Well, WOMAD Day Three was here. Day One had simply whetted my appetite, and I was keen for more. This time I had the kids in tow so it was going to be a different experience. We rolled in on our bikes at about midday, revelling in the glorious Autumn weather. It was hot, but not excessively so. Having kids, the experience was going to be a little different. I had teed up meeting some friends with a gaggle of their own junior festival goers, and set up a base camp near the main stage. We had shade, a rendezvous point for lost children and were ready to enjoy the day.
Noura Mint Seymali from Mauritania who kicked the festivities off with funky psychedelic riffs, accompanying her soulful exotic wailing in her native tongue. Their music was unique, yet had familiar elements for our Antipodean ears, and it was easy to slip into the groove and dance along.
After listening for a while, the kids had located some friends and took off to enjoy the sights on their own. The environment was welcoming and safe, and the diverse range of visitors, from young to old gave the feeling of a tribal gathering. There was plenty to entertain the kids as well, with the dedicated kidzone featuring Justine Clarke from Play School, Uncle Stevie’s Indigenous Kaurna classroom, a reading zone put on by Adelaide City Library, and nature play areas put together by Climbing Tree.
Deciding to check out some local talent, we wandered over to the Moreton Bay stage to see Hana and Jessie Lee’s Bad Habits, playing plaintive country and western with a homegrown edge. Having started off as punk rockers, they drifted into country, and it was certainly a good move. Their beautiful voices and well drilled backing band wowed the crowd with their polished and moving performance. They will certainly be one to watch, having recently shared the stage with Cold Chisel and Kasey Chambers and also played the Tamworth Country Music Festival. If you want a taste, check out Southlands on the Interwebs.
The afternoon was drawing on, and it was time for some sustenance and rehydration to keep us going. We sat around on our rugs and cushions, eating, drinking and meeting new friends, while we pondered our next move. 1970s Ghanaian music legend Pat Thomas and the Kwashibu Area Band was playing on the main stage, filling the air the African inspired funk.
The organisers had the multimedia experience spot on, with a snappy and intuitive phone app to keep track of the sheer number of music, performers and other attractions. If you are planning a trip to WOMAD, it also pays to visit the website, as some of these performers will not be heard on the radio or seen on Rage and the organisers have a wealth of the information about the performers, including links to video and audio.
One of the more intriguing acts we spotted was Dustyesky a choir from Mullumbimby singing Russian Red Army and folk songs. None of them speak Russian or have any connection to Russia, so we were intrigued to see what was on offer. The sun was belting down on Stage Two and Dustyesky showed their dedication to the act wearing proletarian garb worthy of a Siberian gulag in the sweltering afternoon heat. We were treated to stirring renditions of revolutionary and dirge like folk songs, brought to life by their rich and powerful voices.
Looking for some more upbeat entertainment we wandered off to the shady slopes of Stage Three to catch last few songs of San Lazaro. Hailing from Melbourne, these are a bunch of lads with diverse South American backgrounds. The crowd was thoroughly enjoying themselves, swaying and dancing to the brassy beats of salsa, son and a range of other South American styles.
Next on our list was the Grammy Award winning Tinariwen from Mali. This was an intriguing sounding band – Tuareg Blues was how they were described. Raw blues electric guitar with traditional drums and singing in Tamashek. The band is a collective with a number of different members coming in and out over the years. They have been performing since 1979, and have been refugees, freedom fighters and more recently been driven out of Mali by extremist Muslims denouncing “Satan’s” music.
The sun was setting, and a cool breeze had started to come up. They had drawn a big crowd who erupted in cheers when they came on stage wearing traditional Tuareg robes. They started slowly, the music seemed mellow, however it had a stately air and you could feel the deep power from the blues guitar. As the set progressed, the tempo came up and the crowd swayed and clapped to the blues mixed with the tribal elements of the vocals and drums. It was a memorable performance by a very unique band with a great history.
The kids were getting tired and it was time to eat. The crowds had really thickened up by this point, much busier than Friday. It seemed everyone had the same idea and we battled the queues to get some food. Having said that, everyone was good natured, and preparing for the next round of entertainment. It struck me again the scale of this event, and the amount of meticulous planning which goes into it. We sat on the sprawling roots of a Moreton Bay fig while we ate our dinner, listening to Kamazi Washington from the USA play a superlative set of modern Jazz with urban elements.
The evening was cooling down, and we prepared ourselves for the aerial antics of Gratte Ciel. I’d seen them on Friday without the kids and I knew they would love it. We headed into the centre of the crowd, and was amazed again by the angels winging their way across the cables, spinning and twirling on all manner of contraptions. The show culminated in the angels descending to earth amidst fountains of white feathers showering the masses.
I wanted to stay, but the kids were flagging. They had had a good time, but I knew it was time to pull up stumps. We squeezed past the seething crowd who had flocked to see the Avalanches and stopped to listen to a few of their hits. I had been hoping to stick around and see Havana Meets Kingston, a Cuban and Reggae fusion put together by an Australian producer. The snippets I’d heard on various internet sources sounded really good.
WOMAD had pulled it off again. It can be hard work to get around and see everything due to the sheer number of performers on offer, all of them masters of their craft and art, while at the same time enjoying the festive vibe and hanging out with friends. However, I think the trick is to do a bit of pre planning, pick a few you want to see, and then just go with the flow and enjoy the good vibes. Looking forward to next year already!
Review by Jeremy Watkinson