My Experience at The Rainforest World Music Festival

Embracing Music in the Rainforest: My Experience at The Rainforest World Music Festival

It was truly unforgettable!

One of the most unique events in Malaysia that I’ve always been curious about was the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) held annually in Kuching, Sarawak. After all, the idea of an immersive music festival held in the heart of a verdant rainforest sounds like truly dreamy experience! 

In 2023, I finally got my chance to attend RWMF and it was everything I thought it’d live up to be and more! If you’re planning on heading to Rainforest World Music Festival 2024, and you’re not quite sure what to expect, I’m sure you’ll find the recap of my experience at last year’s festival helpful! Plus, I’ve included some tips and tricks for first-time attendees too! 

Also read: Beyond Borneo: Unveiling the Hidden Gems of Sarawak You Didn’t Know Existed

Want to be there to experience Rainforest World Music Festival 2024 for yourself? Then don’t miss this early bird special promo where you can snap up tickets from just RM235 (around S$70)!


What is the Rainforest World Music Festival?

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

In short, the Rainforest World Music Festival isn’t just a concert; it is a vibrant tapestry of cultures woven together by the universal language of music. 

The festival boasts a remarkable legacy – over two decades of celebrating the world’s musical diversity.  It all began in 1998 when the Sarawak Tourism Board envisioned a festival that would showcase the unique cultural heritage of Sarawak alongside music from across the globe.  

The inaugural RWMF was a resounding success, attracting music lovers from Malaysia and beyond. Over the years, the festival has grown in stature, welcoming internationally renowned artistes alongside local talents, and treating festival-goers to music spanning different genres, solidifying its reputation as a truly global celebration of music.

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

But what I liked most about RWMF, or so when I attended it myself, was how the festival was committed to showcasing Sarawak’s rich indigenous musical heritage. Instruments like the sape (a lute-like instrument) featured prominently in performances. I can still hear the rhythmic chant of the melodies, offering me a glimpse into the soul of Sarawak.

Attending Rainforest World Music Festival 2023

I managed to get my tickets via an early-bird sale online, and I highly recommend you do the same if you’re planning on attending the 2024 version, as it’s much cheaper to get tickets online compared to when you buy them at the event itself. 

Early bird promos are already available and you can buy them here from now till 5 May 2024. Once you DO have your tickets, prepare to be drawn into a whimsical world of music, culture, and ambient scenery! 

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

From the very moment I set foot in the venue, I knew it was going to be an unforgettable experience. As in previous years (before the pandemic), the three-day festival was held at the beautiful Sarawak Cultural Village, nestled amidst lush greenery with the majestic Mount Santubong as a backdrop. This not only provided a breathtaking stage for the festival but also served as a constant reminder of Sarawak’s deep connection to nature. 

Daytime activities at RWMF

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

The Sarawak Cultural Village is an attraction in and of itself, even when the Rainforest World Music Festival isn’t taking place there. Simply put, it is a living museum where visitors can immerse themselves in the rich aboriginal culture of the various ethnic groups in Sarawak — traditional houses and costumes, stunning exhibits, immersive cultural performances, and more.

During the RWMF, this vibrant location, unsurprisingly, transforms into a musical enclave featuring a whirlwind of activity, with something new to discover around every corner. While I was there, I had the chance to attend an interactive music workshop where I learned about traditional instruments from different cultures around the world. 

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

I got to try out the kompang (a Malay drum), the djembe (a West African hand drum), and the hulusi (a traditional Chinese bamboo flute) which was arguably my favourite because of the soulful melodies it produced.  Not only did I have a good time learning how to play these instruments, but I also got to connect with others who joined the workshop, as well as develop a deeper understanding of the cultures the instruments represented.

What’s more, the workshops are led by the performers themselves, so you’ll have a chance to mingle and get to know some of your favourite artistes too! 

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

There were also traditional craft demonstrations — skilled artisans showcasing the intricate crafts of Sarawak’s indigenous ethnic groups, like the intricate beadwork of the Iban people, the delicate silverwork of the Bidayuh community, and the vibrant woven textiles of the Kelabit tribe. While I was there, I noticed that there were also interactive games and impromptu traditional dance sessions you could join! 

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

What’s more, if you’re wondering what the F&B situation is like, don’t fret. If RWMF 2024 is anything like the 2023 version, you’ll find food stalls overflowing with the vibrant flavors of Sarawakian cuisine in the village. I highly recommend trying out Sarawak laksa, a rich noodle dish in coconut broth that is tangy and savoury!

If you need a breather, there are eco-lodges nestled within the rainforest canopy where you can appreciate the full beauty of the Bornean rainforest. 

Enjoying musical performances under the stars

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Once the sun set and the stars were out, it was finally time for the main event of the Rainforest World Music Festival: an incredible array of musical performances from both international and local performers that lit up the main stage. 

The lineup at RWMF featured over 190 musicians from 12 different countries across every continent, including the musical talents of big names such as Grammy Awards winner, ‘Gipsy Kings’ featuring Tonino Baliardo from France! 

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

What I loved about the music was the contrast of genres and cultures. I remember one particular sequence where a performance by a troupe of traditional Sarawakian musicians was followed up by a modern jazz performance that got the whole crowd swaying. Some of the audience members even got up on stage to dance! It was a testament to the RWMF’s core mission – breaking down barriers and fostering understanding through music.

Overall, it was a captivatingly chill vibe and in that moment, surrounded by the embrace of the rainforest, it was truly paradise. My only regret was that I only got a ticket for one night when I should have gotten the three-day pass!

Where to stay in Kuching for RWMF

Thankfully, as I found out, the Sarawak Cultural Village isn’t too far from the city centre of Kuching. Because of that, you won’t have too much trouble looking for accommodation in the city, if you don’t mind the travel time (around 40 minutes) to and from the village. 

Image credit: Permai Rainforest Resort | Facebook

If you don’t mind splurging a little, you could also stay at the Permai Rainforest Resort, complete with a view of the majestic Mount Santubong in the distance. From here, the festival is just a short 10-minute walk away. What’s more, this little gem in the rainforest offers plenty of thrilling activities during the day too, such as jungle trekking, zipline courses, and a host of beach side activities. 

Alternatively, if you want the FULL Rainforest World Music Festival experience, you can also camp overnight in the Sarawak Cultural Village using your own tents or those provided by the staff at the village. It’s much more rustic, but it certainly puts you right in the heart of all the action! 

What to expect at RWMF 2024?

The 27th edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival will take place from 28 to 30 Jun 2024, with the theme “Evolution”, promising immersive musical experiences and cultural immersion. 

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

This year, the 3-day festival will feature over 130 musicians from 15 countries across six continents, including exciting up-and-coming local talents. Among these, the most exciting act is undoubtedly the Grammy and Golden Globe award winner Kitaro, the famous Japanese recording artist who is famous for his electronic instrumental music.

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

In addition, popular award-winning local artist, Dato’ Zainal Abidin (known for the hit song, Hijau), will also be performing at this year’s festival, alongside Sarawak’s own Belle Sisoski, the 18-year-old DJ and songstress who uses music and traditional instruments to start conversations about indigenous rights. 

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

You’ll also be able to listen to The Borneo Collective, an ensemble musical troupe comprising top Sarawakian musicians that combine different concepts and instruments to showcase Sarawaks’ rich musical heritage. Don’t miss their new musical project, “Soul of Sarawak”, which features a plethora of traditional instruments, an ode to Sarawak’s musical heritage! 

Also read: Picture Perfect Borneo: 10 Top Sights in Sarawak That’ll Blow Up Your Insta Feed!

Tickets for Rainforest World Music Festival 2024 are on sale now, starting from RM235 (around S$70) for early-bird single-day passes, and RM635 (S$180) for three-day passes. Trust us, you don’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind music fest in the forest! 


Brought to you by Sarawak Tourism Board

About Author

Darren Yeoh
Darren Yeoh

Darren enjoys the finer things in life and loves exploring unfamiliar places on foot, guided with nothing but instinct and a good-old fashioned map. He enjoys cultural experiences and exciting adventures and is not a stranger to travelling alone. When he's not putting his travel experiences into words, he's probably sitting behind his laptop, planning his upcoming adventure.