WOMAD AT 30
Thirty years ago, when WOMAD held its first Festival, it was 60 acts from 20 countries. In 2012 it’s 90 artists and bands from 40 countries, all packed into four days on seven main stages. It was the biggest WOMAD ever. Even so, it has lost none of its distinctive charm.
Needless to say, the 37,000 people who came Charlton Park are really here to listen, to discover and explore the music – and you get the feeling that for the most part they really are great listeners – but there’s so much more to WOMAD.
It’s the best of the established Festivals for the experience. Neither too big nor too small and beautifully organised – epitomised not by the giant screen organisers had laid on to relay the Opening Ceremony from the Olympics but by the fact that there’s almost always paper in the portaloos. The Festival is a feast for the eyes – not to mention the stomach – with a selection of food drawn from almost as wide a field of countries as the music. The weather was great again this year too – with just a couple of brief showers on Saturday.
For kids its a paradise. A field devoted to them includes tents full of free craft activities, story-telling, circus skills workshops, a double decker playbus, water sports (don’t ask!) and opportunities to make mud monsters and Mexican pinatas.
There are unexpected things to see and do around all corners of the main Arena, but there are real joys to be had around the edges. A particular treat is the shady Arboretum – home to the Radio 3 Stage – where you can soak in gong bath, treat your back or feet with massage, have afternoon tea or watch the kids run and play among the trees.
A new addition there this year was the introduction of The Human Library, where The Bookshop band – a trio of musos who have been inspired to write songs which tell the stories or capture the essence of their favourite books – have carved out an individual and engaging niche which inspired a small but hugely engaged audience in the comfort of large yurt. I expect to hear more from them in future as they move from bookshops to the big time.
Less of a joy for those of us with kids who get up with sun was Molly’s Bar. Here the more ordinary ‘electro-swing-jazz’ of The Mellowtones and Biscuit Head and the Biscuit Badgers seemed slightly out of keeping with the rest of the music-making of the Festival and didn’t didn’t really get going until 1a.m. Even feeling grumpy in my tent passed midnight though, I have to confess that Professor Elemental managed to turn my mood!
The most talked about act of the Festival was The Manganiyar Seduction – a 40-strong band of singers and musicians from the Rajasthani desert – in a spectacular show designed by theatrical director Roysten Abel. A four-storey stage set of little red boxes surrounded by bulbs, each filled with a single performer and illuminated at different times. Definitely the audio-visual feast that was promised.
With so many acts and artists to photograph you have to chose carefully and get your name on the list early. I arrived late on Friday and was locked out of Jimmy Cliff. Sometimes unexpected or unknown artists are a joy to photograph. BBB (Balkan Beat Box) came on stage and were slow and played a lifeless dirge for a minute or so and then they erupted in to joyful beats and dance. Throwing themselves in photogenic groups and poses. A photographers dream.
Cornershop originally from Leicester and Wolverhampton gave one of their best live performances of recent times. Their sound was crisp and their playing free and easy, I just wish Tjinder Singh would smile a bit more.
The Pine Leaf boys produced a slick show of Cajun music lead by accordion player Wilson Savoy from that fine family of players from Louisiana
Musical legend Femi Kuti took the stage in the golden glow of the day on Saturday and had the crowd dancing to the afro-beat. Ever the showman in this fathers footsteps he produces original songs that have a dance feel but still have the edge of political right cast over them.
The king of Rai Khlaed came on for a very rare UK performance. I remember when he used to be called Cheb (with means young) Khaled.
It is the big name stars who dominate the main stages but the joys of WOMAD are the smaller stages, Charlie Gillet, BBC Radio 3, Siam Tent where some of the real discoveries are made.
Review: Victoria Thandiwe Picture: Simon Jay
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