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The Rainforest World Music Festival
by Wayne Tarman
With Joseph ?Pepe? Danza, an Uruguayan percussionist and multi-instrumentalist,
Qiu Xia He, a Chinese pipa (four string lute) virtuoso, Andre
Thibault, a brilliant Flamenco guitarist and Randy Raine-Reusch,
a Canadian multi-instrumentalist whose diverse talents have to
be seen and heard to be believed, no one can accuse ASZA, a Canadian
acoustic quartet of being a conventional band.
The Lammas blend of progressive jazz was the highlight of the
ASZA combine musical traditions from their own different cultures
with other global musical styles that they have studied to produce
an exotic blend of innovative and powerful music. By taking musical
traditions from indigenous cultures from around the globe, and
weaving these into their own in a process of enrichment without
dilution, a truly unique sound results. In a typical performance
the band use between 50-70 traditional instruments from around
the world, just a part of their collection of over 600 instruments.
© Wayne Tarman, 1998
When ASZA took the stage as the last act of the Rainforest World
Musical Festival on the eve of Malaysia?s Independence day, the
crowd had just enjoyed an evening of diverse musical performances.
In the previous couple of hours, Joey Ayala?s band from the Philippines
had punched out some funky and powerful songs with meaning; Mak
Minah of Anak Dayung had stolen the show with a storming lyrical
call; Zurinai had just proved that Malay singers don't have to
sing about ?cinta? or even sing in Bahasa Malaysia to win over
local audiences; and Badan Budaya Melanau had offered a unique
and special performance of music and ritual which included a shaman
entering a trance.
The crowd were full of expectations and ASZA more than fulfilled
these with each member of the band contributing their unique talents.
Joseph Danza was filled with wild Latin energy as he banged his
drums and delicately waved small bells in the air, grinning at
the crowd who loved it all. Andre Thibault provided flamenco flair
whilst the sounds produced from Qiu Xia He?s strings were simply
beautiful. Randy gave direction and amazed everyone as he moved
from instrument to instrument and even threw in a burst of Tibetan
throat singing. Randy also explained how the group ?ASZA-fy? other
musical traditions. A classic example of this was when Randy played
a beautifully ?ASZA-fied? sape number with the other members of
the band all adding their own spin to things. As a familiar sape
melody filled the air, the two Sarawakian guys next to be excited
launched into a discussion, clearly liking what they were hearing
- one of their own musical traditions still instantly recognisable
but with something special added.
ASZA?s performance was a fitting end to what was an enjoyable
weekend-long festival. The Rainforest World Music Festival took
place from 30-31 August 1998 at the Sarawak Cultural Village,
Damai Beach. The event consisted of two full days of musical workshops
and two concerts from 6 pm until midnight on Saturday and Sunday
night, with the second night?s concert being the best of the two.
The first night?s concert had its moments but essentially amounted
to a warm-up for the musical energy and excitement of the second
night, which really kicked the festival into gear, and essentially
laid the foundations for what is set to become an annual event.
Although there were some enjoyable performances on the first night,
the programme was just too packed with performances that didn?t
really suit the festival?s ?World Music? tag. For example, Andrewson
Naglai is undoubtedly a popular artist with 14 albums to his credit
but I couldn?t quite work out why a karaoke-style ballad singer
should be performing at a world music festival. Ditto the BM Boys,
a popular Chinese band from Penang. Their pop tunes went down
well with the Mandarin speaking members of the audience but it
was a pop act rather than a World Music performance.
To be fair these pop acts had their fans in the crowd and with
some local colour provided by various Sarawakian groups the first
night was still a lot of fun. Local cultural and musical input
was provided by a Bidayuh dance troupe; the voice of Usun Apau,
an ensemble of Penan singers; and Sape Ulu, comprising four of
the best sape players in Sarawak. Safar Ghaffar - a singer, dancer,
choreographer, composer and costume designer - led a colourful
performance that was more theatre than music. The combination
of theatre, fashion and music, influenced by the people and cultures
of Sarawak, could have worked but didn?t. Safar?s energy and enthusiasm
had to be admired but his theatrical mutterings about warriors
and female slaves were a tad OTT and a bit of an insult to the
cultures that his performance borrowed so much from.
Jerry Kamit from Tuku Kame playing his electrified sape.
The highlights of the first night were undoubtedly B?Tutta and
the Lammas. Tuku Kame, a band formed by the musicians of the Sarawak
Cultural Village?s were also fun to watch as they combined the
music of traditional Sarawakian and Malay instruments with modern
sounds. Jerry Kamit, Tuku Kame?s young pony-tailed sape player,
looked a complete dude as he took the stage for his solo. B?Tutta,
an Australian percussion group who play traditional African music
and contemporary Australian art music, displayed their technical
mastery of a diverse range of instruments, with one member of
the band even banging out tunes on a plastic bowl filled with
water. The Lammas won the crowd over with their blend of progressive
jazz with a Celtic twist. Vocalist Christine Tobin?s soulful voice
was the icing on the musical cake as guitarist/percussionist Don
Paterson, saxophonist Tim Garland and saxophonist/accordionist
Karen Street demonstrated their status as veteran musicians.
© Wayne Tarman, 1998
The second night of the festival included a rare treat - a performance
by the Badan Budaya Melanau, a group of Melanau dancers, singers
and musicians who are reviving a dying art form. Melanau dance
and music is influenced by the rituals that are performed at traditional
healing ceremonies, cultural festivals, weddings and funerals.
After a few recreational pieces the audience were treated to some
ritual music when Edmund Slaman bin Tuna, the group?s leader and
one of the few remaining Melanau Shamans, entered a trance. Against
a background of music and chants, Edmund moved further into the
trance and then danced on broken glass.
I hadn?t heard of Zuriani and even after a quick flick through
the festival brochure I still wasn?t sure of what to expect. Her
profile looked good - singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist,
and founding member of the Malaysian world music band ?Asia Beat?
some 20 years ago. Long resident in the US and now back in Malaysia,
Zuriani has recently produced albums for a number of top Malay
artists including Situ Nurhaliza, Ella and Fuaziah Latiff. I must
confess I expected a Malay diva pumping out bland but popular
tunes with a lyrical overdose of the word cinta (love). I was
wrong. Zuriani confidently stepped onto the stage complete with
a recently recruited back-up band that included Rafique Rashid
and Antares from Anak Dayung, flutist Narawi Rashidi and gendang
player Johari Morshidi from Tuku Kame, and Johari?s nine year
old son on percussion. She looked like Malaysia?s answer to Sade,
and after few words of introduction Zuriani?s beautiful voice
filled the air. Stage presence, lyrics with meaning and a superb
voice - what a combination. Nobody would have guessed that the
back-up band had spent less than an hour rehearsing for Zuriani?s
first public performance in two years. The audience loved it.
When Anak Dayung came on stage I had feeling that something good
was going to happen. Dr Wan Zawawi - anthropologist, songwriter
and true ?bring people together? man - had assembled a motley
collection of musicians; a line up that included Wan Zawawi himself,
Rafique Rashid, the Nuradee Brothers from Singapore, local guitarist
Ken Linang, Antares aka Kit Lee decked in full tie-dye hippie
glory, and Mak Minah, a 60 year old Temuan (one of the many Orang
Asli groups in West Malaysia) folk singer and star performer.
As the band set things up, Mak Minah sat next to Rafique Rashid
and looked to be in a world of her own as technicians and the
other band members scampered around doing their technical checks.
And then it happened. The moment the whole crowd had been waiting
for, the moment when one person stole the whole show. As soon
as Mak Minah got out of her chair and launched into Hutan Manao,
the crowd went berserk. I was simply blown away with her powerful
voice. But is wasn?t just Mak Minah?s voice, it was her talent
as a performer, the talent to stand up on stage and get the crowd
going. When she wasn?t singing she was moving around the whole
stage, dancing the joget with Wan Zawawi, digging him in the ribs
when he teased her, and playing to the audience who were lapping
Joey Ayala - folk, soulful riffs, funk, a blast of rock and pure
Anak Dayung also performed two tracks - Mencari Amerika (looking
for America) and KL Blues - from Dayung, Wan Zawawi?s debut album.
During these tracks Antares danced around like a dervish, showering
the crowd with his enthusiasm. The Nuradee Brothers then took
the mike for a powerful vocal duet.
© Wayne Tarman, 1998
Like many of the performers from Asia, Joey Ayala?s music highlights
environmental problems and social issues. But where Joey Ayala?s
band came into their own was with their sheer musical energy and
their range of songs. A bit of folk, some soulful riffs, funk
and then a blast of rock, from the moment they stepped on stage
the place exploded with the raw energy and excitement of a band
that know their stuff.
After ASZA?s last piece the other performers stepped up on stage
to join ASZA for the grand finale jam session, followed by a midnight
count down to Merdeka, Malaysia?s Independence day. With performers
from North America, China, Australia, Europe, Latin America and
South East Asia, including the Melanau Shaman giving his all on
the drums, the Rainforest World Music Festival ended with music
and smiles from around the world.
More Photos From the Rainforest World Music Festival