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RAINFOREST: DIFFERENT, BUT THE MAGIC REMAINS

RAINFOREST FESTIVAL 2015;

Progress is a ‘terribly’ good thing.   It is never a straight line forward into the future  -  for  every  new  iPhone  or educational opportunity gained, there is  an  age-old  tool  or  traditional wisdom consigned to history. This is the burden that has to be borne by the organisers of any big event – the Rainforest  Music  Festival  is  no exception.   Every  year  there  is  the pressure  to  be  bigger  and  better, louder and faster than the last and so a wracking of brains over what needs to be improved begins as each festival ends.  Changes  are  implemented  in the hopes of streamlining the service, enlivening the line up and, let’s face it, upping  the  takings.    Yet,  criticisms always remain – Rainforest is not what is used to be!

Frankly, it isn’t. It has exploded from a mini-meeting  of  a  handful  of  local residents  to  the  mega  event  it  is today, listed by Songlines magazine as one of the best 25 festivals in the world  and  regularly  bringing  in  a crowd of over 20,000. But, with each additional  guest  has grown an additional  cog  in  the  commercial mechanism that runs it. Gone are the days when you could drive up to the gates and stroll in with your tapau and your rotan mat to hear the sape under the stars. Now, tickets are dear, the shuttle  buses  ply  their  trade  at exorbitant  rates  and the hotel packages  are  eye-watering.  The festival  may  have  lost  some  of  its chaotic charm but it is an increasingly well-oiled machine.

However, the French have a saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose  (or  in  translation:  the  more things change, the more they remain the  same).  The  Rainforest  Music Festival  is  again  no  exception.  Whatever  the changes,  that  old Rainforest magic remains. Nestled at the foot of  mystical  Mount Santubong, the stage gleaming green from the bank of trees behind, there really  is  nothing  like  it.  As  you meander around the  wooden walkways, catching the odd glimpse of the big screen where drums are bashed, strings are plucked and horns are blown, nothing can dampen the atmosphere, even a downpour.

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s all about  the  music.  There  are  always murmurings  –  one  moment  not enough local acts, the next there are too  many;  too  popular  and  then suddenly too obscure.  Actually, over three days of music with 23 acts from 5 continents, you would need to be a real  curmudgeon  to  not  find something you like and a real optimist to expect to like everything.  Besides, where else in Kuching or even in the whole  of  Borneo, can  you  hear everything from the haunting lilt of the Highlands right down to the mad melodies of the Maldives, the ‘kecak kecak’ of Bali to the throat hum of Mongolia?  In  fact,  for  many,  the workshops  are  the  real  highlight, where you can hear the blending of all these elements up close and personal. 

In fact, the performers seem to enjoy the festival as much as the punters, jamming  with  musical  abandon.  Some groups are new, some are old favourites – Shooglenifty, for example were  on  their  fourth  visit  and  as energetic as  ever.  The  performers stomp,  they  ululate,  they undulate and they yodel. The Congolese shook it like a Polaroid picture.

So, as the plans for next year begin again, expect more changes – that is the  fundamental  nature  of  things. The decision  is  yours  whether  to mourn the losses or celebrate the progress.  Either way, the Rainforest World  Music Festival  is  likely  to carry  on  regardless.  Rainforest might have lost its soul, but it has found its voice.  

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