RWMF virtual music showcase - Tuku Kame, At Adau, and Suk Binie’ share their musical journeys in the pandemic era

The award-winning Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia, is hosting an unprecedented online showcase this weekend. Here are some highlights from three performing bands.
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First held in 1998, the iconic Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) will be going online with a virtual showcase this weekend. The theme of the digital experience this year is Get ‘Entranced, Liberated, Immersed’ (see my first preview article here).

This year, the online musical showcase will feature a retrospective of past RWMF performances and new pre-recorded sessions with homegrown bands. They will be streamed for free, from RWMF’s official website from 6:00-7:30 pm (Malaysia Standard Time) on June 18-20.

The local lineup of artists will include Alena Murang, Kemada, Sang Rawi, At Adau, Tuku Kame, Suk Binie’, Nading Rhapsody, and Mathew Ngau. Three of the bands join us in interviews for this article on their origin story, music, expectations of the festival, and future plans.

At Adau

The backstory

“We are the resident musicians of Sarawak Cultural Village since 1989, and have played traditional music to accompany the heritage dances of Sarawak's ethnic groups,” explains Narawi Rashidi, Founder of Tuku Kame, in a chat with YourStory.

A more formal request to constitute a band was made when RWMF was launched in 1998. “Many of our performance traditions based on indigenous instruments are dying,” Narawi laments. The instruments include sape' (Borneon guitar) and suling (bamboo flute of the Orang Ulu tribe). He modified the sape’ by adding extra frets, a guitar pickup, and new tunings.

The band At Adau was founded by Jackson Lian Ngau, with Meldrick Bob as a band leader. “We picked young creative musicians who have a vision to make a musical revolution, bring innovation to our traditional instruments, and create a cool appeal for the younger generation,” Meldrick describes.

The band Suk Binie’ has its roots in an earlier indie band called Another Letter, formed in 2014. “We were still in secondary school, and performed at events in our hometown Bau. Over the years, we slowly explored our traditional musical instruments and tried to fuse both modern and traditional musical instruments to create beautiful and soothing melodies,” explains Adrian Zachary, band leader of Suk Binie’.

“We noticed the neglect of our traditional musical instruments and lack of exposure given to the younger generations. In 2017, we formed our band Suk Binie', with seven musicians,” he adds.

Tuku Kame - CD Cover Promo copy

The music

Tuku Kame’s repertoire is related to culture and nature. “Our message is to love nature and practice living together in unity,” explains Founder Narawi Rashidi.

For example, their songs include Gadong (‘green nature’), Long Long Kemalong (about fishing), and Bird Eyes (depicting the beauty of the green land).

Adrian Zachary of Suk Binie’ describes some of the band’s songs and musical traditions of the Dayak Bidayuh community in Sarawak. Sramat Neg is an introduction song which welcomes guests with an open heart, while Sidureng Neg is a lullaby that also wards off evil spirits.

At Adau’s songs convey messages of friendship, togetherness, and longing. Kaban Belayan is our original composition, a greeting to our friends and supporters,” Meldrick Bob describes. Kaban Belayan means ‘friends’ in the Iban dialect.

Pemong Jae is an original folk song of the Orang Ulu tribe, from the northern side of Sarawak. It means ‘Come Together’, and is sung during the feast after a long day of work,” he adds. Jobong (‘miss you’) is a tribute to family members and friends who have passed away, and the joy and happiness they brought is remembered forever.

Suk Binie

Pandemic effect

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the live music industry – while also sparking off new kinds of creativity in online media and promotions.

“Festival bands like us were very badly affected, but it does not make us stop. The pandemic teaches us to have our own reflection and start something fresh,” says Meldrick Bob of At Adau. They turned to online platforms, which actually gave them broader international exposure.

“The story and ideas can be shared as long as the visuals are on point. Online media makes us think in new ways about music and videos. We need to think outside our comfort zone, and embark on new journeys,” he adds.

Events from the tourism board, NGOs, and some other companies were put on hold as per government and social requirements. “But we did get a chance to come on TV for interviews, and promoted ourselves on social media,” Adrian Zachary of Suk Binie’ explains.

They streamed songs and performances online. “This encouraged us to be creative in streaming, and go beyond conventional physical performances,” he adds. The band members are eager to keep doing their best.

“The pandemic affects us badly, as with all bands. The show performances turned off to almost nothing. We just managed to do online performances with home recordings,” explains Narawi Rashidi of Tuku Kame.

At Adau

The road ahead

Tuku Kame plans to do more online shows from home, and work on new album material. “We are in preparation to produce our third album, involving some traditional instruments that we never played before. This will be exciting,” says Meldrick Bob of At Adau.

The band is also working with a production team to produce a mini documentary series about the different tribes and music traditions of Sarawak. “Our main objective is to create togetherness in music,” he adds.

“We need to adapt to the vast changes that might happen in the future, particularly with respect to performing virtually,” says Adrian Zachary of Suk Binie’. They plan to work on a new album as well, and ideas for new songs.

“We will carry on exploring and sharing our folk stories of the Bidayuh people, and pass them on to the next generations to preserve identity and roots,” he adds.

Narawi Rashidi

RWMF 2021

The bands also share what it means for them to be showcased at the virtual platform of RWMF this year.

“We have been a resident band for the first four years of RWMF. The pandemic has been like a black hole for us. We are so happy to be invited again, and feel the industry is starting to glow again with the new normal,” enthuses Narawi Rashidi of Tuku Kame.

He has also released a video project featuring Orang Ulu music – Datun Julud (The Exploration).

“We are so happy to be involved in this prestigious platform of RWMF once again, virtually. We are happy to share our art to the whole world. We hope to have new experiences through the virtual concert, and hope everyone enjoys it,” says Meldrick Bob of At Adau.

Suk Binie’ is also happy and moved to be chosen to perform virtually. “Being online is not a barrier for us. It gives positive impact, and we can highlight our talent and showcase our traditional music to the world,” Adrian Zachary signs off.

YourStory has also published the pocketbook ‘Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups’ as a creative and motivational guide for innovators (downloadable as apps here: Apple, Android).

(All images sourced from the respective bands.)

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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