With only a couple of days left to kick-start the RWMF 2017, we speak to festival director Angelina Bateman about the realities of organising the musical gala.

What started in 1998 with an audience of only 300, the Rainforest World Music Festival soon escalated to become one of the most awaited musical fiestas that Sarawak proudly hosts each year.

Be it sape players from Kuching, Latino musicians from Colombia, or traditional percussion instrumentalists from Indonesia – each year the festival conjures up a brilliant line-up of artists who are dedicated to preserving their own unique heritage and creating a musical medley rooted in a timeless legacy.

This year RWMF is entering its 20th celebration and is expecting an audience of over 20,000!

Curious to understand how a festival of this magnitude is brought to life, we pose some questions to festival director, Angelina Bateman.

Angelina has been part of RWMF since its inception in 1998 and is serving as the festival director for the last three years. Having seen the event grow from a hub of music enthusiasts to an award-winning international music event, she embodies the spirit of the festival with a deep sense of pride for Malaysian arts and culture.

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Performers at the RWMF 2016 shaking hands with festival director, Angelina Bateman. (Far-right)

What does it take to really organise one of the biggest International music festivals?

A lot of time!

The most important aspect of putting together a show as such is getting in order a good team who can work like the spokes of a wheel complementing each other.

 A lot of coordination goes on behind the stage. From having an optimal sound system to effective lighting, and working with different agencies, city councils, immigration and the police department. Along with that we also focus on making the festival as green as possible, creating environmental awareness as we do.

How do you select the artist line-up for the festival?

 This is the most challenging part of the festival. Credit for handling this section would go to our artistic director who advises the team on the recommended bands.

 They consider a lot of factors before reaching a conclusion such as how can we give our audiences something new from what has been showcased previously and which aspect of Malaysian tradition should we highlight to an international audience.

The selection process then moves to listening samples of artist works and hours and hours of watching videos on YouTube! 

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At Adau represents a new generation of musicians from Sarawak who create contemporary music with traditional instruments such as the sape and preutong.

Handling such a huge crowd, things can often go out of hand. What are the safety measures the festival takes?

Safety is our topmost priority! We have security checks at every gate. Our security boys sweep the entire festival grounds before the gates open and we work very closely with the police who are constantly vigilant about any misdoings. They are truly fantastic. Salute!

For our female visitors, I would like to add that the festival is safe, even if you are going alone. But best to bring along a BFF to enjoy all the music with.

For first-timers to the festival, what are your important tips to remember?

Try and get as organised as you can.

Download the festival concert guide and shuttle bus service guide on your phones, so you know where the best pick up points from your hotel are. Try and reach the festival venue early to beat the crowds. And ladies, wave goodbye to your heels, please!

Also, be prepared for unexpected showers. You are after all inside a rainforest. 

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Calan is a group of 5 young musicians giving a vibrant twist to traditional Welsh music.

 What’s in store for visitors at RWMF 2017?

 Along with mind blasting music, this year we will be hosting a couple of activities that let visitors truly experience the culture and tradition of the mysterious Borneo such as talks, exhibitions, workshops and a wellness programme.

I would encourage our visitors to check out some workshops featuring folk songs, Brazilian samba dance and to bring a small percussion with them for the ‘Hands On’ workshop that will focus on all percussion instruments featured in the festival.

How important is the festival according to you, in preserving Malaysia’s cultural heritage?

 Extremely important. The RWMF has helped in reviving dying sounds and musical instruments. Two decades ago, it would be nearly impossible to come across a sape player. Music of that kind was considered boring.

 The festival has made it different altogether. RWMF is now considered the ‘cool’ thing to do. It has made our people proud of their unique culture once again.  

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 Pareaso brings traditional music from Ulsan, South Korea.

If you were to break a myth about the festival, what would that be?

Many people often stereotype the festival as a ‘rave party’ because of the location and the genre of music we showcase. The festival is far from that. It is about the revival of ancient art forms and giving people who work to preserve it, the right to showcase their talents. 

 The RWMF 2017 will be held at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching from July 14-16. For more information about the festival, visit their official website.

Go ahead, get your jam on!

(Photos: Rainforest World Music Festival)

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