Seeking Identity and Culture in World Music

Rainforest World Music Festival 2009 demonstrates that time can stand still as old instruments make a comeback. Perhaps it has to do with our need to connect with the past. Mallika Naguran reports.

We have a hard time in promoting sape as most of the students like to play rock

So what about World Music then? If you were out there at the heart of Santubong dancing away in the tropical rain at the 12th Rainforest World Music Festival to the chimes of old and new musical instruments, you probably have a clue. Unless you were just out to have a good time, never mind what music, drenched in wine and mirth.

Every July, pilgrims of World Music from all over the world descend on the shores of Kuching, Sarawak to pay homage to possibly life-changing music. How else can you describe the transformation that may occur when you see and hear ancient instruments pitted against modern ones, tugging at soul strings?

What is interesting about the World Music festival in Sarawak (yes it used to be called Borneo, yes, it is part of East Malaysia, and no they are no longer headhunters) is that kids were bobbing to the tunes, and not oldies. In fact there weren’t that many oldies (sorry… seniors) forming the 20,000 odd audience, revealing that merry makers in their 20s and 30s want to have a good time, and they want have it with a dash of tradition and style.

So why this interest in tradition? Shouldn’t these youngsters be screaming their heads off at a rock concert? I wondered if there was a desire for them to revel in World Music or was it just an excuse to have fun? After all, Kuching is a quiet town, and Sarawakans are always in the need for a good party. Many concert-goers hailed from Peninsular Malaysia though, having to catch a flight to get to the venue. Many more flew in from Singapore, Australia, Europe and even the US of A.

I had my suspicion that even as we prosper in the nuclear age, we are still in search of our true identities. And listening to age-old music may hold the key to that house of wisdom.

That is certainly the story behind some of the musicians who performed at the three-day concert. For Moana & The Tribe, a 12-member band from New Zealand, their songs and music are a way of protecting what their ancestors had and their way of life. Their heritage was threatened during the period of Colonisation. “Instruments that were played at festivals were taken away from the 1800s,” explained Horomona Horo, a Taonga Puoro specialist and performance artist.

Read on at Gaia Discovery where this article was first published. 

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