SARAWAK IN EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL
MYSTICAL CHANTS OF THE RAINFOREST
THE SOUNDS OF SARAWAK HAVE been heard for the first time at the world-renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, playing to appreciative audiences as part of a packed official Fringe programme and to large crowds on the streets of Edinburgh as part of the busking programme. Visitors to the show came from across the world, including the UK, Poland, Colombia, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Argentina, Korea, China, India, and USA as well as many Malaysians based in the UK looking for a taste of home. With 856,541 tickets sold this year in the largest Edinburgh Fringe ever recorded, the Sarawak contingent delivered a truly meaningful performance that audience members described as mes-merizing, moving, informative and inspiring.
In a show entitled Sarawak: Mystical Chants of the Rainforest, the performance wove a story, eloquently narrated by Karen Shepherd, of Sarawak’s ancient indigenous culture and cosmology in which master weaver Helen Manjan anak Atong of Rumah Garie in Kapit performed her Sanggai, an ode to the weaver of such skill that she has the power to transform anything into thread, to the accompaniment of Borneo instruments, notably the keluri and the nose flute, from At Adau, and a backdrop of stunning visuals of Sarawak landscapes and scenes with amazing wildlife images by award winning photographer Chien C. Lee, compiled by John Paul Davies. Then Sarawak’s own band, fresh from their triumph at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, wowed the crowd with their chanting, dance and traditional tunes, bringing the melodies of the rainforest to the summer chill of the Edinburgh stage, before the audience were able to enjoy classic Sarawak snacks and a shot of tuak to the sound of the Ooh ha!
At Adau later took to the streets of Edinburgh town in three exciting busking sets at the Mercat stage, sharing their contemporary Borneo sound with the diverse passing crowds who clapped and danced and wondered aloud where these performers had come from! Perhaps most touching, however, was the private CSR programme in which the band performed for residents at a local nursing home, bringing happiness to some of Edinburgh’s elderly in a show that was still being talked about the following day.
The response was overwhelming with at least one group visiting the show twice and many more attending the morning performance after being inspired by the busking. The show was described by one audience member as the best they had seen that year and another who attended on the final day wished openly that she had discovered the show earlier. A video of the show will now form part of the permanent archive of Edinburgh Fringe events and, in fact, the pua kumbu and loom created by master weaver Helen will now be added to the collection of the Scottish National Museum.
With over 3,800 performers, the Edinburgh Fringe is one of the biggest celebrations of arts and culture world-wide, drawing 1,000 of the world’s media who describe it as one of the UK’s number one unmissable travel destinations. The performers and organisers were all truly proud and humbled by the opportunity to bring a touch of Sarawak to the world at this festival and the world to Sarawak.
The entire programme was curated by Marian Chin of KINO magazine and sponsored and supported by the Sarawak Tourism Board.