Is Kuching Malaysia’s newest hotspot?

Oct 27, 2016

A shake-up is afoot in the Malaysian city, where a thriving arts and music scene is challenging its sleepy reputation and giving rise to a new bohemian hotspot. BY MARCO FERRARESE

Until the late 1990s, Sarawak’s capital city Kuching was known as one thing: a trading seaport. Even then, it had become a shadow of the 19th-century hub it had once been, when merchants from all over Asia peddled their wares in its thriving bazaars. At best, a few hostels catered to intrepid travellers keen to explore the nearby rainforests, and not much else.

Little did anyone know, the end of the decade was when the seeds of change were being sown in this once-sleepy town. A small event for indigenous and folk music enthusiasts, Rainforest World Music Festival debuted in 1997 and has been pivotal in shaping Kuching’s reputation as a music hotspot. It also opened the doors to other creative events and outlets, from internationally famous street art to a flourishing hipster bar and cafe scene. Today, one thing is certain, the city has never been cooler.

Musical odyssey

A jungle on the tropical island of Borneo might seem like an unlikely venue for a hipster music festival. But Rainforest World Music Festival (August 5 to 7) – the brainchild of Canadian instrumentalist Randy Raine-Reusch and businessman Robert Basiuk, as well as local brothers Edric and Edgar Ong – has grown exponentially over the years.

The annual event attracts about 30,000 music enthusiasts from around the world, who gather under a lush green canopy at Sarawak Cultural Village to hear music by local and international artistes. This year’s line-up includes Norwegian Sami composer Torgeir Vassvik and Greek ensemble Stelios Petrakis Quartet.