FROM a humble beginning and now into its 14th year, our very own local tourism product, the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF), is now in its adolescent stage and fast gaining global recognition.
Conceived and incepted during the global meltdown amidst the worst haze ever engulfed the state in 1997, RWMF started off as a small music festival celebrated around the main lake at the Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV).
The then Minister of Tourism Tan Sri Dr James Masing said the initial three years of the festival was a simple gathering of local and foreign musicians.
“In the first three years of RWMF, most of the audience were seating on plastic chairs around the lake (at SCV), listening to the sound of tribal music from around the world,” Masing told The Borneo Post.
He said he dared to venture into his ‘new baby’ after he was inspired by a Canadian musician.
“Then I approached our Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud for an initial allocation of RM250,000 to kick-start the festival.
“He asked me whether I could guarantee its success, but I replied, sir, I can’t guarantee you its success, but I can guarantee you that it will not be successful if we don’t start it,” he reminiscenced.
For now, Masing who is an anthropologist by training, hoped that the festival would be well managed so that it will continue to bring both revenue and good music.
He also dismissed the idea for any change in the genre of music for the festival as any of such attempts would defeat its very purpose and objective.
“Ours is focus on ethnic and cultural music. We should maintain the present genre and not go pop. Otherwise we will kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he warned.
It should now be managing success as anything less would not do justice to pioneers who have slogged it out and toiled all these years.
A Canadian performer said that the RWMF has now reached world standard especially those who managed it.
“I am astonished to find out that this RWMF is indeed of world class, especially on overall management, sound system, lightings and the presentation of musicians,” he said.
He disclosed that in Canada, the Montreal Music Festival could attract some two million people annually.
“So don’t worry, you are in the right track. It will take some time to grow. Yours is only 14 years old, so let it be that way. Just manage it well,” he advised.
As for a local visitor, she had expected the festival to be a flop as there were so many stories and bad experiences from her friends.
“But to my surprise, I had a great time as the concert provided relaxing atmosphere where many just danced to the tunes of the music. And to the vast majority, they just sat down and enjoy good music from all over the world,” she said.
The RWMF is expected to reach world class standard in the next five years, assured Minister of Tourism and Heritage Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.
He said this is based on the amount of money to be invested in the infrastructure at SCV as the main venue as well as improvement of logistics and other requirements.
“We can expect RWMF to achieve a world class standard in the next five to 10 years,” Abang Johari told a press conference at SCV recently.
He explained that in the next five to 10 years all the necessary infrastructure such as festival venue, parking space and transportation would be put in proper order.
Abang Johari who is also minister of Urban Development and Housing stressed that millions of ringgit would be poured to bring the venue up to world class standard. This also includes some RM10 million to improve the parking area at the festival venue.
“After 14 years of organising RWMF, we are very satisfied with the way we are moving forward,” he said.
Abang Johari, who is helming the Tourism Ministry for the second time was glad that the festival had grown from a very humble beginning to what it is today.
The RWMF has grown stronger and healthier every year as records showed that there were some 22,000 visitors this year compared to 20,000 last year.
The returns churned by the three-day festival was estimated at RM20 million. Though the income is intangible, surely our local handicraft and souvenir sellers, hotels, restaurants, transport providers and even the small time burger stall owners will get some fraction from the foreigners who have thronged one of the state’s biggest tourist events.
However, in our enthusiasm to be among the best in the world, let us not be over zealous but always focus on the big picture and remain true to its pioneering spirit. Anything less could backfire and spell doom to the gold mine that we are now reaping!