With the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) taking centre stage on June 28-30 at Sarawak Cultural Village, Sarawak Minister of Tourism, Mr. Datuk Amar Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari Bin Tun Abang Haji Openg, made his glittering appearance on the afternoon of the 29th and met with members of the media to answer questions at a press conference.
The Minister started the conference by stating that the Rainforest World Music Festival has clearly demonstrated in its 16 years of existence that music transcends borders. This year’s festival line-up comprised 13 international and 8 Malaysian bands playing a diverse range of world music genres. The Minister then said that “we must be active in identifying trends in music development so we can add a modern music curriculum in schools. We will use digital media constructively to have an impact on the world and to maintain an understanding through music”.
Once again, the festival was voted for the 4th consecutive year as the top 25 best International Festivals by renowned UK world music magazine Songlines. The winning award and recognition have elevated its status in the international music scene as a festival which has well and truly put Sarawak on the world tourism map. It also extends its appeal to shores further from neighbouring countries.
Asked about the recent haze problem in the region, the Minister stated that the problem is being addressed and that “ASEAN nations should stop finger-pointing to each other, and should meet instead and try to solve the pollution and the slash-and-burn system issues”. He admitted there is conflict between developed and developing countries when it comes to decisions, but he believes the right way is to educate citizens on the environment, and he is proud the Rainforest World Music Festival is used to give an input to keep green.
When the issue of the environment was brought forward, Sarawak Minister of Tourism preferred not to deny the weaknesses and the need for International assistance, especially for problems relating to illegal logging. He firmly believes that “all hardships about sustaining the environment and the timber industry can be overcome thanks to technology and education; we shall seek experts like UN or FAO to teach us how to properly manage the sector. In the town of Miri, the Australian university campus is spreading the right input, but we need to educate people long-term, to train farmers in biotechnology, and to designate new national parks and protected forests. We have to leave behind new generations that have new ideas on how to sustain the environment”.
When the subject of music returned at the head of the conference, Sarawak Minister of Tourism proudly announced that “through Sarawak Tourism Board’s promotional and marketing effort overseas, the Rainforest World Music Festival is today a clear vehicle to spread Sarawak culture, and to pass a musical message to the world: in strict cooperation with Borneo’s countries, we have spent 15 years spent to share indigenous symbols that symbolize the real local way of life in Sarawak, and we choose the festival line up of Malaysian and International artists according to their multi-ethnicity and their multicultural background”. He also cited the example of acclaimed the singer and ukulele player from Miri, Sarawak, Zee Avi, who has become a talent in the USA and around the world.
The Minister went on to talk about the Malaysian Government decision to open up specialized art schools for talents in Sarawak and Johor Bahru. These art schools will motivate Malaysian kids to get involved in music as the hospitality sector develops to high standards. Trainings will be from Year 1 to Year 6 in order to identify talents to be then sent overseas to the UK, USA and France to add value to music.
The last consideration was on the economic side of the festival. Sarawak Minister of Tourism replied that “…apart from the tickets sold, there is the money collected from the selling of merchandise, food and drinks, as well as the indirect publicity the festival gives, which is not quantifiable. Also, we do not know how long visitors are staying on after the festival; do they want to see the beauties of Sarawak? 70% of tourists out of the over 4 millions received by Sarawak last year came from outside of Malaysia, and this is a good enough indication for us to continue improving our several annual festivals and activities, in order for our culture to be seen and to be passed on”.
The conference ended and we transferred to huge round tables for a sampling of local bites and specialities, as well as traditional tea, fruit and dessert. I had the luck to be seating at the Minister’s table, where I had the chance to hear some following up on the issues discussed at the conference. I came away with the full certainty that this Minister and his Government are really and truly committed with their heart to the preservation of both the environment and the local cultures and arts.
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