It is a beautiful day, weather-wise, as I walk through the WOMADelaide gates and head straight for Stage 7 where Andrew Ford is presenting his ABC Radio “The Music Show” as he has been doing for many years. I am running late so I only catch The Blind Boys of Alabama I saw them the previous night and they were great. They play I Can See, talk to Andrew a bit and finish with Amazing Grace The only difference from last night is that they are dressed more casually and this morning they are competing with the noise of the bats at stage 7. Stage 7 is the furthest away from the main stages and for the true WOMADelaide aficionados, it is an essential stage as I have some brilliant acts do just one show here.
I walk to the Zoo stage past people relaxing at one of the Cooper Bars. I see Kim So Ra who is presenting a wonderful workshop of her Korean instruments. She explains all the different instruments she uses and their history. Her main instrument is a double-headed drum called Janggu.
Time for a quick coffee before heading to Stage 3 to catch Tami Neilson belt out her blue-eyed soul and country music. Tami was born in Canada but lives in New Zealand. Her brother in on guitar. She gets better as her set goes on. She delivers such a powerhouse performance with the cover of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s World and her last song You Were Mine that I would definitely see her again if she tours again.
Next up on the Foundation stage (the biggest stage) is Circolombia which is a circus act from Colombia but with live singing thought which combines with the acrobatic movements. They were not what I expected and were an excellent distraction for the growing audience on the main stage. WOMADelaide is so much more than music and this act epitomises that.
On the way to meet some friends at the chill-out area near the Yalumba Bar, I see four giant articulated puppets walking around and interacting with the crowd and are met with screams of delight from the abundance of children that are at the festival. I resist buying anything from Byron Bay Organic Doughnuts, a staple of WOMADelaide for many years.
I see Aaron Thomas walk into the festival with some friends. Aaron is an excellent local singer was one the acts at the festival in 2017. I don’t ask him but I am sure he is going to see Rhiannon Giddens later.
I leave my friends to meet others outside to act as a go-between for a ticket money transfer to get a mate in cheaper and miss a little of Luisa Sobral at the Moreton Bay Stage. This stage is usually reserved for the quieter acts of the festival and is a gem of a stage. Many of the acts request that you sit down to see them. Luisa is from Portugal and for some songs, she sounded like Astrid Gilberto and has a classic soft-spoken singing style that complements the gentle guitar accompanying her.
I leave Luisa a little early to get a good spot for the next act on the Foundation stage which is Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi. This is an act that I was most excited to see this year as I late last year I was listening to their latest album and soon after realising it was one of my albums of the year they were announced for the festival. I met with different friends at the front of the stage and patiently waited for the band.
Annette Shun Wah is the host of the Foundation stage and has been for many years. She announces the Rhiannon and Francesco. Rhiannon sings, plays banjo and violin. Francesco plays piano, accordion, tambourine, and Bodhran. We also had a stand-up bass player who’s name i never caught but really added to the incredible sound they were making. For me, this was clearly the act of the day and possibly the festival. When I met with friends later we were all in agreement. I got a little emotional about hearing these songs in a live setting and I am not sure why. The band combines so many styles of music that they are the best representative of WOMADelaide. She is American and he in Italian and their set included, Jazz, Gospel, Italian Folk, Middle Eastern and blues music among others. At The Purchasers Option a very emotional song that is about a woman in slavery and about how the new owner can choose or not purchase her 9-month-old baby. Rhiannon’s voice is heartfelt and raw on the lyrics “You can take my body, You can take my bones, You can take my blood, But not my soul” I am so glad that the festival chose to extend their set to 75 minutes. I wonder if it possible for me to arrange to go to Sydney on the 17th of March to see them again.
There is no rest for me as I am now rushing over to Stage 2 to see the indie-folk stylings of Aldous Harding from New Zealand. The crowd is massive and I get as far as I can get on the left of stage sacrificing my view of the drummer to be able to closer to Aldous. There is no doubt she is quirky but so fantastic as well. She sings and plays her guitar sitting on a chair and is ably supported by the rest of her band. Aldous has this way of staring at an individual in the audience which I find quite unusual. Today most of the set was from her 2019 album Designer. Again one of my albums of last year and it is reproduced incredibly. My favourite songs were Fixture Picture and Zoo Eyes from her very personal album. In the latter song, she opines ”What am I doing in Dubai?” which sort of sums up her distinctive nature.
I then walked past a sleeping friend who later told she was not sleeping to see Rhiannon Giddens do a signing and a meet and greet at Mr V Music. This also is a staple of the festival and I usually ignore it as I usually concentrate on the music. I speak to Rhiannon and Francesco and get a CD signed. I see another friend who recommends a band he had already seen today who are playing again tomorrow.
I then walked past many kids playing with each other away from their parents and all have wrist bands with their parent’s phone numbers written on them. If you are under 13 they get in for free!
I get the first of many phone messages from friends asking where I am. Others friends and family find me without the need for messages as I usually stand in the same place
I see the Minyo Crusaders from Japan on the main stage and after one slow song, I think that they are not for me and leave to have a break. I hear them from afar and chastise myself for leaving early as the songs I hear now are quite good and it was just one song that did not do it for me.
I walk to Stage 7 to see Odette the English-born Australian singer-songwriter. On the way there I tell one guy I see smoking a cigar to go to the designated smoking areas at the festival which is a white picketed fence spot. He tells me he will walk there now. At any other festival, I might have been told to mind my business but WOMADelaide is chill. I see another chap relieving himself on a bush and tell him the toilet is just metres away.
I arrive at Stage 7 and one friend is distracted by the free food at the Taste the Wold test in that area. To the left of me, a child runs into me and falls down crying. He punches my leg as he thinks it was my fault.
Odette starts and she looks both genuinely happy to be here and nervous at the same time. I have seen her a few times and I think she is great. Her 2018 album, To A Stranger is so good I have never deleted it from my car’s MP3 compilation. Some of her songs are a combination of singing and spoken word with piano. The crowd is loving her. When she sings one of my favourites called Lotus Eaters, I realise I am the only one singing along in my area. All the fans must be up the front. At this stage there a few kids sitting on their parent’s shoulders swaying to the music. Odette tells us she will come back to Adelaide soon. After a powerhouse performance, she leaves the stage early which I found unusual as she had plenty of time to do an excellent cover of a Gang of Youths song she usually does.
The musical selection is so good this year I wonder why I can’t convince some family and friends to attend. My non-sleeping friend sees the freaky faces that are projected to the trees and is as shocked as I was last night when I saw them for the first time. They are so effective and a little scary. I go to get some food at “Let them Eat” a food vendor that specialises in vegetarian food and in my opinion has the best tasting food at the festival. It is some sort of protein with many different salads. I asked for the Gruyere Tart but they had run out so I went with the corn fritter. There was a long line up and I detest lines but this place is worth it and they are very efficient. I find a seat and sit down and eat and think of my niece who is vegetarian (or is that vegan). I wonder if the band I had planned to see and am missing is any good. I vacate my seat a little early as someone is looking for a seat and see a little of the band Liniker e os Caramelows on the main stage. They are actually very good and I change my schedule on the WOMADelaide phone app to ensure I see their whole set later in the festival. They are described as black soul mixed with Samba. I think the musicianship is wonderful and look forward to seeing them with my cousin and friends on Monday. The song Lava was particularly good.
I leave a few minutes early to get a good spot for Kathryn Joseph a performer from Scotland on the Moreton Bay stage. I am concerned my low chair is too high and will block someone’s view so I decide to sit as far to the left as possible. This was a fortunate decision as for a lot of her set she appeared to be looking right at me. Kathryn was a hidden gem amongst the acts at this year’s festival and deserves a bigger crowd when she plays at the same stage on Monday night. Tonight she plays her extraordinary 2018 album From When I Wake the Want Is in full and in order. She reminds of a cross between Agnes Obel and Ludovico Einaudi (look em up). It is just her on stage with her voice and her piano and some recorded music. She is very distinctive and to me, it feels like she is from a different era. I am not sure if it the past or the future though. For her performance, she has lights on her that is reflected by many individual mirrors set on top of her piano and on a stand near her. Mid-performance she drinks from a wine glass that is set in the middle of the stand and by drinking the wine and putting it back she changes the reflections for the rest of the set. There were no photographers allowed for this performance which let the audience concentrate on her and the music. Thank you WOMADelaide for finding her and putting her on. I will definitely be seeing her again on Monday with friends.
Walking to the main stage to see Salif Keita the urge to buy a doughnut is strong but the line of people waiting is so long I just can’t do it. I hear the end of Spinifex Gum’s angelic choir from Stage 3 and it sounds glorious. Pity I could not see them as well.
Salif Keita starts and my mind takes me back to 2013 when I saw him last. He and his band are on form tonight and they sound incredible. Insistent African polyrhythms are ever-present and sound so good. I love the African Kora instrument and that and guitar make the musical melody for tonight. I have no idea what songs they are singing as there is next to no breaks between songs but Salif’s voice is strong and powerful. Like Rammstein, I tell my friends don’t bother to pre-listen to any of their music just go and watch her concert. You will not be disappointed at the spectacle. I lose myself to the music and start feeling melancholic as think how much my late brother would have liked to have been here. I doubt I would have been at the festival today if not for his musical tutelage over me. The music is so good my tired feet don’t hurt anymore.
After ninety minutes the set is ended and I walk back to my car near the Hackney Road entrance. My Fitbit tells me I have walked 12 km today. I get in my car and drive to the Frome Street entrance of the festival and re-enter the festival to see a DJ act called Mistress Barbara with friends. I had forgotten how good the DJs sound here and update my WOMADelaide app once more to remind myself to come back here tomorrow.
I look forward to the next two days as I will be meeting up with more friends and family and seeing some incredible music.
WOMAD Review By Richard De Pizzol