Malaysia is set to host its annual world music festival. Mathew Scott finds out who's singing in the rain ... forest
Ben Jimbau is proud of his work. And as media liaison executive with the Sarawak Tourism Board, there is nothing that makes him prouder than the Rainforest World Music Festival.
Mount Santubong towers over the Sarawak Cultural Village - venue for the three-day festival which will run from July 7-9 - and audiences are treated to artists drawn from the corners of the globe, to the backdrop of a stunning rainforest setting, close to the beaches of the South China Sea, and 45 minutes out of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak.
Jimbau describes the village as a 'living museum', and its six hectares are scattered with traditional dwellings and a lake by which the main stage is set and the musicians play at night.
But what gets Jimbau most juiced is what goes on during daylight hours.
'The uniqueness of the festival is that we're able to bring world music performers from all corners of the globe together,' he says.
'And we create a platform for them to come together and learn from each other - they can do this at our daily workshops where musicians bring their own instruments and explain them to the audience and to each other. Most of the time this exchange ends up in a jam session.'
The daily workshops allow the audiences to get a look at things up close and personal - they are held in the traditional houses and people can sit on the floor.
Jimbau and his cohorts will be doing pretty well to outdo last year's eighth edition of the festival: every night was a sellout at the 7,000-capacity venue and the event scooped this year's Pacific Asia Travel Association's gold award for events in the heritage and culture category.
This year, nine world music groups will gather at the village as part of the 16-act lineup - coming from as far away as Kyrgyzstan (Tengir Too) and mixing up everything from a touch of the gypsy (France's Les Yeux Noirs) to Mongolian throat singing (Egschiglen).
China (Yap Ting Chinese Percussion Ensemble and the Traditional Oriental Orchestra of Kuching), Africa (Mali's Nahawa Doumbia), and Scotland (Peatbog Faeries) are also being represented.
'We scout for groups all year,' says Jimbau. 'And we go each year to the World Music Expo [Womex] in Europe to see bands perform and keep up with what's going on in the world music scene. But most of the time, the bands approach us - people have heard how successful the festival is.'
Flying the flag for the host nation this year will be the Malaysian Dhol Federation, with their Bhangra beats, while Sarawak itself is being represented by Birinkeng Tua'an, a Bidayuh ethic band of musicians who play indigenous drums and bamboo instruments.
For visitors, accommodation from Kuching to the nearby Santubong Beach covers everything from backpackers' hostels to five-star resorts. And Jimbau has a few hints if you're planning to make the trek: book your tickets early and bring your own mats or chairs for the night concerts (the grass can get a bit damp). Other than that, most things are taken care of on site.
'We hold a food fiesta, and as well as the festival we arrange pre- and post-festival tours for visitors that centre around the cultures of local natives,' says Jimbau, who believes above all that the festival has its heart in the right place.
'The festival is a tourism-driven event - not profit-driven,' he says.
Rainforest World Music Festival, Sarawak, Malaysia, July 7-9, day passes M$30 ($65) for children, M$60 for adults. Inquiries, go to: www.rainforestmusic-borneo.com