powerful, unstoppable force’. Don’t let that scare you off though – by no means is it necessary (nor advised) to plant yourself in the centre of all that fearless piety. View the colourful chaos at a distance with the majority of onlookers and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacle that is equal parts titillating and humbling.

Duan-wu Dragon Boat Festival – Hunan Province, China

  • For many of us, the idea of dragon boat racing evokes memories of light-hearted college competitions and weekend water sports. The annual Duan-wu Dragon Boat Festival, however, is no place for child’s play. Occurring on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (falling on June 2 in 2014), this ancient tradition has escalated throughout the centuries to become a giant, highly entertaining exhibit of fierce competition, loads of drinking and never-ending dumpling-eating. Though the festival occurs throughout South East Asia, head to the Hunan Province of China, where the beautifully decorated boats are a draw card within themselves, while local wine flows throughout the day and celebrations run late into the night, including spectacular displays of fireworks and traditional Chinese dancing. Stake out a spot along the Mi Lo and Yangtze rivers for the best vantage points and rest up your vocal chords the night before – you’re going to need them! 

Sanno Matsuri  Festival – Tokyo, Japan

  • The Sanno Matsuri Festival is one of the three most famous festivals of Tokyo, occurring in mid-June on even numbered years. Consequently, the festival will be held in 2014 on June 14. The week-long festival hosts a variety of traditional events that are mostly centred around Hie Shrine (which houses the guardian deity of Tokyo), including Shinto music, tea ceremonies and dance performances. The festival’s main attraction though is the vibrant parade, which begins and ends at Hie Shrine, winding its way through almost 20 kilometres of central Tokyo and generally lasting about nine hours. Onlookers will be cheerily saluted by goulish goblins, traditional horsemen and all manner of legendary costumed characters hauling ornately painted golden shrines, spurred on by rumbling Japanese drums that echo throughout the city.

Coffee, Tea and Desserts Festival Asia – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  • Are you the kind of person who can’t function without your morning cuppa? Does your sweet tooth guide you far and wide just for a taste of one local sugary specialty? If so, it’s about time you paid your respects to the gods of caffeine and cake at Malaysia’s inaugural Coffee, Tea and Desserts Festival. They may not be up there with Shiva and Vishnu, but the baristas and bakers who’ll be present at this event are about as close to the deities of desserts that you can get. Designed to celebrate the tea and coffee drinking culture that’s vastly booming in Malaysia (and hey, who doesn’t love accompanying sweets?), the three-day festival (June 6-8 2014), will offer a range of free activities, including baking classes and demonstrations by professional chefs, a ‘Battle of Baristas’, a latte art competition, coffee and tea information talks, live music, roving entertainment and – the best part of all – free tea, coffee and dessert tastings. All day. Sdfhvklll….sorry, just drooling on my keyboard a little over here…

Seoul Fringe Festival- Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea

  • The Seoul Fringe Festival is without a doubt the city’s most all-encompassing annual arts festival, with a central aim of granting any artist – amateur or professional, musical, visual or otherwise – an opportunity and physical space in which they can freely present their work to the public with zero boundaries. As a result, for two weeks beginning late August, the city of Hongdae explodes into a wide-scale creative affair. Cafes, clubs, galleries, and pretty much any spaces available (not restricting outdoors) offer themselves up as hosts to a diverse range of live dance, musical and theatrical performance, photography, video and fine arts, transforming the city into an ephemeral cultural mecca, simultaneously allowing independent artists a platform from which to launch their talents. Don’t assume for a second that its proudly inclusive nature inevitably equates to a lowered standard in quality though – any one of the impressive works showcased across the festival could easy qualify for a place within even the most prestigious contemporary art gallery.

Updated on June 5th, 2014 by ambassador Greta Jessie Kite-Gilmour