WHEN used together, the words ‘rainforest’ and ‘music’ conjure up notions of something natural and enchanting.
The upcoming Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in the middle of this month realises the best of these notions into an unforgettable experience that will see local performers commanding the stage at one of the world’s best international music festivals.
Among them will be sape maestro Mathew Ngau Jau and his band, Lan E Tuyang which will feature three other sape masters from the Kayan and Kenyah community.
A living heritage himself, Mathew will be leading the band together with Salomon Gau, the 2005 Baram Warrior Dance champion from Long Ikang, as well as Jimpau Balan, son of the late Balan Asang, a sape legend from Belaga.
Joining them will be Alena Murang, Mathew’s prodigious student who shot to fame for her performances on the sape and her determination to preserve the traditional songs of the Orang Ulu people.
Young nose-flute player Luyoh Rawing tops off the band’s line-up by playing the less popular but no less significant traditional Sarawakian instrument.
Alena and her five female sape players call themselves ‘Ilu Leto’ which means “We, the Ladies” in the Kenyah language.
The members are from the different ethnicities in Sarawak, including Elizabeth Bungan Peter, Munirih Jebeni, Rosemary Colony Joel Dunstan, Nurul Syafiqah and Tasneem Bolhassan.
This all-woman band truly bridges the old and new culture of Sarawak by performing music of the Kenyah, Kelabit and Iban tribes on the sape, an instrument that used to be taboo for women to hold.
When At Adau won the Kuching Waterfront Festival Award 2016, the group also earned itself a spot on the festival’s stage despite the band only being around since 2014.
These fresh-faced musicians play experimental traditional Sarawak melodies, using the sape and ‘perutong’ accompanied by electric and bass guitars.
At Adau has also adopted traditional instruments from other cultures, like the djembe and dunun from West Africa, congas from Cuba, daf from Persia and bamboo rainstick.
Meanwhile, Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak will be performing traditional dances based around the planting and harvest seasons of the nine main indigenous communities of Sarawak at the festival.
The arts school was founded in 2007 with the mission of grooming its students to be Sarawak’s ‘Pewaris Budaya Bangsa’ or the Heirs of Cultural Heritage.
For the past 10 years, its students have won multiple international awards for their performances including the Grand Prize in the 2012 International Folk Song and Dance Festival in Georgia, the Golden Award in the 2013 International Folklore Competition in Bulgaria, first place in the 2014 International Folklore Competition in Romania, second place and the People’s Choice Award at the 2016 International Folklore Competition in Barcelona, Spain as well as second prize in the 2017 World Cup of Folklore in Italy.
The RWMF takes place at Sarawak Cultural Village on July 14–16 and will feature over 20 international bands over the weekend.
Among the various activities lined up for this year’s 20th anniversary celebration include the mini sessions, cultural talks, arts and crafts for children, traditional cultural food and crafts bazaars, as well as a wellness programme.
For further information on festival activities, please log on to rwmf.net.
The festival is organised by Sarawak Tourism, endorsed by Tourism Malaysia and is jointly supported by the state Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports, and partnering with Malaysia Airlines as the presenting sponsor with Zurich Insurance Malaysia Berhad (ZIMB) and Zurich Takaful Malaysia Berhad (ZTMB) as corporate social responsibility (CSR) partners.