This week-end sees the launching of the Rainforest World Music Festival. In its 18th year, the event is turning into Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) signature event. “We must admit that we heard of people around the world who knows about the Rainforest Festival without knowing that it takes place in Sarawak”, admits officials from Sarawak tourism.
The festival is firmly anchoring Kuching and Sarawak among culture-fan travellers. It is indeed one of the most successful festival in Southeast Asia also numbers remain limited. ‘We can welcome up to 8,000 visitors per day to Sarawak Cultural Village, where the festival takes place. This gives an average of 25,000 visitors during the entire festival. From all of our visitors, some 70% are non-Sarawakian”, tells Jun Lin Yeoh, Artistic Director of the Festival and the mastermind behind the artists’ selection.
The unique setting in the middle of the jungle within the Sarawak Cultural Village makes already the festival unique for its location. The Festival format, a mix of performances from musicians coming from the five continents and from all cultures and workshops where the public learn music or dances directly with the artists – has contributed to make the event a must-do for festival and culture addicts. The Rainforest Festival consequently has received numerous awards over the last decade, being even named the best world’s festival for six consecutive years by Songlines, a specialist magazine based in the UK.
But it needs now to translate into a more active synergy for the promotion of Sarawak. “The Rainforest Festival is now a destination on its own. At Sarawak Tourism Board, we now need to associate more the event with the promotion of Sarawak itself. They are more packages offering a week experience beside the Festival”, explains Benedict Jimbau, Director of Marketing and Corporate Communication, Sarawak Tourism Board.
The benefits of hosting the festival are obvious: the Festival organization costs RM 3 million (US$ 900,000) but it generates direct and indirect revenues of RM 65 million (US$17 million), especially for hotels, restaurants and tour companies. And it attracts large crowds of foreign travellers, especially from Singapore and Brunei (around 25% of all festival visitors).
Beyond the event itself, the Rainforest Festival highlights the wonderful diversity of the world and of course of Asia, giving an opportunity to learn and appreciate cultures which sometimes are already threatened of extinction. It voices a strong message that traditional and ethnic cultures are particularly alive and are part of the identity fabric of each country.
This year, the Malaysian Ethnic group Mah Meri, who is composed of indigenous Orang Asli, living in Selangor, is performing their songs and ritual dances, which dates back to immemorial times. An excellent exposure especially as Orang Asli has been marginalized over the years. “We always include groups of Sarawak to highlight also our strong music ethnic tradition. That was the original purpose of that festival at its beginning” adds Jun Lin Yeoh. The Rainforest Festival can also be considered as a perfect stage of a sustainable tourism, as wished by many today…