I think I first fell in love with the Rainforest World Music Festival when the band Djeli Moussa Conde from Guinea started playing.
I must admit, I hadn’t heard about the Rainforest World Music Festival till I was invited to attend it. But that’s mostly because I’m not too hyped about music festivals, not because I don’t like music, but for one simple reason – crowds.
I have apprehensions when it comes to crowded events, especially when I envision them to be the pushy-shoving kind. But when I looked it up, the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) 2018 looked so interesting that I couldn’t wait to see what it was like.
On the first day of the festival, we arrived sporting the funky festival t-shirts and a colourful purple entry band. I was mostly excited but still a little apprehensive. Especially having heard of the number of people that turn up for this event (in the 20,000s). I was not sure I would have the best time.
I was completely, and utterly mistaken – because I had a blast!
Let’s start at the beginning…
Our journey to the Rainforest World Music Festival started from Kuching, the city of cats. Kuching is the capital of the State of Sarawak in Malaysia where this music festival is held annually. The venue, however, is roughly an hour’s drive from the city. On the first day, we arrived in the evening. After collecting our bands for the day (purple) from the media centre in Damai Beach Resort, we first did what everyone simply has to do – take multiple photos and boomerangs of all of us in the official festival t-shirts, showing off our bands. It’s a ritual of the Age of Social Media.
All aboard for the event…
After completing our photo shenanigans, we took the barely 5-minute journey from Damai Resort to the main venue in a mini-van. We first made a beeline for dinner because it was rather late, and the dinner place would close soon. After a good Malaysian meal and some fresh juice to wash it down, we had about 2 hours to see Day 1 of the event before our van would pick us up to take us back to our hotel in Kuching. We had the option to stay longer, but then we would have to ditch our cosy pick-up van and stand in line for the shuttle service, which ran on a first come, first serve basis. We didn’t feel up to that especially after looking at the line which resembled a long, curvy, bored-looking anaconda.
The conundrum of deciding where to go…
After dinner, we started walking around, not sure where to head first because the festival venue – the Sarawak Cultural Village – is HUGE. There’s something happening pretty much in every corner. But evenings are when the best performances are slated to begin, and so we followed the crowd to the amphitheatre.
Starting from the centre of it all…
The amphitheatre is pretty much central to the event venue. And the place where most of the music performances are staged. It’s a large open area surrounded by concrete seating, a huge main stage called the Jungle Stage, a Tree Stage to one side (on the right-hand side of the audience) and several other smaller stages. The pathways to all the other venues within the giant event venue all lead to and from the amphitheatre.
First time soaking it in…
When I reached there with my friends it was dark, not the pitch-black kind, but the kind where you know if you wander more than a few feet you’d have to squint heavily to try and find your friends – and hopefully not put your arm around a stranger.
The little light that was available came from the stage. It just amped up that festive atmosphere. The crowds while huge, don’t stick to you or jostle you, so I was starting to feel at ease (I made a comfy space for myself at the back). There was a traditional performance taking place on the Jungle Stage and the people performing were talented. But we must have reached when their show was close to an end.
And then it happened…
The Jungle Stage soon dimmed, the performers took their exit. Then an announcement was made asking the audience to direct their attention to the Tree stage. The spotlights came on and thus Djeli Moussa Conde began performing.
Thus, my love story with this festival began…
I had never heard of the band before, but I loved them from the moment they started playing. And I wasn’t the only one. The energy in the air was suddenly so palpable you could taste it. With the combined power of the fast beats of the drum, the unparalleled energy of their flautist, and the spellbinding vocalist, everyone started dancing. The cameras moved around to capture the ecstatic state of the audience which was being projected live on the screen in between close-ups of the band.
Being in the moment…
It was just one of those moments when you stop thinking about anything else. You just move with the music. You smile because you’re so pumped, so happy. The vibe is amazing. And in a weird sense, while it was energetic, it was also calming. I forgot about the crowds. I for once felt one with them. Revelling in the joy of the music. And that’s something that music is great for – it binds you. Even after their performance ended, I was riding on the high.
Moving on with my exploration…
I then decided to explore the rest of the venue. Since most of the crowds were concentrated on the performances, once you move away from the amphitheatre you are surrounded by calm and quiet. This contrast was just perfect for me. I like doses of quiet in between chaos. I loved how the Rainforest World Music Festival provided the best of both worlds.
Walking down a bridge, I could see the small river that makes its way through Sarawak Cultural Village. It was dark, so the river appeared black except for the ripples of light that reflected off it. The sounds of the festival were distant. Background noise. Almost negligible. There were lighted tents on all sides of the stream. I could see smoke coming from the food tents. Smell the faint fragrance of grilled meats. It felt nice to not do anything, but just soak it all in.
The trance of the mandalas…
I stopped halfway down the bridge. A display of gorgeous mandalas had caught my eye. There were several of them, huge and intricate in their designs, tied together between two trees. Colourful strobe lights were placed in front of the mandalas, turning them into a fusion of different colours in the night. It was almost magical. And it looked like it would serve as a perfect backdrop for photos. I watched people pose in front of it, I posed myself. But at most it gives you a silhouette effect as you are against the light. It was fun nonetheless.
I realised I had only a few minutes before I had to meet up with the rest of my group at the entrance. I continued down my path, noting the various stalls I would visit later. Happy in the thought that I had two more days of this gorgeous festival to visit and take it all in.
The next day we decided to make a whole day of it, reaching the festival by early noon. Funnily enough for us, the day was gorgeous with clear blue skies, a bright and sunny day. It was funny because it usually rains when the music festival is held, and that’s half the charm. One of our companions, who was from Malaysia told us how the festival attendees are usually drenched in rain – and mud. It sounded like fun – but also messy. I was in two minds about whether we were lucky to be blessed with great weather or if we missed our chance at witnessing the authentic experience of the rainforest world music festival.
So many things, so little time…
When we got there, this time sporting orange entry bands, the second day had us wondering what to do. To clarify, the rainforest world music festival isn’t just about music. There are workshops, food stalls, unique souvenir shops to visit, you could even take short music and dance lessons, listen to talks on interesting subjects, there were movie screenings to choose from – it was mind-boggling. We wanted to do everything. Unfortunately, I wasn’t Multiple Man from X-men and couldn’t be in more places than one.
But there was one performance I was keen on seeing – the Jewels of Rajasthan – a fusion show by musicians from the Bhungar Khan Company. However, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Bidayuh Terrace, one of the longhouses (traditional houses of the tribes of Sarawak, Bidayuh is one such tribe) happened to be the venue. It was way smaller than the amphitheatre, and the capacity was slightly limited – and it was already packed.
Pushing through crowds is not my strong suit – as already declared multiple times. I couldn’t see the performers at all. But that didn’t really matter because I could hear them. And they were amazing! It’s a rather basic adjective to use for it – it doesn’t quite do the performance justice. The crowd was clapping and cheering, and the air had such a positive feeling. Unfortunately, the air was also hot. I sneakily made my way to a large fan and moved not so subtly in the direction it kept turning. When the performance ended, the disappointment was evident on everybody’s face. But the best part about the festival was that there was always something else to look forward to.
Distant drums and belly dancing…
I then proceeded to the beachside venue where we witnessed a drum circle. It was too crowded to get close so we just soaked in the beats in the bylines. We did get to witness a humongous scorpion. And it was right next to where I had been standing, till security personnel dealt with it.
Post all this excitement, I attended a belly dancing workshop in Dewan Lagenda, a hall right next to the amphitheatre. The turnout was huge, and it was so much fun!
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"Always perform with a smile." The Belly dance workshop was a lot of fun. There was a huge crowd, practically the whole area was filled with enthusiastic first time belly dancing attempters. The session held by Helen Kim and Kenny Chan of Right Steps had the audience smiling throughout the workshop. Click on our #rwmf2018 highlights to see the video of happy participants. . . #follow us for more updates on #rwmf . . Visit and follow our series #HumansOfRwmf to see more interesting people from one of the biggest music festivals in Malaysia. . . . . @malaysia.truly.asia @sarawaktravel @rwmf.official . . . #music #musicfestival #musically #musician #musiclovers #musicfest #rainforest #thisissarawak #toknyasarawak #TravelDotEarth #passportready #wanderlust #travel #travelphotography #worldcaptures #photographer #travelpics #photographysouls #traveltheworld #traveller #instatravel #traveldeeper #instapassport #aroundtheworld #worldplaces
The Amphitheatre at daytime…
In the daytime, there are no music performances at the amphitheatre. People just chill there or catch seats early for the evening shows. We stopped here for a while after the belly dancing lesson and saw people doing some amazing stunts with a flagpole several meters long. I also tried balancing it on my arm without having quite the clue what I was doing. Being at RWMF makes you feel like you are an active part of everything that is happening around you.
The Music goes on…
Saturday evening is the time to get your best music game on! Day two of the event is on a Saturday and Saturdays are when you get the maximum crowd and you get to see the best performances. It was quite a proud moment for me that the Raghu Dixit Project was playing during the prime slot this day on the Jungle Stage at the amphitheatre. The crowd was significantly larger than the previous day and he had the audience enthralled.
The best part about being in a Raghu Dixit concert is that he engages with the audience. He had them singing lines in Kannada, he had them hooting, clapping, cheering. The audience couldn’t get enough of it. It was a perfect performance to attend on a Saturday evening.
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There are times when you don't really need a caption. The expression of the audience says it all. @raghudixit11 was absolutely amazing and easily one of the best performances at #rwmf2018 (we are not biased, just look at the audience) . #HumansOfRwmf . . . We're here at the event. #follow us for updates. Comment below for questions on #rwmf . . @rwmf.official @malaysia.truly.asia @sarawaktravel . . . #music #musicfestival #musically #musician #musiclovers #musicfest #rainforest #thisissarawak #toknyasarawak #TravelDotEarth #passportready #wanderlust #travel #travelphotography #worldcaptures #photographer #travelpics #photographysouls #traveltheworld #traveller #instatravel #traveldeeper #instapassport #aroundtheworld #worldplaces
The stall I would be back for…
After his performance, I decided to check out the stalls before we had to go back and catch our van again. I visited a rather interesting souvenir store, I personally found their story so appealing I’m going to write about it next (coming soon, stay tuned!).
After an initial conversation with them, which lasted much longer than I would have thought I had to race like Cinderella (My ‘chariot’ wasn’t going turn into a pumpkin, but it would probably go back to the city without me). I promised them I would come back the next day to speak to them in detail about their project.
The wonderful people at the Rainforest World Music Festival…
Before I wrap up day two, let’s talk about people. People play a very important part in making something memorable. I believe that to visit a place it is also important to know what the people are like. What draws the crowds in? What are the natives and locals like? People are a very huge part of why we visit places. The reason why we sometimes want to go back or don’t want to go back. Sometimes the place might be amazing, but people might put you off. The people at the Rainforest World Music Festival did no such thing.
On the second day, my friend and I embarked on the project of showcasing the people who attended or were in some way a part of the festival. We totally stole the idea from Humans of New York and called our series the ‘Humans of RWMF’.
This way, I had the opportunity to meet some very diverse and extremely interesting folks. Here’s a peek from our Instagram feed featuring some of the lovely people at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2018!
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We are doing a series called #HumansOfRwmf for the next two days of the festival. #follow us to meet some interest folks from around the world who have gathered here for the love of music. First up! "We are called the Malay Boys!" A title fondly bestowed on them by the locals, meet the non-malay 'Malay Boys' of #rwmf2018 who have come to attend the festival all the way from Belgium. Recently graduated med students they were looking for interesting things to do in Malaysia and stumbled upon #rwmf and they immediately booked their tickets to attend one of the biggest music festivals in Malaysia. They bought their snazzy outfits and hats from India Town in Kuching and are flaunting it with absolute panache. @rwmf.official @sarawaktravel @malaysia.truly.asia . . . . #passportready #wanderlust #travel #travelphotography #worldcaptures #photographer #travelpics #photographysouls #traveltheworld #traveller #instatravel #traveldeeper #instapassport #aroundtheworld #worldplaces #music #musicfestival #musically #musician #musiclovers #musicfest #rainforest #thisissarawak #toknyasarawak #TravelDotEarth
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"We are locals and we have been attending this festival since we were 6 or 7 years old. So you can say we grew up with it and it is a huge part of our lives. And it also shows how kid-friendly or family friendly it is. It is a festival for everyone." #HumansOfRwmf . . . . @rwmf.official @malaysia.truly.asia @sarawaktravel . . . #music #musicfestival #musically #musician #musiclovers #musicfest #rainforest #thisissarawak #toknyasarawak #TravelDotEarth #rwmf2018 #rwmf
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"We're Americans but we were born and raised in Indonesia because our parents are missionaries. I was born in Borneo and she was born in Java. This is our first time at the music festival despite having lived around here. We're camping here and the festival is a lot of fun. But it can get really hot inside the tents and there are only 3 bathrooms for girls who are camping." #HumansOfRwmf . . #follow us for more interesting stories and updates from #rwmf2018 . . @malaysia.truly.asia @rwmf.official @sarawaktravel . . #music #musicfestival #musically #musician #musiclovers #musicfest #rainforest #thisissarawak #toknyasarawak #rwmf #TravelDotEarth #passportready #wanderlust #travel #travelphotography #worldcaptures #photographer #travelpics #photographysouls #traveltheworld #traveller #instatravel #traveldeeper #instapassport #aroundtheworld #worldplaces
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"I've been coming to this festival for 9 years, since I was 14 years old. So this year I decided to volunteer. It's such a nice experience, we work in shifts so we get to enjoy the festival as well. On Friday and Saturday I attended the festival, today I am on duty." #HumansOfRwmf . . . @malaysia.truly.asia @rwmf.official @sarawaktravel . . . #rwmf2018 #rwmf #music #musicfestival #musically #musician #musiclovers #musicfest #rainforest #thisissarawak #toknyasarawak #TravelDotEarth #passportready #wanderlust #travel #travelphotography #worldcaptures #photographer #travelpics #photographysouls #traveltheworld #traveller #instatravel #traveldeeper #instapassport #aroundtheworld #worldplaces
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"I am an artist, I make sculptures. But I'm trying to reinvent my art. The festival is giving me a lot of inspiration." #HumansOfRwmf . . . #rwmf2018 got over yesterday but we are still feeling the vibe from it and we have a lot to share. #follow us for info because the festival will be back next year! Comment below if you have questions. Visit travel.earth for upcoming articles on Sarawak, Malaysia and #rwmf. Link in bio. . . . @rwmf.official @malaysia.truly.asia @sarawaktravel . . . #music #musicfestival #musically #musician #musiclovers #musicfest #rainforest #thisissarawak #toknyasarawak #TravelDotEarth #passportready #wanderlust #travel #travelphotography #worldcaptures #photographer #travelpics #photographysouls #traveltheworld #traveller #instatravel #traveldeeper #instapassport #aroundtheworld #worldplaces
The third day started out only much later in the evening. Sundays are when things slowly start ebbing down. The venue is more peaceful, with lesser crowds. This time we were sporting bright blue entry bands.
I spent my last evening going back and forth between the souvenir store – where I got my story and a few gifts for my best friends and myself – and the tattoo venue where rather impulsively I decided to get my second tattoo! I thought it was a great way to commemorate my visit to yet another gorgeous part of Malaysia. And it will always be a memory of the Rainforest World Music Festival 🙂
When it was time to leave, I walked away from the festival with a new tattoo, some interesting gifts, an amazing time, a smile on my face and lots and lots of memories. Maybe I will get to visit again – and maybe next time I’ll get to dance in the rain!
FAQs for Rainforest World Music Festival
What is the Rainforest World Music Festival all about?
The year 2018 witnessed the 21st Edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival. This event has been taking place annually since 1998. It is an initiative by the Sarawak Tourism Board to showcase their gorgeous land and unique culture.
Since its inception, RWMF has been expanding to include performances by world-renowned artists from across the globe as well as local artists from the interiors of Borneo. This is interspersed with several interesting mini-sessions and workshops. The festival also includes food, drinks, sessions on wellness, classes on Zumba, belly dancing, fitness, yoga, music lessons and the list goes on.
The best part about this festival is that they improvise every year based on what their audiences enjoyed the previous year. There will always be something familiar to go back to, and something new to enjoy.
Where is RWMF held?
The Rainforest World Music Festival is held in Sarawak Cultural Village, an award-winning living museum. It is located 35 km from Kuching, the capital of the State of Sarawak in East Malaysia. The beautiful venue is not only tucked away under the foothills of Mount Santubong and surrounded rainforests but is also a hop-skip-jump away from the sea. You can get the best of both worlds here.
When is RWMF held?
The Rainforest World Music Festival is typically held around the same time every year, in July. The dates for 2019 are 12-14 July.
Is it safe?
RWMF is extremely safe! The event has round-the-clock security and is extremely well managed. They ensure crowd control. They also control the limit of attendees by not letting people exceed the capacity of the venue. This way people will always enjoy and have their breathing space.
How do I get there?
Sarawak Cultural Village is 35 km away from Kuching, about 45 min to 1-hour drive. There are shuttle buses available for free for attendees of the festival (ensure you have your band or ticket) to the city and back. However, there are rather long lines for the shuttle.
Those staying at Damai Beach Resort will be at walking distance from the venue (and there are mini-vans shuttling to and from the resort to the venue).
You can also opt to camp it out at the venue itself by booking tents.
Grab Taxis – Malaysia’s version of Uber, are also an option. Just download the app and you’re good to go.
How much does it cost?
There are early bird sales, pre-sales and door sales. These are in order of least expensive to most expensive. You can also opt for a 1-day pass or a 3-day pass. A peek of 2018’s prices is given below.
What does my ticket include?
Your ticket allows you entry into the venue and you can visit and access any of the shows, performances, sessions and workshops. You can enter and exit multiple times during the day, as long as you have your entry band.
Food, drinks, purchase of souvenirs and other items on sale are not inclusive.
Why do the bands have different colours? And why are they not given together on the day of registration?
People can book tickets for the entire event or for just a single day – the different coloured bands for each day help avoid confusion. The bands also need to be picked up just before entering the venue so that there are no chances of people losing them or selling/exchanging them.
The colours are different every year so that there is a distinction. People can opt to keep them as memorabilia.
How many people attend RWMF?
In the past few years, RWMF has seen attendees in the 20,000s, the highest being around 24,000 for a total of three days. The venue is crowd controlled and only around 8000 people are allowed per day to avoid over-crowding and any resulting chaos.
What can you do there?
- You can sing along and dance to the various performances.
- Walk around and sample some amazing food and drinks.
- Go kayaking on the river.
- Shop for souvenirs.
- Attend interesting sessions on varied topics like wellness, stress relief etc.
- You can be a part of the music, dance, fitness, yoga, bead making, mandala making, arts and crafts and other interesting workshops.
- Watch special movie screenings.
- Witness some amazing fusion performances.
- You can also get a tattoo, or your hair styled and braided.
- There are also separate sessions just for kids!
These are just examples, there are lots of things happening all around – sometimes it gets difficult to choose!
How long has this event been happening?
The Rainforest World Music Festival started in 1998 and has been religiously held every single year since. The 21st edition of this festival was hosted in 2018.
Why should we attend it?
The vibe of the place is amazing. It is a festival for everyone – regardless of age, gender, nationality – everybody has a great time. With the variety of things you can do and see here, it is total value for money.
Is it friendly for families and children?
Yes, absolutely! We’ve witnessed children as small as 3 or 4 having the time of their lives. Do keep an eye on your kids though, they might get lost in the excitement ?
What facilities do you have at the venue?
There are bathroom facilities available all through the venue. There are helpful signs all around to locate different areas. You are not allowed to carry outside food and drinks, but there is plenty available at the venue (to be paid for separately).
If you have any more questions that I have missed out on answering, please leave a comment and I would happy to get back to you. You can also visit RWMF’s official website or their official Instagram page for information.
Meanwhile, if you did not believe anything I said, watch this video to get a feel for the festival.