Why The Rainforest World Music Festival Needs to Change

I’ve been a big fan of the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival for a long time now. I got to know of it in 2002 and even attended for 3 years in a row (2002, 2003 and 2004). In those early days, not even the Penang tour agencies knew what it was.

But then we stopped going.

I did say I loved it. I still do.

I came home and spread the word about this fantastic event happening in the Sarawak Cultural Village, some 40 minutes by car from Kuching city.

Many friends, upon my enthusiastic (OK, mad is more like it) response, would be so envious. I’d come home, rave about the musicians I’d met, the people I’d spoken to, the air in Sarawak, the CDs I bought, the live jamming sessions, the different cultures and languages.

Of course, I’d tell them, “You HAVE to go. It’s one of those things you must do in your lifetime because it’s so much FUN!”

And bless their souls – they did take my advice and go. And they loved it to bits too.

When I am at the Rainforest World Music Festival, I feel I am in another country. It’s not Malaysia any more. It’s laidback, it’s international, it’s cool. It’s also open air, no seats (just bring a mat), informal and come-as-you-wish.

As it’s held in Sarawak (a world totally removed from Peninsular Malaysia), there’s a lot of leeway and freedom. People strut about in bikini tops, Caucasians and locals alike hang out at the beer gardens within the festival grounds.

There’s an insouciant air, irreverent and bohemian.

But the crowd gets bigger and bigger each year, thanks to rabid fans like me. I go and tell everyone because I’m so freaking excited.

Unfortunately, the Sarawak Cultural Village grounds aren’t meant for humongous crowds.

The nearby hotels cannot accommodate the crowds either. And the prices of hotel rooms keep skyrocketing yearly. And it’s alienating the very crowd which helped popularised the festival! In the early days, the crowd was fun, looking for cool music. In fact families came with kids. I could still get a room at the Holiday Inn Damai Beach by calling up my Kuching tour agency. It was a music festival for everyone.

Over the years, I see the party crowds who are into booze are coming in packs. They get drunk, they party like crazy, they are a hazard to other festival goers. Some look like they’ve been on some substances too. They’re NOT there to appreciate the music; they just want music. I bet you they don’t even know who’s playing on the stage!

And let me talk about prices. From those days in 2002 when I could pay less than RM1000 for a 4D/3N at Holiday Inn Damai Beach which included the festival ticket for 3 days, now I have to pay lots more.

I am talking about being a domestic traveller.

I am travelling to Sarawak, another state in Malaysia, dammit. If I have to pay RM2000 plus just to attend a 3-day music festival locally, why don’t I just go to HK or Thailand? Or wait for the Singapore music festival and just take a Jetstar plane down south?

Maybe RWMF just caters to the ang mohs and the Singaporeans.

If it is about the venue, why can’t it be held somewhere centrally in Kuching city? Then the crowd control can be better and there’s no shortage of hotels.

I think RWMF is a great tourism draw but it is losing some of its appeal by alienating the very fans who have raved about it. I am lucky I can get to attend the Penang World Music Festival if I choose not to go for the RWMF.

I just wish Sarawak Tourism Board realizes that lots of die-hard fans are just appalled at the way things are done and the way prices keep going up.

Perhaps we Malaysians aren’t the target audience they want. They’d prefer US Dollars to our measly Ringgit.

More stuff you can get your hands on:

What to prepare if you are going for the RWMF 2009.

If you’re in Kuching, you might as well sample some local food.

If you’re in Penang, try Penang World Music Festival. This year, it is from 20 to 22 November.