It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the Borneo Jazz Festival. In fact my last visit probably dated in 2011, back when I was a young teenager on a mission to save the world. Now that I’m back home again it was really nice to revisit this part of my childhood, to discover the beauty of jazz all over again.
WHAT IS THE BORNEO JAZZ FESTIVAL?
The Borneo Jazz Festival is well, a jazz festival. It is an annual two-days international festival, located in the city of Miri in northern Sarawak, East Malaysia. To date there are 8 jazz festivals in Malaysia, with the Borneo Jazz being one of the oldest as it’s currently on its 12th years since its inaugural. What started out as a jazz festival that caters to the expat community living in Miri has slowly developed into one of the biggest jazz festival in Malaysia – and this year was of no exception.
The festival offers laid back vibes, with the stage set nearby the beach so festival goers could bask in Miri’s infamous sunsets, while gearing up to a night filled with jazzy goodness!
Jazz by definition, is expansive. While the first impression of jazz leads you to suit and ties, saxophone and old man’s tune, I must say on my first visit it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I was too young, too naive to appreciate jazz. In fact it took me awhile to open up the idea of jazz.
It was during one of the press conference with the performers this year that changed my whole perception. Idang Rasjidi, a self-taught musician from Indonesia claimed that jazz is not music for the rich, it’s music for everyone.
“Jazz is a universal language, a barometer for freedom and there is no music in this world as revolutionary as jazz” – Idang Rasjidi
And then there’s La La Land where Emma Stone blurted out that she hates jazz, and it drove Ryan Gosling crazy (“what do you mean you hate jazz?”). Watch the YouTube clip below – it’s one of my favourite scene from the movie and if you have not watch it, please do!
You see, there are multiple genres of jazz. It’s not just your typical Kenny G and elevator music (dun dun dun!). There’s the New Orleans Jazz, Samarinda, Latin, Caribbean, Afro Jazz, Funk and many more! So even if one type of jazz doesn’t fit to your liking, there’s plenty of other jazz you can explore. It’s like, going on an adventure – jazz-style!
AROUND THE FESTIVAL GROUND
If it’s your first time and you’re unsure of what to do, fret not as there are plenty to do in lieu with the festival. Feel free to roam around the festival ground, or take a short walk to the beach (but watch out for sand flies!). There are food stalls available to fill your tummy, as well as STB’s own merchandise tent for cool stuffs. I really like their T-shirts this year!
There is also a handicraft centre towards the entrance, should you need a last-minute souvenir. I particularly love the tribal rattan bags and the songket prints.
WHERE TO STAY FOR BORNEO JAZZ?
Park City Everly Hotel would be the most convenient choice as it hosts the festival’s ground. If you’re up for a more 4.5 star experience, Miri Mariott Resort and Spa is a mere ten minutes walk away. Additionally, the Pullman Hotel is a short drive away and you can commute to and fro to the festival via Uber / Grabcar (there is a Grabcar promotion this year for Borneo Jazz! Talk about convenient!).
However if you’re an avid backpacker like myself, there are a few options within the lower budget range. Dillenia Guest House and Coco House are among the top picks (USD6-USD8 for a dorm room). Alternatively you may try the 91 Street Boutique, average ratings but a little closer to the festival at Marina Parkcity.
THE OUTREACH PROGRAMME
Besides the main acts, there are also Youth Programmes and Outreach Programme tutorials to give platform and training opportunities to the local communities. Back on popular demand. the Outreach programme returned this year with more workshops, after the success of last year’s session on keyboard.
The drum kit and percussion clinic this year was definitely a crowd puller, held by Cabocuba Jazz’s Nils Fischer and Armando Vial. Local students decked in their school uniforms filled the Ruai Bar as we explored more into the rhythms.
BORNEO JAZZ YOUTH PROGRAMME
The Youth Programme on the other hand is one of the initiative to engage talented young musicians, serving as a platform for the new generation. Held between 6pm to 7pm, local brass bands such as SMK Chung Hua and Riam Road Miri graces the festival ground to greet the early arrivals, alongside the Miri Orchestra and Choir Society.
One notable performance from the Youth Programme this year was non other than Zuhaili Zuhairi of ASWARA, as he takes the cake by mesmerizing the crowd with a mix of latin jazz such as the bossa nova and samba, as well as the Malay repertoire of P. Ramlee. It was the kind of performance that just made you stay put, it was indescribable. In fact it was one of those rare moments where you wanted more. And heads up! The future is bright for this one, so keep your eyes on him 😉
THE MUSIC LINEUP
Year after year the Borneo Jazz Festival would deliver amazing lineups without fail, and this year was of no exception. Artistic Director Yeoh Jun Lin tastefully picked the musicians performing at the festival.
THE FLUORESCENT COLLECTIVE (MALAYSIA, USA, ITALY, INDIA)
Shortly after the Youth Programme, the evening kicks start with the first performance of the day. The first band who graces the stage on Day 1 was non other than Fluorescent Collective, consisting of various group of students and graduates from the Berklee College of Music. A notable member of the band would of course be Nisa Addina, who had risen to fame at the mere age of 14 and won three gold awards.
The band first gathered two years ago as part of a final year showcase, and has since working on more projects to come. Truly inspiring to see young musicians on an international stage.
THE CAPE JAZZ BAND (SOUTH AFRICA)
Hail all the way from South Africa was the Cape Jazz Band. I really enjoyed their “jazzified” Cape Town folk songs. Their style leans more towards the energetic, street carnival styled repertoire of post-apartheid days in South Africa. Like, a form of freedom of expression through times of oppression.
DELGRES (GUADALOUPE, FRANCE)
Without doubt, Delgres was a crowd favourite for Day 1. The three-man’s band has already attracted a lot of attention with Raphaël Gouthiere’s massive sousaphone – a type of tuba designed to be easier to play than the concert tuba while standing or marching. The moment they came on stage they literally set it on fire – it was unbelievable. You should have been there.
CABOCUBA JAZZ (THE NETHERLANDS)
Although based in the Netherlands, these eight musicians originates from Venezuela, Cape Verde, Colombia, Spain, Puerto Rica and Cuba. Led by powerhouse Dina Medina, she won the “Best Female Singer of Cape Verde” in 2012 and brings all the sass into the her vocals. Their name describes it all – a fast-paced mash of Cuban and Cape Verde melodies and dance rhythms, seasoned with plenty of on-stage improvisations.
The band has already played for the two previews held at Barthyme and Ming’s Cafe a few days before the festival, so by the time they came on stage I was prepared to see the same thing…and was proven wrong. That’s the beauty about jazz – there’s always something new, and with their fast paced cuban beats they closed the first day of Borneo Jazz with a bang.
MICHAEL SIMONS ASIAN CONNECTION (NETHERLANDS, TAIWAN, MALAYSIA)
Recognized by the prestigious online magazine Latin Jazz Network as ‘a shape-shifting musician and instrumentalist’, Michael Simon has developed into a protean trumpeter, composer, arranger and interpreter of international prominence and significance. His newest project ‘Asian Connection’ explores the asian music while infusing it with latin rhythms, jazz sounds and harmonies.
I really like the fusion of Asian influences, it was a really refreshing take on jazz. Pipa player Chung Yufeng of Taiwan dazzled the crowd with her four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, and I swear I heard some hint of Malaysian folksongs into the mix. It was a great performance altogether to kick-start Day 2.
LAILA BIALI (CANADA)
I was already drawn to Laila when I first overheard her sound check session in the morning. Armed with a sultry voice, her performance was also one of my favourite this year. Plus, she brought her own rendition of Coldplay’s Yellow to the table and I was all over the moon. A jazzed version of Coldplay? Yes please!
One funny moment during the performance was when Laila introduced the drummer as her ex-boyfriend – turns out they’re already married! What a great way to break the ice, the next time I’m introducing my significant other I shall introduce him as my ex boyfriend :p
IDANG RASJIDI SYNDICATE (INDONESIA)
Idang Rasjidi, is the kind of man you would looked up to. 42 years of leading jazz and a self taught musician, he revealed that he first learn how to play the piano by visualizing the music. That ultimately placed him as one of the most well-known Jazz pianist in Indonesia. His work is also remarkable, as he strive to educate younger generations by personally heading down to the kampungs (villages) and play jazz with them. When asked about reaching out to the youths, he stresses the importance of elders into teaching good music. “It’s an absolute necessity to motivate the youth and tell them that this is good music”.
The Idang Rasjidi Syndicate was also one of my favourite performances for the night, as each musician played to their strength. You can actually feel the passion emitting from their body – it was more than enough to give you goosebumps. I was particularly blown away by the bass player (unfortunately, I misplaced his name).
OSAKA MONAURAIL (JAPAN)
Sharp suits, dazzling display of brass twirls and ‘super heavy funk’ made Osaka Monaurail a crowd favourite that night. Started back in 1992 in Osaka University, Osaka Monaurail has evolved into one of the top souk/funk music scene in Japan. Named after the 1975 funk classic ‘It’s the J.B;s Monaurail’, they kept the heavy James Brown influence in their music over the years.
It started drizzling minutes before Japan went on stage, but that does not deter the crowd as they mesmerises with their funk music. It was so much fun! Even with the downpour everyone was dancing along to their funky tunes, and by midnight the crowd requested for an encore. If it wasn’t for the sudden change of weather bringing forth the strong wind and rain, I’m sure they would end up performing well into the morning as the crowd loves them! Such a great way to end Borneo Jazz with a bang!
It’s amazing to see the Borneo Jazz progressing towards its 12th years. I personally grew up with Borneo Jazz, and from a local perspective it’s definitely something that we all held highly in regards, and looked forward to every year. I hope the festival will continue to expand, and to surpass its predecessors in terms of success by bringing in more talented musician and good vibes. I’ve compiled a quick clip of the festival, just watch the videos below! And until then – safe travels!