Borneo Jazz Festival Preview


Borneo-Jazz-2014If you're not sure where to go on vacation, you could start by picking a music festival first. With so many of them dotting the globe in some of the most exotic, fascinating places, it's a guaranteed highlight on your trip. One of the most interesting destinations, the two day Borneo Jazz Festival, is coming up on Friday 9 May and Saturday 10 May in Miri, a small city in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak, North Borneo. Maria Bakkalapulo guides you through the sights and sounds of this year’s event (follow her on Twitter @mbakkalapulo)

To find it, guide your finger around the huge island of Borneo, up the east coast until you find the state of Sarawak. Look a bit closer, halfway along the northern coast, just beside Brunei, and you’re there. Miri’s oil industry brought much foreign investment into the area and, with it, a large expatriate community with an appetite for music they cannot find on local radio and TV. Miri is also the gateway for tourists wishing to explore several national parks, including the breathtaking limestone caves of Gunung Mulu National Park.

The city hosts the yearly Borneo Jazz festival, organized by Sarawak Tourism Board, supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism Sarawak. This two-day festival is one of the island's most popular music events bringing jazz artists from around the world. It’s a remote destination, which is a big part of the festival’s appeal.

“Borneo Jazz has a resort, laid-back atmosphere by having an open-air stage right by the sea, in expansive grounds of the Parkcity Everly Hotel,” explains Jun-Lin Yeoh, the festival’s artistic director. “We unashamedly put on anything and everything from boogie woogie to New Orleans jazz to swing to gypsy jazz to bebop to Ethno jazz to funk.”

With so many large-capacity festivals mushrooming up in the region, from Java Jazz in Indonesia to Bangkok Jazz in Thailand, Miri keeps it intimate, where you can watch the sunset and listen to some great music in a much more chilled out vibe.

Borneo Jazz Festival 2014 Lineup:

Diana Liu (Sarawak)

Sarawak’s own jazz singer / songwriter Diana Liu returns to her home state for a special performance. After studying music in New Zealand and Australia, Liu returned to Sarawak in 2007. In 2009, she released her debut Mandarin album. The album’s success took her around the region performing at Java Jazz in Indonesia and the ASEAN Jazz festival in Batam. In 2010, she collaborated with some of the best jazz artists in Indonesia for the compilation ‘album Women in Love,’ spotlighting young female artists. Her latest release, Sunny Days, is out on Warner Music Malaysia. She is joined at Borneo Jazz by – Lewis Pragasam of Malaysia, Christy Smith of USA, Tan Wee Siang of Singapore, Greg Lyons of Britain.

Mario Canonge (Martinique)

Piano virtuoso Mario Canonge brings the fiery energy of the Caribbean to the heart of Borneo. Studying in France, Canonge created his own distinct sound by jazz genres with rhythms of his native land such as mazurka and the biguine. By the late 1980s, he formed the zouk group and later joined legendary zouk group Le Grand Méchant Zouk, a special ensemble group made up of the Antilles' most famous zouk stars of the time. Canonge decided to split off on his own, and in 1992, he released his popular solo album Going Back to My Roots, selling over 15,000 copies. After touring the world for more than two decades, Canoge continues to be in great demand, performing with the likes of Lavelle, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nicole Croisille, Ralph Thamar and Carter Jefferson.

Anthony Strong (UK)
Anthony Strong-2

Pianist, singer and songwriter Anthony Strong has supported stars such as B.B. King, Charolette Church and many others. He also has toured extensively in Europe and played Jerry Lee Lewis in a West End production of Million Dollar Quartet. He is signed to French label Naïve, home of Adele, Carla Bruni and Katie Melua, which released his debut album Stepping Out in April 2013.

Vocal Sampling (Cuba)

Latin Grammy nominated Vocal Sampling may sound like a full salsa band, but they are an all-male six piece Cuban acapella group. Using their amazing vocal abilities, cupped hands and their bodies, they create salsa, son and Rhumba rhythms by imitating a range of instruments, from the piano, conga, cowbell and various brass instruments. The six members of Vocal Sampling met at Havana’s Instituto Superior de Art, creating this unique style of music when they couldn’t find the right instruments for their house parties. Vocal Sampling has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival and had toured throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia.

YK Band (Indonesia)

Proving that jazz has traveled everywhere, meet the YK Samarinda Band from East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The group formed when two friends, Yusuf and King, were asked to play a local event back in 2003. Then keyboardist Yin and Thrash Metal drummer Avant joined, the quartet was formed and they chose jazz as their music path, combined with ethnic songs of Kalimantan.

Iriao (Georgia)

Finding jazz in another far-flung place, this time Georgia. Iriao is a Georgian ethno-jazz band from Tbilisi, Georgia. They use folk traditions as the building blocks of their music, creating something new with vocal polyphony, jazz and improvisation.

Brassballett (Germany)

An 11 member band from Hamburg that combines brass playing with funky dance moves.The brain child of band leader Wassilij Goron. Brassballett formed in 2011 - these instrumentalists not only play their instruments, they get down to it too on stage. Wassilij, a dancer himself, wanted to create a more lively stage show, rather than musicians playing on stage. He decided o create a show where dance is as much a center of the performance as the music. Playing the gamut - from jazz to hip-hop and salsa.

Junkofunc (Malaysia)

Coming back to Malaysia’s homegrown talent, Junkofunc also aim to engerise the crowds at Miri, with their blend of funk with a touch of soul. Junkofunc played their first gig in 2008 when they were asked to perform at the Genting International Jazz Festival, an hour’s drive outside of Kuala Lumpur.

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