Stop A War, Share Some Music (part 2)

Posted on August 2, 2008


“Our planet is so little; all the world is here in this festival.”

Festival finale

So observed Donízio Faízca of the Portuguese group Fadomorse during the 11th Rainforest World Music Festival, held from July 11 to 13, 2008 at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

Donízio continued: “The energy of this festival is so unusual; the relationships [among] the bands is so amazing. The audience is so powerful. This is all a big sign of hope for everything.”

The festival brought together over 22,000 people from 36 countries around the world, who came to see the 17 performers from Congo, Gambia/Guinea, Greece, India, Japan, Kuala Lumpur, Poland, Palestine/Algeria, the Philippines, Portugal, Sarawak, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Kingdom. For three days and nights, the Sarawak Cultural Village was transformed into a global camp where teenagers, world music newbies, culture aficionados—and even retirees and families bringing toddlers and babies—shared their appreciation for everything that was positive and hopeful about humanity.

The performers themselves claimed to have felt a kind of transformation throughout their week-long stay at the Santubong Kuching Resort. There, they had enough time to get to know each other, talk about their experiences, engage in intense jamming sessions that lasted ‘till the wee hours of the morning (and that woke up the hotel guests in the middle of the night!), and develop potentially lifelong friendships. They went into the festival as strangers; they emerged from it kindred spirits and brothers and sisters in music.

“[The Sarawak Tourism Board] invested a lot in our relationships with each other,” observed Paul Zialcita of the Philippine world music group Pinikpikan. “Here, we are all peers—no one is better or higher than the other regardless of their status back home. The nighttime jamming sessions are just so powerful for those of us who are therewords are not enough to describe them.”

Paul Zialcita of Pinikpikan (Philippines), with his Kali DrumMusic more than communicates—it bridges cultures

For all of these artists, the saying “The only universal language is music” holds true. But its role is not only to communicate and share about cultures and feelings; music can also bridge cross-cultural understanding and hopefully avert serious conflicts between nations, races, and religions.

“There is a tendency of nation-states to ignore what goes on beside them, in their next-door neighbour,” observed world music guru Ross Daly of Greece’s Ross Daly Quartet. “Traditional music must be a creative endeavour—not a thing of the past—and world music has to be careful to preserve the identity, the individuality, and the independence of cultures. It has to show our values and our openness [toward other cultures].”

Biswajit Chakraborty of the Indian group Oikyotaan spoke of their experiences singing about Allah, Krishna, God, and spirituality in general. He observed, “Man is like the universal body and soul within himself. He cannot be judgemental about race because the whole world exists in him. That is what our songs are about.”

The Polish group Beltaine, which plays Celtic folk-fusion music, claimed that they were not particular about communicating any kind of “message” through their songs, except plain fun. “When you’re laughing, how could you be at war? If the Russians heard us, they cannot think bad about us,” spokesperson Jan Kubek said with a laugh.

Even the Japanese taiko drummer Hiroshi Motofuji, who could speak no English, tried to make a point through his translator: “No matter what your race, culture, or religion is, you can communicate through music… I cannot speak English but hopefully I will be able to unite people into listening to the music that I’m playing.”

Indeed, when you’re having fun (even if you don’t understand what you’re singing or dancing to) and learning something new about someone else, how can you even begin thinking about war?

From war zones to workshops

One of the many workshops at the 11th RWMF

Another unique feature of the Rainforest World Music Festival was its workshops. Every day, before the nighttime festivities began, the performers would be gathered with different audience groups and would share their own thoughts and experiences regarding their instruments. There were 27 workshops throughout the three-day event, tackling themes such as “When drummers and dancers meet”, “Women’s Voices”, “The high art of improvisation”, “Fusing musical cultures”, “Songs from Africa and the African diaspora”, and so on.

Each workshop brought together performers and audiences from around the world; each one captured the imaginations of its audiences. Each one showed what can happen when walls are broken down, when harsh voices are drowned out, and when the collective consciousness is allowed to emerge.

This made me think: What if we made a serious effort to bring young people from war zones together to make music and cultivate shared experiences—would there still be wars 10, 20 years from now?

If Christian and Muslim children from the Philippines—just like the Palestinian and Israeli children in Adel Salameh’s experience (see Part 1 of this entry)—were brought out of their comfort (but uncomfortable) zones to just be children and play music together, to see the humanity in each other before they become covered in labels and political colors, will they still see the world through the eyes of their bigoted and prejudiced elders?

I’m not saying that music alone can stop wars and avert conflicts—but what if we just TRIED to lessen the opportunities for bigotry and hatred? What if we just TRIED to cultivate more neutral grounds for people to open up, share, discuss, question, understand, and communicate? What if we just TRIED to think out of the box of race, religion, politics, and even nationality… and build a universe of openness and tolerance? Wouldn’t it be better that to not have tried anything at all?

I, for one, am willing to try. I just want to see what it’s like if the experience I had in the Rainforest World Music Festival can be replicated in our schools, in our villages, in our barangays, in our provinces… and all around the country. I want to see what will happen if we all used our shared love for music to try to see what makes the other tick and how best to reach out to the other. I want to see what will happen if, instead of trying to outdo and “out-politick” each other, we joined forces to made beautiful music together—like what I saw men and women of different races, religions, and political persuasions do in Sarawak.

I traveled a bit of a distance to learn these valuable lessons. I hope I won’t have to travel too far to see them at work.