WOMADelaide @ Botanic Park, Adelaide 9/3/2019

WOMADelaide was here again! The world music juggernaut extravaganza was back in town and the kids and I were getting hyped. The morning was spent scouring the event schedule, and perusing YouTube videos of the huge array of acts and carefully planning the day.

We arrived about noon, ahead of the crowds. It was a sunny day, with a little bit of bite in the sun’s rays but a steady cool breeze took the sting out of it.  We wandered through the festival space and soaked up the atmosphere.  It was early, and there was a very relaxed vibe.

After camping out under one of the magnificent Moreton Bay fig trees we headed off to the first gig.  Mambali from Arnhem land on the Gulf of Carpentaria were first.  They mixed indigenous languages and instruments with rock and roll to great effect.  There were strong elements of reggae and metal in their sound, and they were definitely a crowd favourite.  Their song “Culture” was particularly powerful and I felt a few shivers listening to it.

First on the main stage was My Baby, hailing from Amsterdam, a Dutch/ New Zealand trio.  I found it hard to describe what their genre was.  They were a three piece, with two guitars and drums, but they drew a really fresh sound out of their instruments.  It was high energy, with elements of funk and an almost electronica sound.  They sounded great and they drew a big crowd and got everyone dancing..

After this we wandered back to stage three and checked out Amaru Tribe, a group of Melbourne based South American expatriates.  They sounded sultry and sensuous with a big sound rounded out with maracas, bongo drums and an accordion.

The kids and I decided to take a bit of grand tour, to catch a little taste of everything on to get a sense of the afternoon’s vibe.  We spent a couple of hours wandering through all of the stages  and discovered that the general theme could be summed up as brassy and bold leavened with some traditional and mashed up folk from obscure parts of the world.

We discovered the Mongolian horse head harp and throat singing mixed up with animal calls from Dangerous Song and Bukhu, followed by the ethereal choral singing of the Taiwu Ancient Ballad Troupe delivering traditional songs from the indigenous tribes of Taiwan.  We made it all the way to the Novatech Stage where where we were treated to the incredibly hip and funky Afrobeat sounds of the Seven Ups.

Art installations and crowd participation was also on offer, and we went and watched the mysterious and beaverish activity around the Ephemeral City construction.  Strange shapes were being crafted out of cardboard and ferried away into Botanic Park High School.  Unfortunately we wouldn’t be staying to see the eventual erection and destruction of this strange sculpture.

As we made our way back to our campsite, the mystery of the strange black suited men wandering around on vintage bicycles was solved.  It was the 5AngryMen ringing the bells. They wowed the crowd with their athletic and highly disciplined act, swinging and leaping through the air suspended from thick ropes in a tower in the middle of the park.

We did notice that WOMADs trademark flags had all been given a refresh this year, and their vibrant colours and tribal designs added a great festive air to the performance spaces.  Finally we stopped to enjoy some of the high energy sounds of LaBrassBanda blending Bavarian folk music with modern sounds.

It was good way to sample some of the events on offer, and again the sheer scale of the event never fails to impress me.  It did seem crowd numbers were a bit lower than other years, however it was still pretty full, and it did mean the queues at the food and drink stalls weren’t as long as they have been.

We also managed to catch a bit of Dona Onete who at 79 years of age could still wow the crowds with her powerful and sultry voice, accompanied by exotic Amazonian rhythms.  I was also really pleased to see nineties rock goddess Liz Phair as well.  She performed some of her biggest hits and and some other obscure items from her back catalogue.  It was just her and another guitarist, and the performance had a bluesy feel to it.  It was a good counterpoint to the high energy which seemed to permeate the afternoon’s performances.

The headline act was the John Butler Trio and the Foundation stage was packed as dusk fell.  This was clearly the prime time slot of the evening.  It was an eerie atmosphere as night fell, with swarms of fruit bats fluttering around the stately Moreton Bay figs and the main stage.  John Butler and band did not fail to disappoint with his powerful and distinctive voice, and he and his band showed off their superlative skills on the banjo, slide, acoustic and electric guitars, playing old favourites and some new tunes.

The kids were getting tired and it was time to punch out.  As one last little thing, we noticed a unusual sounding performance in the guide book,  Amor by the French Compagnie Bilbobasso.  It promised comedy, dance and lots of fire!  It took a little bit of effort to find as it was tucked away in a quiet part of Frome Park, away from the main thoroughfares.  We were treated to a humorous performance of married life from the initial lust and love, to disappointment and anger as the players danced around the performance space setting fire to everything in site, and dazzling the crowd with some incredibly daring pyrotechnic displays.  Imagine your standard festival fire dancing done French style – classy and stylish.

It was a fitting finale to the evening, and as we rode our bikes down the river to home, we were already talking about next year’s WOMAD and what it may bring.

WOMAD Review By Jeremy Watkinson

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