When I accepted my internet friend Cayce’s invitation to come to Borneo for its annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF), I never expected that two days after meeting her, I would be carrying her unconscious body back towards our hotel room – while one of her friends screamed crazy drunken abuse at me. This article describes Sarawak’s World Music Festival, held every year on the second week of July, and the out of control hotel room afterparty that was a great bonding experience for me, Cayce, and the nine other Sarawakian girls I attended the concert with.
Cayce had been reading my travel blog on bootsnall.com, and when she saw that I was coming to Malaysia, suggested a trip to East Malaysia (Borneo) for the World Music Festival. She and I exchanged emails, Borneo was somewhere I had long wanted to see, and we agreed to meet up in her home city, Kuching. We met up, and spent a day chatting before the festival began, but still were just getting to know each other when we drove out to Santubong, where groups from India, Iraq, Sicily, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Indonesia, England and New Zealand were preparing to perform.
The festival is set in the grounds of Sarawak’s Cultural Village, so on the first day Cayce and her friend Marita took me around the different houses representing the peoples of Sarawak (indigenous peoples like the Iban, Bidayuh and Penan, and relatively newer arrivals Chinese and Malay). Cayce was upset to read that her people, the Bidayuh, only made up 8.3% of the state’s population. She, not seriously, blamed the much larger Iban people (30% of modern Sarawak) for this, who had been the more successful head hunters until Sarawak’s British rulers had outlawed it.
I clambered along Bidayuh style bamboo V-shaped walkways, feeling somewhat deflated after Cayce muttered, “these versions are made easy for tourists, there should only be one bamboo trunk at the bottom”. During the rest of the year the cultural village is a living historical monument – families live in it so that tourists can see traditional Borneo life. The bigger longhouses (and they get pretty big) were used during the festival to hold the afternoon workshops given by the performers.
Highlights of a great three days:
Te Vaka, from New Zealand, gave us all a very funny class on hip swaying Polynesian dancing on Friday, then in the Sunday session, “Haka vs Zulu” demonstrated their warrior rituals along with the Zimbabwe band Black Omfolosi. The intensity and energy Te vaka put into their drumming and hip shaking dancing was a bit awe inspiring in the small packed space of the workshop – and their big Polynesian muscles made them very popular among the Sarawak women. They taught the ever smiling dancers of Omfolosi the unsettlingly intense shouting Haka – the Zimbabweans tried not to spoil it by grinning.
Ramli Ibrahim is a famous dance master in Malaysia, and I went along to his demonstration of Indian classical dancing. The dancer embodied certain emotions, and was meant to hold and convey them so deeply that the audience became infected – an affirmation of life and delight. He gave us a few seconds long sample of each emotion, beginning with “erotic love”. This was portrayed through playing a young maiden seeing Krishna for the first time. With each dance step his/her face changed: startled, curious, entranced, aroused, flirty, then turning away with faked cool. And with each demonstration, his body control and placement of limbs were perfect – he was impossibly lithe and youthful for a fifty three year old. After portraying vanity, anger, laughter (just pointing at a member of the audience and slowly doubling over in mockery), wonder, disgust, he danced for us. He just glowed with such happiness, health, as if the trials of the world were a minor distraction a wise man could rise above – I did leave the performance with a lightened heart.
The nights were the concerts – several thousand people in front of bands from Bengal, Iraq, Sicily, Brazil and many others, plus each night began with some of the music of the indigenous peoples of Sarawak. Of the acts on the big stage, Sidi Goma, an Indian band of African descent from the state of Gujurat, were incredible. They seemed to come from a world where the noise, colour and happiness settings had been set a couple of notches higher than ours. They began in a semi circle, dressed in their white muslim robes and caps, singing and drumming a slow devotional. I had seen them before in a workshop, and knew this quiet mellow wasn’t going to last. The drums beat faster, they were swaying and began an incredible shaking, singing, crying out, dancing. Their leader sang out louder, and one by one they bopped into the centre of their semi circle, dancing hilariously, making silly grinning faces at the audience, break dancing, doing a congo over the member of the group who was bouncing face-down on his palms and toes. Then they went off and, with the world’s most absurd costume change, came back on in peacock feather purple skirts and hats, white line swirls painted on their faces. As the drumming began again, three of them ran, in perfect slow motion, towards the front of the stage, where two let flower blossoms fall onto the kneeling third, then the crazy drumming and pure happiness faces started up again until the crowd and I were dancing like maniacs. Although I didn’t think more madness was possible, one dancer then pulled off his peacock purple hat, stood in the centre and threw a coconut high into the air. It came down and neatly shattered on his head. Each member of the group repeated this – hugely grinning or making silly faces at us as they danced on. They left the stage with me in a happy stupor, knowing little could top this.
Shut up stupid British!
|Fitting a sarong, Cayce in white
I was attending the festival with Cayce and nine of her friends – all girls in their twenties and early thirties.
Three of them had brought several bottles of booze, and on the first night, Friday night, our own little post concert party began. They started pouring out tequila into shot glasses and Cayce asked, “What is a tequila shot?” – she had never been drunk before. Salt, shot, lime, we all winced. The room was now spinning for Cayce, she sat down on the bed, eyes shut. But spinning in a good way, she had a great smile on her face and plaintively asked her friend Marita, “This is really good, why haven’t we done this before, why do we always drink bubble tea”? Whenever one of her friends sat down on the bed with her, she would tell them she loved them.
The drinking continued. My worries began to grow, firstly as we realised the quiet girl of the group, Andrea, had been sipping neat vodka, rather than the assumed water; then when, by our fifth shot of tequila, the bottle ran out and Raquel, the ring leader, started pouring out shots of gin. I protested that gin wasn’t meant to be drunk in shots, this had no impact on us and we knocked back a couple. Cayce had decided, as being drunk was so nice, she would drink more, “I can’t open my eyes but I’d like another drink please”, and Raquel helped knock several more shots down her throat. I remember thinking, “this night could turn messy” – shortly after, Cayce’s stomach decided to press the eject button and she head-lunged for the bin. Raquel was by now not entirely coherent, and began screaming, “WE NEED MORE BOOZE”!
|The drinking continued..
The three pseudo soberish members of the group (Marita, Dee and myself) were now tasked with consoling Cayce and restraining Raquel. Raquel began sawing open the neck of a wine bottle with a small knife, so Marita physically “helped” her into bed to lie down. Cayce lay on the other bed, saying over and over that she was really embarrassed, she had never been this drunk before, and begged us not to leave her. This required me to repeatedly assure her we were not leaving – however every time I spoke, Raquel screamed from the other bed, “SHUT UP YOU STUPID BRIT!”, or “SHUT UP BRITISH BOY, YOU TALK TOO MUCH”! I wasn’t sure why Raquel was shouting at me (in my drunken frame of mind, I wondered to myself, “Maybe I do talk too much”), but maybe her logic was: Cayce has stopped drinking and is ill – BAD; Daniel is looking after Cayce, therefore it must be his doing – Daniel BAD. Dee was also looking after Cayce, and Raquel informed her, “I’M GOING TO RUN YOU DOWN DEE – GET ME THE CAR KEYS”! Marita was forcibly holding Raquel down by this point.
The madness went on for a while – I told Cayce stories of my own drunken experiences to cheer her up while Marita maintained her grip on Raquel’s shoulders. Cayce started looking a bit better, so we decided to carry her back to the room she, Marita and I were sharing. I picked her up, she clung to my neck, not a heavy weight to carry. However, as I got halfway to our room, she faded out, and her arms slumped to dangle limply. Holding her dead weight was a bit more than I could handle (quite a different matter to when she was holding on cooperatively) and I started crying out, “UM, HELP, PLEASE”… Dee and Marita ran out and grabbed the slipping parts of Cayce’s body, and we got her into bed. Apparently, long after I had left, Raquel went on shouting, “SHUT UP YOU STUPID BRITISH BOY”!
In our room, Dee, Marita and I lay Cayce on the bed and talked to her as she tried to apologise. “I”m never doing this again”, she promised weakly, “I’m drinking bubble tea from now on – good girls drink bubble tea”.