The World Through Music and Culture

The Borneo Jazz Festival Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary

Sarawak Sunset from the Marriot Resort in Miri. Photo by Niall Macaulay

This year the Borneo Jazz Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in one of the most beautiful tropical paradises. Maria Bakkalapulo travelled there and brings us a festival roundup of the big event …. (story originally published in Jazzwise)

It’s Friday evening and Miri’s Marriott resort, one of the festival sponsors, is busy with Borneo Jazz festival-goers soaking up the tropical atmosphere, getting ready for a night of music as the sun sets over the South China Sea. There is something really special about sunsets in Sarawak. From the hotel’s gigantic swimming pool. you can enjoy the amazing amber, red and purple colors almost every day. A short walk next door is the ParkCity Everly Hotel, where the impressive stage is set amongst the beachfront palm trees. What could be better then having all this great music outdoors, in balmy temperatures, with the backdrop of one of these epic Sarawak sunsets?

With new festivals popping up in every country, festival organizers face the challenge of getting in the numbers and living up to the hype to see their event succeed for another year. Increasingly, festivals are becoming attractions to put at the centre of a foreign trip. In light of that, and for future consideration in your diary, let’s take the example of Borneo Jazz. The festival took place on May 8th and 9th the small city of Miri, in Malaysia’s largest state of Sarawak, North Borneo. it’s a two day event bringing in a wide gamut of international and local jazz artists. It’s an accessible and picturesque destination, which is a big part of the festival’s appeal. Being an inexpensive flight away from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, makes Borneo Jazz an event to build an adventurous holiday around, with the world famous caves and limestone pinnacles of Mulu, coral diving and jungle trekking all in the region.

Anthony Strong on stage at Borneo Jazz. Photo courtesy of the Sarawak Tourism Board.

Anthony Strong on stage at Borneo Jazz. Photo courtesy of the Sarawak Tourism Board.

To mark the anniversary, 8 of the 72 bands that played over the last 10 years were invited back to perform in the tropical heat. Some might still be a little jet-lagged, but their polished performances all deliver. Anthony Strong, who played last year, delighted the crowd with his pitch-perfect and upbeat set that went by all too quickly. New Orlean’s Dirty Dozen Brass Band ripped into some chunky brass riffs, powered along by the electrifying drumming of Julian Addison, while Australia’s Doodaddies provided a laid-back contrast of soulful Chicago blues. Local act Shafiee Obe and All The Best showed us that jazz is evolving with Sarawak’s own instrumentation and traditions in the mix, incorporating gendang drums and oriental scales. A cappella group the Nylons, from Canada, proved that four voices can be a lush palette. Berlin’s Mo’Blow played a fantastic set, layering effected saxophone with rippling Rhodes piano and grooving beats. Swedish keyboardist Ulf Sandstrom of Jump4Joy roused the emotions like a preacher and got the crowd waving their hands in the air, on the receiving end of some masterful Hammond organ playing. Lluis Coloma’s ambidextrous tour-de-force on acoustic piano reflected his ebullient personality, and arguably stole the show.

Marking a 10th anniversary in the ultra-competitive world of festivals is a challenge, and credit for Borneo Jazz Festival’s ongoing success goes to Sarawak Tourism Board, and the support of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism Sarawak.

If an exotic trip with a top-notch jazz lineup at it’s core appeals, then mark your calendar for next year, the Borneo Jazz Festival will take place on May 13 & 14, 2016. More online at

(follow Maria on Twitter at @mbakkalapulo)

Dirty Dozen Brass Band on stage at Borneo Jazz. Photo courtesy of the Sarawak Tourism Board.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band on stage at Borneo Jazz. Photo courtesy of the Sarawak Tourism Board.

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