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.